Popular culture hasn’t always been kind in its portrayal of Star Wars fans, who are often perceived as chubby guys with glasses who live in their parents’ basement, playing scenes of Natalie Portman running in slow motion over and over. Obviously, the six-part series has a broader appeal, or it would never have amassed more than $4 billion in worldwide box office. And on Saturday morning at the Science Museum, as a family-dominated crowd armed with point-and-shoots waited in line to see Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination during its last U.S. stop, surrounded by licensed recreationists donning pitch-perfect replica costumes (there was even a Darth Vader with the ominous-sounding breathing apparatus), it became apparent that even science has been Disneyfied.
At first, it did feel more like a day at Disney World than a day at a museum. Kids with newly purchased plastic light sabers (the Science Museum didn’t miss a single merchandising opportunity with this exhibit) and shirts emblazoned with Anakin and Yoda, chased down Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker for pictures. Storm troopers posed with preschoolers (and, yes, this reporter) while parents snapped away, and everywhere you turned you heard someone humming John William’s unmistakable theme. The excitement in the lines outside the U.S. Bank Great Hall that housed the exhibit was palpable, as if the crowd was about to take a plunge on a ten-story-tall flume ride. Or even better, see a surprise screening of the yet-to-be-filmed seventh movie.
All distractions melted away as the line snaked into the hall and the crowd was met with perhaps the most impressive artifact from the sci-fi films, the actual landspeeder that zooms Luke across the opening scenes of the first film. After that, it was true Hollywood magic. There were costumes—Hans Solo, a giant Chewbacca, post-apocalyptic Tusken Raiders—and dozens of miniature scale models, including Imperial Star Destroyers from the first films and the armored tanks in the epic Episode I battles. There was a C3PO that had been stripped of his gold façade to expose the thousands of wires underneath, and a Yoda puppet sat next to the Jedi training remote. For fans, it was as close to these six movies as they’re ever going to get.
But amidst the props and models safely shielded by walls of Plexiglas there was also a kind of magic Hollywood can never replicate. Staying true to the SMM’s mission to help spread scientific knowledge, twenty interactive components kept the smallest visitors in disarming awe. While their parents snapped picture after picture of Obi-Wan’s robes, kids were at the magnetic propulsion lab gasping as the Lego carts they created, which zoomed across a table powered by nothing but the force created by opposing magnetic poles. They sat wide-eyed in front of a screen, watching as the buttons they pushed controlled the emotions of the animated face before them. They struggled to make a real life robot walk across a platform, a task the Imperial All-Terrain Transports from Episode V made look so easy. On a Saturday morning, among all the shiny souvenirs and flashes coming from their parents’ cameras, they learned a little something.