Star Wars blasts into the Science Museum

Star Wars fighter
The Star wars exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota uses artefacts from the Star Wars movies to explain scientific ideas, and the process of making movies.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

For all the excitement about the Star Wars exhibit, there's a serious reason behind the show.

A few years ago a national study challenged the U.S. public to be better stewards of scientific development. The Science Museum's Mike Day said it was a challenge a consortium of museums from around the country took very seriously.

Mike Day
The Science Museum's Mike Day
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"And what we wanted to do was create an exhibition that made people think about the future, get engaged in the engineering of that future, and someone at that meeting said, 'We need a starting point, a common starting point, that's really exciting.'" explained Day. "And someone said, 'What we need is Star Wars.'"

And for Star Wars you need Lucas Films. Day says the organization really liked the idea, and it has provided the 80 artifacts which form the backbone of the show.

There are models of the spaceships, costumes, and a lot of robots, including one with golden body-work which attracted the attention of one distinguished visitor.

Anthony Daniels played C3PO, the mildly unctuous and occasionally snarky protocol droid. He is the only actor who appeared in all six Star Wars films. Daniels has a love hate relationship with C3PO, or more accurately the C3PO costume. It never fit right.

Daniels and friend
Actor Anthony Daniels says he enjoyed playing the character of C3PO, but didn't like the pain of wearing the costume. He's glad the films are now being used to encourage interest in science.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"So that I would be squeezed and crushed and cut and generally pained. Maybe that's why 3PO is a bit tetchy from time to time," Daniels said. "And he'd certainly get tetchy with actors who forgot their lines and we had to do it again."

Daniels says at first he wasn't interested in playing a robot. Then he saw an artists drawing of the character, which is included in the exhibition.

"There was something in the face of this one that appealed to me, a slightly, sad, lonely, as though he was coming up to you for warmth, for human contact. That's what I think he's showing me, and I've never said this before, he's looking for human contact. Thank you, I finally get what happened all those years ago," he laughed.

A huge Star Wars banner on the front of the Science Museum building
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Daniels came on board with the Star Wars exhibit very early. His father was a chemist, and Daniels says he's worried about making sure interest is maintained in the sciences.

"Although I understand we are landing on Mars very soon, there are a lot of more basic needs here on Earth," he said. "And that includes people to be scientists, people to go to school to be scientists."

The Star Wars exhibit examines two areas essential to the films' storylines: transportation and robotics.

Daniels says he enjoys the hands-on opportunities in the show, including the chance to build levitating cars using magnets.

The original lightsabre used by Obi-Wan Kenobe is on display at the Star Wars exhibit.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

While the Landspeeder craft from the first Star Wars film stands nearby for inspiration, it doesn't seem to be helping Anthony Daniels.

"The thing is, I see 10-year-old, six-year-old children doing this any old how, because they know what they are doing. Me, clearly not. So We'll leave that one, thank you," he said quickly walking on.

You can also try your hand at operating a pair of robotic legs. Anthony Daniels may have played a robot in the movies, but it's not helping him right now.

"There goes the right leg," he said as the pneumatics pump and hiss. "The object is to get the legs to walk forward. Look at this! This is a first on radio!" he said.

Robot legs
Visitors to the Star wars exhibit can try to make a pair of robot legs walk. It's harder than it looks, and is better with two people at the controls.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

And then the leg jams. Daniels explains it's better to have one person on each leg, and this is really an exercise in teamwork.

He's clearly having fun, and he hopes other people will too, while perhaps learning a little about the realities behind the Star Wars fantasy.

"The designers can make up anything, because nowadays you can certainly do it on the computer. But here you can do it in real life," Daniels said.

The Star Wars show will be open 15 hours a day for the next 10 weeks. Science museum staff advise booking online as they expect the box office will be very crowded.

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