Luke Skywalker and his father, Anakin, grew up on the same planet and were both orphaned at a young age. So why did one become the pride and joy of the galaxy, while the other turned into a cosmic handful?
The question is at the heart of Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition, now making its world premiere at the Montreal Science Centre. Beyond showcasing original Lucasfilm props and memorabilia – from Han Solo's Millennium Falcon to Princess Leia's infamous slave bikini – the exhibit, produced by Montreal-based X3 Productions, takes fans of all ages on an interactive quest. Based on the science of human identity, this inventive journey revolves around the question: What forces shape you?
Although psychologists, neuropsychologists and geneticists helped to shape the exhibit's scientific content, no PhD was required to identify the forces driving my nine-year-old nephew, Adrian. As he rounded the corner into the exhibition space, issues of self were dwarfed by the sight of the motherlode: chamber after chamber of artfully staged artifacts, movie clips, artwork and interactive quest stations. "I feel like we're in outer space," he marvelled, eyes wide as flying saucers. In a droid, this level of stimulation would have blown a circuit.
Unlike most exhibits where collections are organized chronologically, Star Wars Identities is structured by identity-related themes such as upbringing, mentors and life-defining events. Moving through 10 multimedia stations, the idea is to learn more about the life circumstances and relationships that shaped Star Wars characters while using the smart technology in your Star Wars wristband to respond to questions about your own origins, influences and personal choices. Your answers generate a personality profile as well as an original Star Wars-inspired avatar – revealed at the end of the exhibit in grand style. But more on that later…
From the start, Adrian wanted to create a character that was as much like himself as possible, so he picked a human avatar. As he passed through the stations, he answered each question using his own characteristics and experiences. His only moment of indecision was in the "Parents" zone, where he was prompted to choose the parenting style that reflected his upbringing. Around us, younger children, steered by their parents, chose favourable answers. Older offspring, unmoved by the protest of their parents, picked the strictest option. Taking it all in, Adrian hesitated. "What do you think my mom and dad would say?"
In addition to being ambitious in scope, the Identities exhibit is generous in ways not typical to this corner of the museum universe. Not only were visitors permitted to take pictures, but artifacts and mannequins were staged for larger-than-life photo ops. The perk was not lost on fans, some of whom showed up in full costume to strike heroic poses. Gathering photographic evidence of his intergalactic activities was job one for Adrian. The more obscure the prop, the greater the interest. "You don't see this every day," Adrian noted, pausing to inspect the Jawa ionization blaster gun. He drew the line at being photographed with the chained and bikinied Princess Leia mannequin: "Maybe when I'm older."
Guided by the Star Wars encyclopedia in his head, Adrian was drawn to the movie clips and insider trivia. (Did you know Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas's dog, an Alaskan malamute named Indiana? And that the Wookiee's signature growl was created by audio-mixing the sounds of a walrus and a bear cub? Or that, in hopes of making Yoda's childlike way of imparting wisdom more memorable, Lucas mixed up the order of Yoda's words on the page. "Katherine your favourite auntie is," I ventured, by way of example.)
For all the exhibit's twists and surprises, nothing was cooler than the final reveal. After being asked to accept or reject the Emperor's offer of limitless power, visitors enter the exhibit's last chamber to meet their personal avatar. It was my turn to be saucer-eyed as Adrian's wristband activated a 10-foot wall projection of his Jedi self. (The wow factor inspired him to redo the entire Identity Quest, this time as a more mercenary and scaly version of his former self.)
While organizers took care to stagger admissions so that visitors wouldn't feel claustrophobic or rushed, no such precautions were in place at the gift kiosk, our final destination. Here, fans who had chosen to reject the call of the Dark Side could be seen jostling for T-shirts and making Vader-eyes at the frazzled cashier when the debit machine crashed.
What forces shape you? If the two-hour Identity Quest doesn't provide the answer, a 10-minute visit to the souvenir shop might.
IF YOU GO
Star Wars Identities is at the Montreal Science Centre in the Quays of the Old Port until Sept. 16. Tickets (which include admission to other Science Centre exhibitions) cost $23 for adults, $13.50 for children aged 4 to 12, and $63 for a family (two adults, two children). The exhibit will travel to the Telus World of Science in Edmonton (Oct. 27) before embarking on a six-year world tour. starwarsidentities.com
Special to The Globe and Mail