Experience the Science of Star Wars (and Sit in the Cockpit of the Millennium Falcon) at The Tech

The Tech's Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

My name is Scott Hamman, and I’ve been with The Tech Museum of Innovation for a little over three years. Currently, I’m employed as a Membership Specialist. I’m one of the people you might meet when our museum proves itself so inspirational that you decide a membership would be a good purchase. I work for The Tech because I believe in our mission, to inspire the innovator in everyone, and because the corporate culture draws people of a similar mindset: creative, fun, and sometimes a little geeky.

We’ve hosted several traveling exhibitions since I started with The Tech, including ones about Genghis Khan, the history of science in the Islamic world, the human body, and the MythBusters. Though I have enjoyed them all, when word came that we were to present “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination,” I flashed back to my childhood, to the previews I saw for Star Wars a few months before the movie was released in 1977.

The exhibition hall has been strictly off-limits to all but a few key people during setup. I would occasionally hear stories about certain artifacts being unpacked, or about how cool the Millennium Falcon Experience is. Yesterday, our project manager and three of his assistants treated me to a tour of the exhibition. The four of them kept a close eye on me while I walked through, not because they were worried I’d try to touch one of the artifacts, but in order to monitor my reactions.

The Tech's Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

I was awestruck. My nine-year-old self, enamored of the gadgets, robots, and spaceships, came right out. The first thing I saw in the exhibition was the working model of Luke’s X-wing fighter, the one used in filming many of the special effects shots. My jaw dropped, and it dropped even further when I saw the model of the Millennium Falcon. It is huge, and I’m told it weighs close to a ton on its base. It was an amazing experience seeing the other models as well, but nothing compared to what I saw when I turned the first corner:

Darth Vader.

Or rather, the original Darth Vader costume. The actor who wore the costume, David Prowse, was a tall man, but still, it appeared larger than life. It is also, like everything else on display, extraordinarily well preserved.

There are dozens of other models, props, and costumes from all six films on display, including the original Yoda puppet, the C-3PO costume, and one of several R2-D2s constructed for the movies. The Chewbacca costume took me back to meeting Peter Mayhew at a mall appearance in 1980 (though he wasn’t in costume, of course). One of the most beautiful pieces of design is the Droideka, the combat droid which curls in upon itself from The Phantom Menace. To someone captivated by the gadgets of Star Wars, this is heaven.

The Tech's Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

There are several hands-on components to the exhibition, including a robot workshop in which the user determines the best components for allowing a droid to traverse several types of terrain, just like R2. It’s simple and fun, and ties in neatly to The Tech’s current Social Robots exhibit.

Aside from the artifacts and the hands-on elements, the centerpiece of the exhibition is the Millennium Falcon Experience. Four people at a time sit in a beautifully constructed replica of the Millennium Falcon‘s cockpit and enjoy a four-minute presentation narrated by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO). The seats are equipped with rumblers and the film, viewed through the Falcon‘s windows, spectacularly conveys a sense of motion. It’s like enjoying a movie in a miniature dome theater, and it’s spectacular.

Star Wars has been such an important part of my life, since my father took me out of school to see it on opening day, May 25, 1977. I’ve played with the toys, read the books and comics, and see all six films at least once a year. But it’s that first movie, still just Star Wars to me and my friends, that makes me feel like a nine-year-old every time I watch it. If it’s on TV I can sit down and watch from any point, for as little as just a few minutes, and I’m transported back to 1977. Star Wars and its subsequent films are cultural touchstones for my generation, and it’s exciting to see people of younger generations thrilled by the movies as well. The exhibition, “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” is a wonderful chance to see original models, costumes, and props from the movies as well as an opportunity to better understand the science behind what we see on-screen. I expect to spend a many hours feeling like an awestruck nine-year-old again.

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination opens at The Tech in San Jose, California, on October 19!