Inside London’s New Star Wars Exhibition

Chris Tilly

A thought-provoking Star Wars exhibition opened at the O2 in London today (November 18) and Fandom went down for an early sneak peek, plus a chat with the curator.

Star Wars Identities‘ explores who we are via the characters in the films, focussing on Anakin and Luke’s very different journeys. But as well as telling those stories, the exhibition  features more than 200 props, models and costumes from the movies, including Leia’s iconic metal bikini and Han Solo encased in carbonite.

Advance Preview For Star Wars Identities at The O2
Han Solo in carbonite at The O2.

For hardcore Star Wars fans, there’s also some amazing early concept art in which Luke Skywalker is a woman, Yoda is a gnome, Jabba is skinny, and Darth Vader is visited by the Emperor in the guise of a beautiful woman.

And there’s also an interactive ‘Identity Quest’ in which visitors add information about themselves as they walk through the exhibit, which is used to create a personalised Star Wars character at the end.

Having done that ourselves (you can see the result at the bottom of this page) we then spoke with Laela French – Director of Archives at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – to find out how she put ‘Identities’ together.

An early version
An early version of Yoda, back when he looked like a gnome.

Fandom: What will Star Wars fans see when they visit the exhibition?

Laela French: It’s a 10,000-square foot exhibit filled with original props, models, costumes and concept artwork. We’re telling the story of the science of human identity. Of what makes humans unique based on contemporary scientific developments and where we stand today. We were working on these different principals, scientifically, and then laid it on the Star Wars story. So we look at the story arc of Anakin and Luke – who both have similar genetics and very different outcomes. They are our narrative thread through the Star Wars universe, while we’re looking at the science of human identity.

Fandom: What kind of rare props and costumes will people be able to see?

French: Well if you are a super-fan – and I’m imagining that some of your readers are – the Stormtrooper section really hits all the right notes because we have a helmet from A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back – which is very unusual and rare – and Return of the Jedi. And we have added The Force Awakens. So you basically have the whole iteration of Stormtroopers. I know that Stormtroopers are very important in the Fandom world.

LONDON, ENGLAND -
Original Storm Trooper uniforms.

Fandom: Do you have a favourite item here?

French: They’re all amazing, obviously. But I think the ships case that we have here at the exhibition is extraordinary. We have 13 ships – the Rebel Alliance and the Empire are kind of in a face-off. It’s an extraordinary display and the Imperial Star Destroyer – just the design of it is exceptional. It just shows George Lucas’s genius in his design aesthetic. The gritty universe. The lived-in universe. But also just the shape of it – it’s so iconic. He really broke the mould in so many ways when he made Star Wars, and one of them was in his designs.

Fandom: Does he get involved in these exhibitions in any way?

French: He gives us his blessing. He’s not sitting here art directing or anything like that. But he knows about them.

Fandom: There’s very little Force Awakens in the exhibition – is there any specific reason for that?

French: They’re very busy making new films and a lot of the props and stuff are being used from film-to-film – Pinewood’s bustling now with Star Wars coming out with a film a year between now and who-knows-when. So we were lucky to get what we got.

Original model of the Millennium Falcon
Original model of the Millennium Falcon.

Fandom: Is education important in an exhibit like this?

French: It’s absolutely important. For me it’s a requirement. I would never do a Star Wars exhibit where it’s ‘Here’s a bunch of Star Wars stuff – enjoy.’ That might work for the super-fan, but it’s not good enough. We always strive to follow the best practices in the museum world when mounting an exhibition. Educational content should be number one. It should be engaging, entertaining, and you should learn something. And so all of our exhibits are based on that. We’ve done them on the hero’s journey in mythology, pulling back that part of the storytelling for Star Wars. We’ve done it on science and imagination and scientific innovation, using Star Wars lasers and robotics and the fake science in Star Wars compared to where we are in real-world science. To inspire future engineers and innovators. And now we’re doing it with the science of human identity – to really look at what that means. So it’s a more personal exhibition than we’ve ever done. But our goal is always to inspire.

Fandom: Visitors can also create their own Star Wars character, based on questions they answer throughout the exhibit. What is the thinking behind that?

French: They’re doing it following all of the science principals of identity. So you’re really learning about the things that motivate you, the things that shape who you become – these influences – mentors, friends. Things like value – do you value leadership or entertainment? It gets them to think a little bit, outside of themselves. I think that for pre-teens and teenagers this is a very specific exhibit that is really timely, because they are at that age where they’re more self-aware and they’re starting to break away and become independent and it’s about the choices they make. If they’re more aware about that then they may make better choices. So I love that we’re inspiring in some ways. And then the identity quest that you do through the exhibit is a fun way to pay attention to that, but at the end you get to see your Star wars avatar, and who doesn’t want to put themselves in the Star Wars universe? The first time I did it I was very earnest in my answers, but by the end I had done it 17 times and was fully on the Dark Side!

Star Wars Identities runs from November 18, 2016 to September 3, 2017 at London’s O2, and full details can be found at the exhibition’s official site.

Chris Tilly
FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I'm Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.
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