I usually think of Darth Vader as the worst father in the history of the universe. After all, he blew up his daughter’s planet and chopped off his son’s hand.
But all that seems forgiven and forgotten here. A mass of children clamor around the Dark Lord of the Sith with grins stretching from ear to ear, giving him high fives and wrapping their arms around his waist. One mother holds a camera in front of her face.
“Alright, now everyone say, ‘Dark Side!’” she says.
Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination is a traveling exhibit currently being shown at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. In addition to viewing props and costumes from all six Star Wars films, visitors can learn about the science and technology behind the movies. The exhibit explores how the movies’ transportation technology and robotics could become a reality. It also provides an in-depth look at the ecosystems of the different planets, like the ice planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.
Though I could sort of appreciate the enthusiasm of the hundreds of kids running around and shrieking in delight, I quickly realized that going to this exhibit on a Sunday afternoon was a huge mistake. I could barely walk, and whenever I stopped to examine something, I was bumped and prodded by other visitors. The Franklin Institute’s Web site recommends visiting the exhibit during the evening hours to avoid large crowds like this one. Oops.
Regardless, I managed to push my way to the first hands-on activity I saw: utilizing maglev technology to create a floating car. This means using an electromagnetic force to suspend a vehicle in mid-air and propel it forward. To demonstrate this, the exhibit asks visitors to build a car made of Legos and magnets and then place it on an electromagnetic-powered track.
“OK, easy,” I said to myself.
According to the instructions, all I needed to do was attach magnets to a Lego car and press a button. Simple. There was just one problem: there were no cars. Or magnets.
The sign said I could get my equipment at the parts table – but it didn’t say where the table was located. I looked. I saw Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder, a model of the Rebel Alliance X-Wing Starfighter, and a group of people following Boba Fett, but no parts table.
A line of preschool-aged children and their parents formed a line behind me. I was still searching for a Lego car. The kids were getting restless. They were tugging their parents’ pant legs and whining that they wanted to do something else. I was outnumbered. I stepped aside, hoping that one of the parents would figure out this cryptic experiment.
No such luck. I walked away, hoping to find a Franklin Institute employee, but there were none to be found. I sighed and decided to check out some Wookie costumes. Chewy isn’t among them. These are the guys from Revenge of the Sith.
I decided to try to build a robot. This time, I found the parts table. And there was one robot remaining. It was inches from my hand when a boy, who was about 7 years old, pushed me out of the way and snatched it out of my reach.
“Hey, cool,” he said. “A robot!”
It’s at this point that I realized that the Star Wars exhibit is geared toward the same age group as the rest of the Franklin Institute: kids. Yes, I admit, I would have loved to build a robot and a floating car, but the exhibit isn’t too impressive overall.
While learning how George Lucas and Co. created the special effects for the original movies is really cool, it’s nothing the casual fan doesn’t already know. The lack of employees at the exhibit is really frustrating, too. I couldn’t even find the Millennium Falcon ride that the exhibit promised, and there was no one to ask for help.
So, I weaved and pushed my way out of the exhibit. I was disappointed. I was struck down with no remaining hope of becoming more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine.
Oh, well. I can always watch the movies.
Kris Fossett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the know…
Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination
Runs through May 4
$10.50 after 5 p.m.,
Wednesday through Saturday