Have you ever wondered what kind of person you would be in the Star Wars universe? Would you fight on the side of the Light as a Jedi Knight, a fighter pilot or an idealistic senator, or would you blur the lines as a bounty hunter or – dare we say it – a Sith Lord?
Star Wars: Identities aims to answer that question once and for all. Developed by X3 Productions of Montreal in association with Lucasfilm Ltd, the exhibition makes use of the extensive archive collection of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and in doing so explores the science of identity through the characters of the Star Wars universe.
Containing over 200 original props, models, costumes and artwork from the films, this is far from just an exhibition; it also boasts an interactive identity quest that allows you to both determine your path in the Star Wars universe and discover your own identity in the process.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Laela French – the director of archives at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – to talk to her about Identities, and why every Star Wars fan should attend…
SciFiNow: What were you trying to achieve with Star Wars: Identities?
Laela French: We wanted to create a fun and entertaining educational exhibit that allowed fans to enjoy Star Wars, and non-fans to come through and engage and learn about human identities at the same time.
How did you become involved with it?
I oversee the archive collection, which includes Star Wars props, models and costumes, and we were looking for a partner to come in and bring and bring their expertise. So I reached out and found X3 at Montreal, and together we collaborated to create this exhibit!
How did you go about choosing what props and costumes to show?
We knew that we were going to hit certain notes with the exhibit – we have certain characters that we had to show. We were talking about certain characters like the Emperor and Darth Vader, so besides their costumes we wanted to bring in some props and some original artwork to really help flesh out who they are and who their identity is. So once you have a generic framework, which we did for human identity, then we had the storytelling of Star Wars. The rest of it kind of fell into place.
Star Wars has always been characterised by its black-and-white contrasts between good and evil. How did that fit in with the core themes of Identities?
It’s about human identity. We’re basing it on true science today, and where we stand with that. We kind of talk about both Star Wars narratives, which is more black and white and good and evil, and then we show through the Star Wars lens that actually there are many things going on to create that black-and-white look, and how easy it is to be good, then slide like Anakin did.
With all these good intentions, he starts to slide over to the Dark Side, so we show that there’s really a spectrum just because you have things that are considered assertive or aggressive. There are balancing factors on the other side that are modifying that, so we kind of talk about it in a really big spectrum, and then show the black and white side. It’s fun to contrast.
What elements of Star Wars’ mythology did you find the most interesting?
The design that George and his team put into each character was so thoughtful that it became super iconic, like Darth Vader. We take it for granted, but if you think about it, back in the day it was revolutionary how they hit all these right notes, so I loved seeing it come together.
How would you say that Star Wars lends itself to the themes expressed in Identities?
Because George Lucas based Star Wars on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and mythology, there are these classic archetypes that are in this exhibition that place perfectly into the story of human identity, and all these little archetypes reflect back at us.
We all have a little Palpatine in us, we all have a little Vader and we all have a little Yoda – it’s just how big is that? Is your Vader in check, or is it unleashed?
So it was really easy and absolutely organic to plant the human identity as presented by the scientific community today and interject that or dovetail it into the Star Wars saga, because the archetypes of Vader and Han Solo fit perfectly into that.
There’s a lot of worthwhile educational content in Identities – what would you say the take-home message from it is?
I love the message that what makes humans unique is based on the choices that we make, and I think that’s an empowering message.
It’s especially empowering for teenagers, who when they come to the exhibit are at that very tender age where they’re taking off on their own, and maybe they’re more at risk, but they’re also learning to advantage themelsves by the choices they make, like who are they mentoring themselves to? Are they mentoring themselves to the soccer coach or their history teacher, or are they mentoring themselves to the drug dealer or the guy who skipped school every other day!
So those are the messages I think are really empowering, that it’s about the choices you make.
What is your favourite thing about Identities?
I love the identity quest! You wear a bracelet, go through the exhibit answering at these different stations questions that are based on science identity, but it’s all based on the Star Wars universe, and it’s really fun.
At the end you get a character revealed to you. You get to create who you are, but in the Star Wars universe. Kids immediately start role playing – they don’t want to be themselves; they want to be Darth Vader, R2-D2, so they get to do that too, but they’re still learning about human identity.
Which character did you end up with?
Well, the first time I did it I was very earnest – I answered all the questions honestly as myself. But then it was so much fun I ran back and did it 17 more times, by the end I was totally going to the Dark Side, and that was the fun of it!
Then you get to take a picture of your picture and share it on social media, so I think that’s the entertaining, fun and interactive way of enjoying the exhibit. I’d never done something like that before, so it was fun.
Was it always the plan to have this interactive element?
We knew that we wanted to do something interactive, because it’s really important for children and young people to enjoy their visit. We didn’t know what form that would take, but once we settled on the science of human identity, our partners very quickly came up with the idea of the identity quest, we immediately went “Yes, that’s it!”
This is the third site for Identities, having always been based in Canada and Germany. Why was the UK the next choice?
England is kind of the home of Star Wars – we’ve got Pinewood just up the street making the new ones right now, and A New Hope was made here along with all the other films, so of course we had to come to London. Now we’re going to find out if London is more light or dark!
If you could pick any other fictional universe to get the Identities treatment, who would you choose?
I think Harry Potter. Whether [JK Rowling] knows it or not, Star Wars influenced it with the hero’s journey. It very much shares the same mythology with characters like Darth Vader and Voldemort. When the author hits the right notes you feel it – it reverberates around the world. Star Wars did it, and I think Harry Potter does it.
The Star Wars: Identities exhibition continues its worldwide tour in London at the O2 from 16 November 2016 to 3 September 2017. For all the latest Star Wars news, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.