Star Wars Identities

The Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth”) approaching, I wanted to celebrate it in some special way. So, while in London, I had the opportunity to visit Star Wars Identities.

I went expecting “just another Star Wars thing” – which would already be great, of course, given my love for the saga. But it was more, and it turned into a surprising experience.

Because SWI manages to be a mix of two nice things at the same time: first, it’s a very rich exhibition with lots and lots of material, props, costumes and stories from the movies. Second, it’s an interactive learning experience about social and cultural sciences. We really enjoyed it, and what follows is a short story about the experience.

The exhibition opened in Lyon, France in 2015, moved to Cologne and Munich in 2016, and is now in the O2 Arena in London (until September 3rd, 2017). More cities will be announced later. It has been widely reviewed, in very positive terms. According to “The Guardian“:

“Star Wars Identities probes the space saga’s parts that Disney cannot reach”

And I found it to be true. The exhibition is NOT a commercial event, made to exploit the success of the franchise and to give worshipping fans another fix of what they need the most.

Well – there is a well stocked gift shop, true

Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without merchandising, after all.
Hey, you can even buy GALAXY, the Star Wars unique perfume. Its available in two fragrances of course: light side and dark side. They both smell very perfumey.

but the main objective of the event is to create a learning environment based on the most recent developments in social studies, at the same time presenting facts and items that helped to make the saga what it is today.

Like the ORIGINAL DARTH VADER MASK, unmasked! Which I have to admit, made me shiver with fanboyism.

The exhibition is interactive, and the visitors’ experience is based on a personal bracelet, which will guide them through the different sections and content.

Of course, the exhibition is a treat for fans of the saga, of all ages. In the official FAQ of the event it’s possible to read questions like:

Can I visit wearing my Stormtrooper costume? (yes, but no helmets in the exhibition space), and Can I bring my lightsaber to the exhibition? (no, it is not permitted), but apart from that, no previous experience of the movies or the fan universe is necessary to really enjoy it.

The exhibition displays an impressive amount of original props and items used during the production of the movies, including some rarities such as the eyes of Jabba the Hutt

They were animated separately from the rest of the body. Remember, the character appeared in 1983 for the first time.

or the block of carbonite (with Han Solo still inside, presumably)

as well as the original sketches used in the development of many characters

Like this expression study of Emperor Palpatine.

which all contribute to give a unique glimpse into the making of the movies.

I am so glad that Yoda didn’t turn out to be like in some preliminary drawings. Yes, THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE YODA at some point.

A huge collection of costumes and props is also present:

Boba Fett kicks ass even from a glass window.
BB-8 from Episode VII. The name comes from the shape, two circles on top of each other, resembling the number “8”. There isn’t much content from Episode VII, and nothing at all from Rogue One, since the exhibition started in 2015.

And this is the ORIGINAL MODEL used for all the sequences in “The Empire Strikes Back” which involve the “Executor”, Darth Vader’s flagship.
All the different costumes worn by Natalie Portman as Padme Amidala.

And in addition to that, each section contains one chapter of a “story”, leading to the development of your own character in the Star Wars universe.

It’s a very developed character creation system, very much like what you would find in any role playing game. At the beginning, you are asked to choose your species:

But seriously, who would want to be a Gungan?

and characteristics that make you unique

Like, the COLOUR OF YOUR FUR.

including descriptions of how genetics work

drawing examples and explanations from the Star Wars universe

Yeah, that midi-chlorian stuff is there too. It’s official saga material after all.

The result is a very complete experience, guiding the visitor through different fields of social and cultural studies, and reflecting on the importance of all the factors that shape our identity. External ones, such as genetics, environment, culture, upbringing,

A chapter on parenting style. Not your own: your parents’.

with a rich section dedicated to mentors and teaching

as well as an equally rich part on the choices that we make, and contribute to shaping our behaviour and personality after the initial starting point.

I chose Darth Vader here.  Spiritual, but pragmatic.”Join me, and together we will rule the Galaxy”. 
All the materials are available in English and French, which is a very nice touch.

The main red thread of the exhibition runs along the differences between Luke and Anakin. Both started in similar conditions, but reacted very differently to the challenges they faced in life. And their stories resulted totally opposite at the end.

Some choices were not easy at all to make.

The result is very engaging. As you define each characteristic of your own Star Wars alter ego, you realise that while some aspects are defined by history and background and don’t really depend on you

in many other cases your choices do matter, and will help to define the final outcome in a radical way. Some are presented as informative sections to read or watch and listen, others appear in the form of interactive games.

And so, while you develop each trait of your character, you get to learn about the main protagonists of the saga as well.

Guess which one of the two characters is more of an extrovert? Hint: it’s NOT the less furry one.

With their personalities defined according to the “Big Five” model – that yes, is controversial, but helps bring some clarity into understanding personalities (and its disorders). Wikipedia offers a complete description of the theory and its developments.

So you can get to see the famous characters of the saga in a different light, examining them under the “Big Five” perspective.

So, do passion and impulsiveness always lead to the dark side?

And compare their traits with the ones you have been defining for your own character, all along with the different choices and events that shaped “you”.

So let’s see. Compared to Anakin, I am more open, a bit less extrovert, but definitely less neurotic. I keep my Force together, more or less.

At the end, right after you are confronted with the imposing view of the Darth Vader full costume

“I have been waiting for you. We meet again, at last”. 

you must face the final choice, just as any respectable Star Wars character. Given the chance, would you join the Dark Side?

It’s an offer that my brother couldn’t refuse. Of course.

And regardless of your choices, you get to upload your alter ego in the Gallery at the end of the exhibition, where my own Carminus could stand proudly

So I ended up being a Senator in Coruscant, inspired by power and ambition (that’s why the Darth Vader in the background), but not so much in the Dark Side.

together with a lot of ewoks and other funny creatures

Kids love Ewoks. Yes, even in 2017.

I even got the full profile of my hero in my mail box, so I can admire it forever. Plus, it’s visible online at this link, if you are curious or want to compare.

In conclusion: a remarkable experience, highly recommended for all Star Wars fans, as well as for anybody else who wants to spend a few hours learning (a bit) about themselves, and (a lot) about the movies. A rich exhibition with a respectable science section, full with interactive and gamified elements that will keep engaged visitors of all ages. 

Star Wars Identities will be in London until November 2017, and then tour more cities – the next destination will be announced later this year.

Let me know if you go there! Or if you read this AFTER having been there. Good luck – and May the Force be with you. 

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