The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 22, 2012

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Star Wars geeks hit the road in search of galaxy far, far away

PITTSBURG, Kan. — For years, I’ve been finding light sabers in my bathroom and action figures in my shoes.

It’s part of life with two young “Star Wars” fans. But it didn’t begin with them.

It began with me and my little brother in 1978. Our next-door neighbor had given me C-3PO and R2-D2 action figures for my birthday, and the movie was playing at the drive-in, so Mom agreed to take us.

That drive-in is long gone, but our love for “Star Wars” never waned. We collected all the action figures. Unbeknownst to me, my future husband was growing up doing the same thing. Our collections merged on Aug. 27, 1999. He even brought to the marriage a C-3PO action figure collector’s case!

So it was only natural that when our sons were old enough, we started them on the Jedi path. They were more than willing to take up the responsibility of battling the Dark Side so that husband and I could rest and read the newspaper. Hence, the light sabers in my bathroom and action figures in my shoes.

But there was something more to it than just the battle of good and evil. There was the perfect combination of science and imagination, and creating another world to such an extent that your brain tells you it doesn’t exist, it couldn’t exist, but it takes on a life of its own anyway.

Which is why we drove three hours to Wichita and three hours back on Saturday. “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” is at Exploration Place there. And it was my brother’s 39th birthday, so it was a perfect gift for the last year of his childhood, so to speak.

More than 80 artifacts used in the movies are on display in the traveling exhibition, created by the Museum of Science in Boston. It includes video interviews of filmmakers, scientists and engineers, and focuses mostly on the science behind what they created.

We learned about space travel, mechanical prosthetics, robotics — even built and programmed a few — and levitation technology. We were thrilled to see Obi-Wan Kenobi’s costume, Darth Maul’s light saber and Luke’s land speeder. We marveled over standing in front of Queen Amidala’s Nubian starship, as in our minds it is actually light years away, in a galaxy far, far away.

I’m honestly not sure who enjoyed the experience more. Perhaps it was my brother’s new bride, who stood in line for quite some time to experience the thrill of riding in a simulated Millennium Falcon, and who shared with us that her cat’s middle name is Wicket, after the Ewok.

In the end, we all decided that the best part of “Star Wars” is this: Creativity was stretched like never before. People reached way, way outside the box. They experimented. And amazingly, they created a story, a world, that has endured — and will endure, I believe — for generations.

It was my now not-so-little brother who put it best: “Even the sound effects are universal. If you go up to someone in Japan, and you do this (he paused to do the iconic deep, mechanized breathing of Darth Vader), even if you don’t say anything else, they will know exactly what you mean.”

Ticket information and other details can be found at www.exploration.org. You have until Sept. 3 to get there. May the force be with you.

Photos from the Star Wars exhibition are available at facebook.com/andrajournalist.

Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.

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