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Traveling Star Wars Exhibit on Display - 2002-04-10

A traveling exhibit devoted to the saga of the four Star Wars films has made its final stop in its national tour at New York's Brooklyn Museum of Art. Filmmaker George Lucas has loaned original props, models, and costumes from the landmark movies to the museum.

The science-fiction films, which tell the story of a group of rebel heroes who fight an evil Empire in outer space, permanently altered the art of moviemaking.

Just before the first Star Wars film was released in 1977, the remake of King Kong, featuring a man dressed in a gorilla suit, won an Academy Award for special effects. But the creative team of Star Wars produced captivating action sequences and giant simulated space stations never seen before.

Some of the elaborate models built to create the films' special effects are on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, where some of scenes are replayed.

Curator James Romano said that the exhibition salutes the elaborate story set to film by George Lucas. At first Mr. Romano, who specializes in ancient Egyptian art, was taken aback by the suggestion that he curate the show on Star Wars. Then he realized that he was perfect for the job.

"The more I began to look into the whole notion of the Star Wars saga, particularly the first three movies, the more I realized that George Lucas had tapped into a series of mythological themes - [including] the return of the hero, the redemption of evil by good. All of these themes that have been expressed by time in memorial by cultures as diverse as the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, etcetera, just in different trappings," Mr. Romano said.

Many of the puppets and drawings on display illustrate the movies' mythological and spiritual themes. The character, "Yoda," a tiny, wise elder, bears a resemblance to ancient Asian statues of the Buddah. "Jabba the Hut," the disgusting, slimy, reptile-like "bad-guy," looks strikingly similar to images of dragons.

More than 150 original costumes remind visitors of the characters who reappear in the first three Star Wars films, which helped launch the careers of actors Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

Mr. Romano said that the contrast between hero Luke Skywalker's simple white robe and the black cloak and large metal helmet of villain Darth Vader provide clues to the story's meaning.

"One of the themes about Star Wars is the conflict of the individual as represented by Luke Skywalker against the anonymous, mechanical, if you will, totalitarian state. After all, the Empire is the ultimate totalitarian state. They control everything. And here is this one little farm boy fighting against it," Mr. Romano said. Some critics have objected to the exhibit devoted to the Star Wars films at one of New York's most acclaimed fine art museums. But Brooklyn Museum of Art Director Arnold Lehman argued that the series played a pivotal role in the recent history of popular culture.

"And when you think of the pervasiveness of it, and how it has affected all of our thinking about films of this kind, about animation, about digitalization. And how all of those became intertwined with an evolving artistic culture, clearly an exhibition like this has a place in an art museum," Mr. Lehman said.

Mr. Lehman has said that Star Wars: the Magic of Myth also attracts younger visitors, expanding the museum's audience. The traveling exhibition has broken records in its tour around the United States, drawing nearly two-million people.

Audiences line up to see the original gold-metallic suit worn by actor Anthony Daniels, who played the android and herald C3PO. Mr. Daniels, who appears in all the Star Wars films, explains the story's unexpected longevity.

"Nobody in 1970 whatever realized that Star Wars was going to become this phenomenon. And I think that is why the original film was so innocently charming. But because George [Lucas] had done so much research and thought about the principles of story telling, it has allowed it to exist all this time," Mr. Daniels said.

The exhibition's organizers reject accusations that they are promoting the next Star Wars film Episode II: Attack of the Clones, but props and models from that movie will be displayed after it is released next month.

The exhibit will travel to Australia in July. It also coincides with the anniversary of the original Star Wars film, which opened in theaters 25-years ago.