Orlando Science Center's Jeff Stanford says the Loch Haven edutainment institution likes to "serve broccoli with melted cheese," using appealing pop-culture subjects to "get people excited about science and technology." Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination (open now through April), OSC's largest touring display since 2007's Bodies event, was co-developed by Lucasfilm and the Museum of Science in Boston to do exactly that, by presenting the sci-fi equivalents of the Shroud of Turin side by side with real-world robotics and hands-on experiments.
OSC's 10,000-square-foot exhibit is a geekgasm-worthy treasure hoard of Wookiees, wampas and AT-AT walkers, with way too many wonders to detail. Here are my top three must-sees for old-school fanboys like myself.
Mega and mini Millennium Falcons
The first fill-the-pants moment comes immediately as you enter the gallery to face a massive 4-foot-wide model of the Millennium Falcon, used in the original trilogy. Han Solo's distinctive sandwich-shaped ship is intricately adorned with sculptural doodads (largely derived from toy military models) and airbrushed battle scars; I could stare endlessly at the depth of details.
Other iconic Rebel Alliance spacecraft stand nearby, including a Y-wing, a 5-foot-long X-wing (complete with a miniature orange-suited pilot in the cockpit) and the Tantive IV blockade runner that flew overhead in A New Hope's opening scene. There are also a handful of models made for the modern prequels (like Queen Amidala's silver ship), which may come as a shock to those who assumed those effects were strictly digital. Competent but characterless, their craftsmanship can't compare with their 1970s predecessors.
My favorite, however, is the smallest. The silver-dollar-sized midget Millennium Falcon features detail almost as fine as its bigger brother, despite only being glimpsed briefly in The Empire Strikes Back's "float away with the garbage" scene.
Steve Austin's landspeeder
It might not be much in demand since the XP-38s came out, but Luke Skywalker's levitating landspeeder was a pretty fancy car for a moisture farmer. Think about it: An open-air convertible with seating for four (assuming two are droids who don't mind sitting on the back fender) is a pretty sweet ride for a kid whose idea of entertainment is cruising to Tosche Station for power converters.
Anyway, the full-sized vehicle used in Tunisia more than 35 years ago still looks remarkably well-preserved; if you use the Force, you can still see the faint imprint of Sir Alec Guinness' ass on the seat. And seeing the craft in person, you can bend over and finally see the prosaic tires used to make the auto appear to float.
Best of all, in an adjacent display case sits the miniature version of the vehicle that was used to film distance shots. While the landspeeder itself is as detailed as any of the other models on display, the human figures filling it are amusingly crude. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that Obi-Wan is actually a Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin doll in disguise. If you were to pull back Kenobi's robe, you'd find rubber "skin" covering a control panel on his forearm and a bionic-vision eyepiece in the back of his head.
Skywalkers: Beneath the skin
Shifting over to the dark side, it's somewhat shocking to inspect some of the Imperial artifacts from the original film, starting with the Episode IV stormtrooper armor. The tiny vents and switches on the helmet and chest plate, which I had always assumed were as textured in reality as they appeared onscreen, turn out to be hastily applied paint on imperfect vacuformed plastic. I've seen many fan-made costumes – especially those worn by the 501st Legion, an international charity re-enactment group that recently inducted Mayor Dyer as an honorary stormtrooper – that far outdid this "real deal" outfit.
Likewise, the original Darth Vader costume worn by David Prowse may be among the holy grails of Star Wars memorabilia, but up close it is most memorable for its ordinariness. The flat black fabric and leather looks much less futuristic in person, and there's nothing high-tech about the plastic buttons on the Sith Lord's breathing apparatus. Most fascinating is the barely perceptible asymmetry evident in Darth's sweeping samurai helmet, which lent his visage an especially sinister edge. In contrast, the exploded headpiece from Revenge of the Sith, despite offering a unique glimpse inside the famous face mask, is more technically "perfect" and therefore a little less unnerving.
Finally, questions arise from a neighboring case containing the artificial arm Luke installs after pop lops off his paw. Puzzlingly, the exposed pistons are edged with splayed fake flesh and frizzled wiring, which doesn't match the surgery seen at the end of Episode V (as the identifying card claims). Nor does it resemble Luke's hand from Return of the Jedi, which would be damaged on the opposite side. A free Jawa for the first Star Wars savant who can help figure out where this object actually originated!