Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination - Part 2

Franklin Institute Science Museum Philadelphia, PA 

Opening Day - February 9, 2007 

Article and Photography by Jeffrey A. Gouse (SithLord0498)

Personal Transportation 

As one of its major set pieces has already been introduced, the logical place to start would be with personal transportation—both civilian and military.  These would include speeders, podracers, starfighters, and ground assault vehicles, all of which are vehicles meant for single-person or small group transport across predominantly short distances. 

After the X-Wing and Podracer cases, the next group of vehicles on display was the Imperial “All-Terrain” collection, a single large case displaying large models of the AT-TE and AT-ST in addition to a smaller stop-motion model of the AT-AT.  While it was interesting to see the classic assault transports, the standout of this display was the massive AT-TE model.  Measuring in the neighborhood of three to four feet long, the level of detail was astounding, a trait that is standard across every item on display. 

A particularly interesting observation was seeing how the modelers used paint to create the optical illusion of depth.  On camera, the area near the Republic insignia looks to be one of indented and protruding panels, a feature that has been translated to toy versions.  However, up-close inspection reveals a smooth surface with the shading and gradations painted on with such precision that forced perspective takes over.  In fact, I didn’t even catch it at first.  A fellow PSWCS member pointed it out to me.

Directly across from the AT case was a massive model of the Trade Federation AAT (Armored Assault Transport).  It even rivals the Millennium Falcon and Imperial Star Destroyer models in terms of sheer size.  As such, the scale permitted modelers to include an innumerable amount of minute details, especially on the side gun turrets.  Seeing these two Prequel models makes one wonder just why Lucas couldn’t be satisfied with filming these practical models rather than using them simply as the basis for CGI versions.  Even through a glass case, one can easily see how much more realism could’ve been achieved in the movies if they’d been used.

Rounding out the fictional side of personal transportation were models of the Jawa Sandcrawler, a maquette of General Grievous’ starfighter, the Y-Wing Starfighter, and the iconic Imperial TIE Fighter (noticeably absent were the Interceptor and Bomber).

(Please click the thumbnails below for the full size view)

As for the real world side to personal transportation, there were several sections that discussed repulsorlift technology and magnetic levitation (Maglev) and how it could be applied to current modes of transportation.  As opposed to later real world displays that contained models and actual items, these concepts were primarily explored through textual displays, video clips, and hands-on workstations.

(Please click the thumbnails below for the full size view)

Interstellar Transportation 

Obviously, Star Wars wouldn’t be the same if there were no vehicles capable of interstellar travel, and that is the next aspect of the exhibit that we’ll explore.  These are the vehicles that include such stalwarts as the Millennium Falcon, the Imperial Star Destroyer, and the Rebel Blockade Runner.  Make no mistake: these vehicles are impressively large in person.

The star attraction among these interstellar ships, naturally, was the large scale Millennium Falcon model.  Encased in glass, it was situated in the far corner of the exhibit, removed from the ebb and flow of the central area.  This was an area where visitors could gather in higher concentrations to view this ship as well as the Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes, their display being against the wall across from the Falcon. 

Words simply cannot describe the incredible amount of detail crammed into this iconic Corellian freighter.  To think that this was constructed at the dawn of modern special effects is even more mind-blowing and forces a deeper appreciation for what the fledgling ILM accomplished with little time and money.  Thankfully, the case was just large enough to protect this valuable artifact.  The importance of that is visitors could get up close to the glass and appreciate the workmanship with the naked eye.  And with the right camera, even the smallest details could be easily captured for posterity’s sake.  This was a vehicle that you could spend hours examining and still not mentally absorb every aspect of it.

(Please click the thumbnails below for the full size view)


Across the path and back toward the front of the exhibit was another massive case which held several ships:  The majority were smaller personal transport ships like General Grievous’ starfighter, the Y-Wing, and Amidala’s Royal Starship, but it also contained the next major vehicle model in the interstellar transportation category—the Corellian Corvette Tantive IV or Rebel Blockade Runner. 

As with the Falcon, there is an unreal amount of detail embedded in this model, so much that it was the recipient of an ILM joke.  As shown in the aforementioned Lucasfilm Archives book, the window on the bow of the ship reveals a micro-sized Star Wars poster and Playboy centerfold hung up on the wall of the cockpit.  Alas, there was not sufficient lighting on this section of the ship in the museum, and the cockpit was shrouded in darkness.  Still, there were plenty of other details to be seen.  Even the upper gun turret was insanely detailed.

The last major interstellar vehicle on display was the Imperial Star Destroyer from Episode IV.  In all honesty, there is little left to be said with these models.  All of them share the same high quality craftsmanship, and all of them are testaments to the creativity of special effects artists and technicians.

(Please click the thumbnails below for the full size view)

The science-based portion of the exhibit’s Interstellar Travel category centered on a theoretical vehicle dubbed the Matter/Antimatter rocket.  According to the informational placard in front of the scaled model, current fuel sources (including nuclear reactions) are sorely inadequate to propel a vessel to speeds great enough for interstellar travel.  Even this conceptual rocket, with an exponential amount of energy and a length of nearly the width of Texas, will still only reach 2/3rd the speed of light.  It certainly makes our own 0.5 past lightspeed vessel seem impossible.

(Please click the thumbnails below for the full size view) 

Click here to continue to Part 2.1