Star Wars L'Expo
An Exhibition at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris, France
A brainwavez.org Cultural Expedition


South Africaby Mandy J Watson
South AfricaCape Town, South Africa
Posted: 22 August 2006

If you're in Paris at the moment you owe it to yourself to visit the Star Wars exhibition being held at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in the 19e. Whether you're a fan of science, science fiction, or movie making, there is sure to be something in this exhibition for you.

Star Wars L'Expo: Yoda Production PuppetFirst, I must apologise: for some reason I thought that this exhibition closed at the beginning of August, so I put this article on the backburner, intending to write a retrospective piece later in the year, in favour of working on other items. Luckily (depending on one's perspective, I suppose) last night, while I was looking for my notes on Versailles, I found all my Star Wars paraphernalia and noticed that the exhibition only closes on Saturday, so I churned this out as fast as I could (nothing like a pressing deadline to motivate you) as you still have time to go if you happen to be in Paris this week.

Star Wars L'Expo is running at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (City of Science and Industry) in Paris. The comprehensive exhibition showcases movie props, artwork, and memorabilia, and poses (and answers) questions relating to the science of Star Wars, such as "How do land speeders manage to hover?" [->], "Is it possible to live beneath the sea?" [->], "How does a laser saber [sic] work?" [->], "What is an ionic engine?", "How can the diameter of the Black Star [sic] be estimated" [->], and "How do quadruped vehicles move along one leg at a time?" [->]. The answers, from Roland Lehoucq, an astrophysicist at the CEA (the French atomic energy commission), are in-depth and very interesting.

Star Wars L'Expo: Geonosian Riding An Orray Production ModelWith your entry ticket you receive a mini-poster-size map of the exhibition (which is worth framing if you're a Star Wars geek). It provides a great summary of what you will find in the exhibition, which is divided into nine sections, each of which focuses on a different planet, except for Tatooine, which is focussed on twice - in section 1 and 8 - to represent, and differentiate between, the Tatooine of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace and the Tatooine of the original trilogy.

Each section presents a science question or two, discusses the planet's (or moon's) unique planetary data, focussing on weather, typical environment(s), and vegetation, and showcases costumes, furniture, models, and production artwork related to the particular movie and planet, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, appropriate to the section, which loops on flat-screen TVs. For obvious reasons the showcases are more comprehensive and varied in what they display with regards to the latest trilogy, but there are some real gems to be found throughout the exhibition, such as the puppet of Yoda used in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, and full-size characters and costumes, including Darth Vader, Jango Fett, Wookies Guanta and Eugroothwa, an Ewok, an Imperial Stormtrooper, and an Imperial Red Guard.

The props generally speak for themselves, although it's interesting to see the detail and thought that goes into each piece. This was especially noticeable to me due to the number of chairs that are showcased from the latest trilogy, and how they all differ immensely from one another. I realised that behind each one is a concept, probably a large number of sketches to refine the design, and a manufacturing process to create something that will probably only be on screen for a few seconds, and which most people (bar die-hard fans) will never, ever notice. This same scenario plays out for every object, every scene, and every model in the movie.

Star Wars L'Expo: Pod Race Crowd Scene

Speaking of which, the detail on the set models is absolutely amazing. Most are only a few metres in size and it's mind-boggling to realise that these substitute for real locations in the movies, and you cannot tell the difference, even when you see them projected on a massive scale in a cinema. The models are also very telling in terms of what happens behind the scenes: one of the most interesting model set pieces was of a section of the crowd in the stands from the pod-race scene in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. All the "people", bar a few one-and-a-half inch full-body characters in strategic places such as on the stairs, are nothing more than the tips of earbuds (cuetips) that have been coloured. Fans were used to blow air on the buds so that the cotton tufts would blow around in the wind and simulate movement. This was then captured and digitally multiplied to form the massive crowd scene that we see in the movie [->].

'Luke Pulls Vader Back' Storyboard Close-UpThe production sketches, combined, showcase technical drawings (such as of the Millennium Falcon), concept art, production art, and storyboard pages straight from ILM's archives. Much of the artwork is credited to a number of names that are well known to me (Joe Johnston, Ian McCraig, and Doug Chiang being prime examples), and I was almost over the moon to find a number of works by Ralph McQuarrie. To me, seeing Ralph McQuarrie production art is like an art critic seeing a work by Picasso for the first time.

Other items you will find include a large number of character models (usually about five to eight inches in size), including a few character designs that were later discarded or reworked significantly, which proved to be a great window into the development process, a few full-size pod racers, and a (presumably) full-size Naboo Starfighter with a young Anakin Skywalker inside.

At the end of the exhibition is an interactive display of chroma keying (otherwise known as blue or green screen - in this case it was blue), which proved to be particularly attractive to kids visiting the exhibition while I was there. If you stand in front of the blue screen you can see yourself projected into a number of Star Wars scenes: the blue screen footage is displayed on one monitor, the virtual backdrop sets on a second, and the combined output it projected onto a screen, for everyone's amusement. [->]

Section Of A Death Star Production ModelThe gift shop at the end of the exhibition houses some great merchandise, but most of it (such as models and character toys) - I suspect - is too large to fit in your luggage to take home (assuming that you don't live in Paris), so I didn't look too hard at the merchandise otherwise I would have found it too depressing knowing that I couldn't buy most of the items. There was also an exhibition companion book but, much to my dismay, it is only available in French. To me this is a great oversight as I noticed that many of the visitors were English speaking, and I'm sure it would have been profitable to publish the book in English too, especially since the exhibition was fully trilingual (French, English, and Spanish). I would also have liked to have had the opportunity not only to take away a keepsake of the exhibition, but also the text of the science questions and answers.

Other items available in the exhibition's gift shop include pens with LEGO Star Wars characters on them (priced at around 8 euros [?], if I remember correctly, which I thought was really excessive for a pen), which you can also find at LEGOLAND Windsor at roughly the same price. You can also buy Star Wars Series 4 Bust-Ups (micro-bust model kits), at 8 euros [?] each, which are available in characters such as Emperor Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and General Grievous. If you're short of cash you can opt for Star Wars collectable stickers, at 1.50 euros [?] per pack, or a large collection of (rather expensive) postcards depicting the various movie posters (normal postcards are 2 euros [?], "chromium" postcards are 3.50 euros [?]).

On the whole, the exhibition was wonderful and far exceeded my expectations. My only complaints are that there isn't enough coverage of Han Solo or the Millennium Falcon, and there was no English exhibition companion book in the gift shop. However, some of the great inclusions, such as Princess Leia's famous slave bikini (you'll have to wait until right near the end to see it), Han Solo frozen in carbonite (ditto), the two full-size Wookies, the Yoda puppet, and the many production sketches, especially those by Ralph McQuarrie, do a lot to make up for these oversights and omissions.

As comprehensive as the exhibition is, though, it's quite a shocking thought to consider the - presumably - warehouses full of props and production artwork that weren't included (never mind the many brand extensions - the comics, the novels, the merchandise...) and the aspects of Star Wars that weren't covered. This isn't a complaint, just a thought to the many, many items out there I would still like to see one day.

The well-balanced displays of production memorabilia really bring both the mythology and the filmmaking of Star Wars to life, and the science adds that little bit of extra value that pulls the whole exhibition together perfectly. Not only that but the balance makes the exhibition interesting for almost everyone (of all ages), and not only for those who demand a more exclusive "Star Wars geek" experience.


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Gallery
Key Facts
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie
Address: 30, avenue Corentin Cariou, 75019 Paris
Phone: 10 40 05 80 00
Web Site: www.cite-sciences.fr
Métro: Line 7, Porte de la Villette station
Bus: 75, 139, 150, 152, PC2, PC3
Car Park Entrances: Quai de la Charente, Boulevard MacDonald

Star Wars L'Expo
Duration: 18 October 2005 to 27 August 2006
Opening Hours:
  • Tuesday to Saturday: 10:00 to 18:00
  • Sunday: 10:00 to 19:00
  • Monday: closed
Entrance Fees:
  • Full price: 10.50 euros [?]
  • Concession: 8.50 euros [?]
  • Children under 7: free
Languages: English, French, Spanish
Photography: Permitted
Time Required:
  • 1.5 hours if you're quick
  • 2.5 to 3 hours if you linger
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