Event Report: Star Wars Identities

On April 19th, 2012, the Montreal Science Centre unveiled the new traveling exhibit called Star Wars: Identities. Subtitled "What forces shape you?", the exhibit takes a look at the factors that influence people's identities, and explains them in layman's terms, using Star Wars as a medium. When I heard that a Star Wars museum exhibit was coming to Montreal (a quick two-hour drive from Ottawa, where I live), I was ecstatic. A Star Wars event I can actually attend!  I've voiced complaints before about the lack of Canadian Star Wars events. Star Wars Celebration is often far away from here, and theatrical showings of The Clone Wars are always in big US cities, not Canadian ones. Representatives from Dark Horse Comics don't even go to FanExpo or other big Canadian conventions. But Star Wars: Identities came to Montreal; how could I say no?

Figure 1: Three of the posters for the exhibit, depicting Padmé Amidala, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper. Look close, and you can see thematic elements for each character forming their faces. (Click for larger image)

The exhibit, being a popular attraction, requires that you pick a specific timeslot for entry. This is to reduce the number of people inside. This is incredibly useful. My wife and I bought our tickets online the week before (a good move, as the exhibit sold out on Saturday and Sunday), selecting 11am as our entry time. It was a good pick; several classes on field trips left as we arrived. The exhibit website says it should take 90 minutes, but it took us two hours. Because it is located in Montreal, Quebec, the entire exhibit is bilingual in French and English. I imagine that this will remain for all Canadian Identities exhibits. You're given an audioguide, which responds to signal emitters near exhibits or TV screens. There are markers painted on the floor, and when you're inside them, your audioguide plays a pre-set track, which is always on a loop. The video screens have a progress bar, so if you're arriving partway through a clip, you come back to it. You're also given an electronic bracelet, which you touch at various consoles through the exhibit, to add yourself to the experience. I'll go into this more later. The exhibit discusses the psychology of identity, and explains the various forces that affect each and every one of us. These concepts are explained by using Star Wars characters as examples. We are all shaped by our genetics, our innate talents, our parents, our mentors, our friends, our culture, our homes, our interests, and major events in our lives, to name a few. These same forces shape the heroes and villains of Star Wars, and as a result each character has a real psychological profile. Screens show us each character, their place of origin, their families and friends, their mentors, their occupations and affiliations, their interests, major events that shaped their lives, and judges them using five major psychological traits: Openness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism. These five traits form a good profile of a person in general, and every character's is different.

Figure 2: Darth Vader's psychological profile. What was interesting is that Anakin had a different one, which I did not photograph. The main difference I saw was that Anakin's Neuroticism was extremely high, as opposed to Vader.

One major focus of the Identities exhibit was the difference between Anakin and Luke. Both of these characters had similar beginnings, but key differences caused them to take significantly different paths. Luke's farmboy upbringing by disciplinary parents made him responsible but isolated, while Anakin's urban slave upbringing by an open and allowing mother made him more headstrong and reckless. The premature death of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru gave Luke a sense of purpose, while Shmi's death gave Anakin a pathological fear of losing the people he loved, which the Emperor then manipulated to his advantage. Subtle differences can have huge impacts over time, for heroic fictional characters as well as everyday people, like me and you. In addition to its identity focus, the exhibit itself is filled with amazing artifacts that any Star Wars fan will love. It includes costumes and masks of major characters, as well as models of droids and ships, all of which were used by the actors and producers in the films. These include an R2-D2 used by Kenny Baker, a Yoda puppet used by Frank Oz, a Boba Fett costume worn by Jeremy Bulloch, Stormtrooper armor, Anakin's podracer (used for principal photography and close-up shots in Episode I, complete with Sebulba's sabotage), a Chewbacca costume worn by Peter Mayhew, a scale model of the Millennium Falcon, the eyes of Jabba the Hutt (one of the few parts of that prop to survive), and outfits, robes, and dresses worn by numerous main characters (Luke, Han, Leia, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padmé, Maul, Sidious, Mace Windu, etc.) To me, the crème de la crème was the actual Darth Vader armor worn by David Prowse, and the helmet worn by Sebastian Shaw at the end of Episode VI. There were also pieces of concept art and other prints that show the evolution of Star Wars and its development. Certain areas showcased the development of characters like Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, Jar Jar Binks, and Ahsoka Tano, over their creation (from early concept art to final design), using audioguides to delve deeper into the history.

Figure 3: Darth Vader armor worn by David Prowse during the original trilogy.

Figure 4: Several other props. Clockwise, starting in the top-left: the art on Palpatine's office wall, depicting the Great Hyperspace War; the Millennium Falcon; Anakin Skywalker's podracer; three of Padmé's dresses (from left: Episode I end-scene, Episode II arena outfit, Episode III Senate scene).

As I mentioned earlier, people attending Star Wars: Identities were given electronic bracelets, which could be used to interact with numerous exhibits. Certain consoles had buttons that you touched your bracelet to, in order to record responses. You could give yourself a name, a species (and customize its appearance), and after learning about the different forces that affect people (Star Wars characters and real-life individuals), you could select which forces affect your character. They gave in-universe situations, and you selected your response. For example, at a young age, you want to leave home and follow your dreams: what is your parents' reaction? Choices included "No!", "Good idea, maybe when you're older," "Good for you! I packed you a lunch," and "Whatever." These responses are based on a graph of your parents' style, disciplinary (do they control you, for the greater good) and responsiveness (do they listen to you). You could pick a homeworld, which involved selecting what your parents did for work, where you vacationed, etc. When learning about friends and how they affect people, you could twin your bracelet with someone else's. You picked an occupation. You also picked which of the characters' values you most identified with, based on a flow chart, and selected them as a mentor. Characters were grouped in three main clusters: intellectual (Sidious, Leia, Padmé, etc.), spiritual (Yoda, Obi-Wan, etc.), and physical (Han, Chewbacca, Boba Fett, Luke, etc.) At one point, a major event occurs, and you select your best response (mine was about winning a city in a game of Sabacc: do you rule justly, take freely from the coffers, or turn it into your own plaything?) At another point, you use sliding scales between two opposing traits to determine your personality, and it gives you a profile of your Openness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism (like the main characters). In the end, you were offered the same choice that Anakin and Luke were given by Darth Sidious: join him in the Dark Side, or not. Anakin accepted the offer, while Luke rejected. What do you do? At the conclusion of the exhibit, you can get an overall look at your character, and have it emailed to you free. I picked a Kel Dor by the name of Taral. He was a bounty hunter, who is strong in the Force, was raised on Naboo, looks up to Darth Sidious, is friends with a female Wookiee named Dromiceiomimus (the character my wife developed), etc. In the end, I accepted the Emperor's offer to be his apprentice.

Figure 5: The character of Taral, which has the profile I created. I tried to answer questions more or less honestly.

Figure 6: The psychological profile of Taral. I answered the questions honestly, so it applies to me as well.

Star Wars: Identities was an incredible exhibit. It offers a wonderful look at the forces that shape all individuals, be they fictitious or real, and shows just how realistic the Star Wars characters are in terms of their psychologies. It also serves as a wonderful museum of Star Wars lore, with dozens of artifacts covering all six films and The Clone Wars. I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting Eastern Canada or the North-Eastern United States divert to Montreal to see Star Wars: Identities. The language barrier will not be an issue; the museum is bilingual, and for the most part the city is too. Star Wars: Identities will be at the Montreal Science Centre until 16 September 2012. It will then be at the Telus World of Science museum in Edmonton, Alberta between 27 October 2012 and 1 April 2013. Future cities have not yet been revealed, but the website has three "Coming Soon" tags listed, indicating that it will visit at least three more cities. For more information, go to www.starwarsidentities.com or here.

About the Author

Andrew Halliday contributes to EUCantina as a writer. He writes our column "The Star Wars Dissection," published every second Monday, and also reviews episodes of The Clone Wars television show. He began writing in 2010, sending letters to the SoloSound.net podcast The EU Review, using mathematics to look at certain trends in Star Wars content. These monthly analyses were expanded into his column in 2011. He has a degree in biology and a love for all things science and math.