STAR WARS: Where Science Meets Imagination

After a 20 venue international journey, seen by more than 2.8 million people around the world, Star Wars makes its final stop at The Tech Museum of Innovation, California. Pete Adams is the Traveling Exhibits Project Manager and he told Advisor about the retirement of the Star Wars exhibition and how touring exhibitions need plenty of up front planning.

The Tech was initially approached by the Museum of Science, Boston (who developed the exhibition in collaboration with Lucasfilm Ltd) to see if we’d be interested in taking on the exhibition as a location. They decided it would be ideal to retire it at the Tech.

When I take on a project I visit that project wherever it is. I make sure I speak to project managers, interpreters – everyone I can – to get as much opinion and as many insights as possible. I also speak to the show’s producer, get names of other institutions that are similar to ours and speak to them to try and work out how the exhibition will translate. We are not reinventing the wheel – we’re working out what works and then applying it to in-house teams. Homework and good planning are key.

Within the Exhibition
Within the Exhibition

Load-in can be the first hiccup. Extra costs can get added on so you need to plan ahead and ensure that there are no surprises. As much data and information as possible helps, so communication with other insititutions about the install can help greatly.

This particular project has been funded by BOSE, but each institution is responsible for funding the travelling of the exhibition to its location. Generally sponsorship covers these costs – in this case Scholar Share and Xfinity worked with us as sponsors.

The content of the exhibition has stayed broadly the same across its life. The key is how not how the exhibit has changed but how it is presented in each location. We work on how it can be presented in a new way.

The Tech has an18,000 sq ft exhibition hall which is a blank canvas. We use it to create ‘wow’ factors and zones as if through a story. Lighting was done in conjunction with the designers and the floor plan was developed with Lucas Film and the Museum of Science, Boston – we sat down together to decide how to best represent the exhibition.

There is always a need to highlight key elements and create ‘wow factors’.

Star Wars took 3 weeks to install, with the lighting and casework going in pretty quickly. Once you get to artifact handling obviously the installation slows down.

The whole show is very interactive. For instance, we look at Maglev technology in one section. Kids have the chance to build a Land Speeder and they get to see show how this in turn has inspired Maglev train technology in real life.

The key for me is the planning – project management makes all the difference. I have to ensure that I read all the contracts thoroughly to ensure there are no hidden costs. I make sure I look for key things. In this exhibition, for instance, there is an air chair which needs house air to be provided. We need to check the cost implications of every extra.

Costumes from the film
Costumes from the film

I also need to ensure that the staffing ensures the best visitor experience, along with other revenue resources. This exhibition has a separate merchandise store as well as a Millennium Falcon experience all of which contribute to revenue.

We have lots of visitors who dress as favourite characters – not just kids. There are many Star wars fan clubs such as the 501st Legion (a dark side character club who dress as storm troopers). They have proved to be a great community resource for promoting the exhibit. Star Wars has a huge fan base, which is very community oriented and this has been useful to tap in to.

Sponsors: Bose | Scholarshare | Xfinity / Exhibit Partners: Lucas Film | Lucas Cultural Arts Museum | Boston Museum of Science | Team San Jose / Lighting Designers: Bill and Carol Overstreet / Artifact Conservators: Alise Eagleston and Rowan Geiger