After quietly mocking the droves of Lord of the Rings fans who turned out for the Boston Museum of Science's exhibit last year, this Star Wars fan is ready to sit down for a force-feeding of crow by any number of furry-footed, pointy-eared Middle-Earthlings who care to deride me for my own geekery. Feel free to taunt me with names like "scruffy-looking nerf-herder", "mange-ridden womprat" or "rut of a butt of a Hutt", but I just spent an entire evening dorking-out at the museum's brand-new Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit, and I had a great time.

"Making science fun" is the name of the game of this exhaustive and fully interactive installation. "What Star Wars cool stuff can I see there?" you ask? Man, there's so much. Here is just a sampling:
  • A full-scale model of the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon (the "Jump To Lightspeed Experience" seats 6 for a Bose-tricked introduction to the exhibit)
  • An extremely ornate miniature of the Falcon (which, if you look closely enough at the nose, sports a very small Champion Spark Plugs decal)
  • Luke's Landspeeder (which is surprisingly small and would likely qualify as a sub-compact)
  • Tantive IV, the Rebel Blockade Runner from the ever-memorable opening of A New Hope (a piece which has never before been exhibited)
  • An All-Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) (not-so-) miniature
  • Costumes galore: C-3P0, R2-D2, Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper, a Snowtrooper, a Wampa, hosts of props like blasters and pistols and lightsabers...

This is a Smithsonian scale experience for Star Wars fans, with the $5 million, 10,000 square feet of Lucasian joy impossible to take in during one visit, especially when you consider all the real science tie-ins that the Museum of Science's team of 60 and Lucasfilm's 40 crafted in the three years it took to create this traveling attraction:
  • The Moller SkyCar - The age of the Jetsons is here: this Davis, CA-based company is now taking orders for a turboprop powered, 4-passenger vehicle that can cruise at 20,000 feet at 275 mph with a maximum speed of 375 mph and can get 750 miles per tank of ethanol.
  • The C-Leg Microprocessor Knee - a battery powered leg prosthetic for active amputees from Otto Bock HealthCare. Considering the complexity of the technology, the cost of outfitting a bionic man like Steve Austin could very well be around $6 million (cool bionic sound effects not included).
  • The QRIO Robot - Sony's consumer-friendly robot can do some pretty incredible things, like dance, throw a ball or navigate an uneven surface (though it is not quite as terrifying as Honda's Asimo).
And that's just a few of the gadgets that are so seamlessly integrated into the exhibit and its two technology themes:

"Getting Around" - After examining Luke's Landspeeder and other floating Star Wars vehicles, visitors can find out how things move without touching the ground in the real world, from models of flying cars to commercial spaceplanes.
"Robots and People" - Visitors meet C-3P0 and R2-D2 and explore how people relate to the robots in Star Wars. The exhibition also features the creation of real world robots that navigate, sense and understand the world around them, while communicating in increasingly sophisticated ways. (Of course, all this is necessary in the robots preparing for the day they take over.)

The exhibit is not meant to be an all-in-one answer stop. It is actually designed with some core questions in mind:
  1. What is technology?
  2. What part do imagination and creativity play in developing technologies?
  3. How do science and technology interact and how are they separate?
  4. How close are we to having technologies like those in the Star Wars universe?
  5. How can we use our scientific and engineering knowledge and skills from the exhibit to create a solution, test it, refine it and make changes based on the testing?
  6. How can we assess the impact of technology on society?
  7. How can science explain the effect that seeing Carrie Fisher in that gold bikini in Return Of The Jedi on teenage boys everywhere?
Okay, I added that last question myself, but the exhibit is very thorough and does its job in that it leaves visitors with questions that they will seek their own answers for.

There are a number of different ways to enjoy yourself, too:
  • The Self-Styled Tour - Walk in and wander about as you are perpetually distracted by the next Shiny Thing. There are many Shiny Things in this exhibit, many of which you will fantasize about displaying in your own home if you had the space (and the felonious intent).
  • The "Interpreter Carts" Tour - A rotating army of over 200 MOS volunteers are stationed throughout the exhibit, each trained to talk with guests about the future technologies depicted in the movies, the real science behind them, and current research that may someday lead to real-life versions of similar technologies. While these folks may speak effortlessly to your inner geek, getting the folks at Plymouth Plantation to break character and admit that they had a microwave burrito for lunch is a little more fun and challenging.
  • The Multimedia Tour - Like the ride in the Falcon, this add-on costs an extra $5.00 (above the $20 all-access MOS/SW pass). For the detail-oriented, though, it is well worth it. The fin gets you use of a touch-screen, wireless handheld device (a Toshiba e830) that is loaded with scene-specific video, audio and still images, with the ability to bookmark and e-mail specific content.
If you have not already been challenged enough during your visit, there are the exhibit's two major "Challenge Areas":
  • Maglev Engineering Design Lab - Visitors experiment with magnetic levitation imagining, creating and testing their own floating Maglev cars by propelling them along a magnetic track.
  • Robot Engineering Design Lab - Museum-goers become robot designers, selecting wheels or treads, choosing different kinds of sensors and programming the robot to navigate through the droid factory to its goal - Padme's ship.
And there's the planetarium show, Far, Far Away: The Worlds of Star Wars, which helps visitors imagine the planets and moons of the Star Wars galaxy by comparing them to environments in our own solar system. It's a nice way to decompress after a day of hyper-stimulation and input overload. (Use a laser pointer during the presentation and risk being fed to the Rancor.)

As much as Boston has to offer as a city, it will not be a viable destination for everyone who would care to experience this once-in-a-lifetime chance to share in something as huge as Where Science Meets Imagination. It sure is a good thing, then, that Boston is the inaugural stop on a three-year tour:

COSI (Columbus, OH)
   June-August 2006
Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (Portland, OR)
   October-December 2006
California Science Center (Los Angeles, CA)
   February-April 2007
The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, PA)
   June-August 2007
The Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago, IL)
   September-December 2007
Fort Worth Museum of Science & History (Fort Worth, TX)
   Feburary-April 2008
The Science Museum of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
   June-October 2008

Happy New Year, and MTFBWY.