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Star Wars Shines at Brooklyn Museum of Art

You-know-who from you-know what gets a firmer base in culture and history in "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" at Brooklyn Museum of Art.
"Star Wars: The Magic of Myth"
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
718-638-5000. Tickets $10, students and seniors $8, children 6-12 $4.
April 5 - July 7.
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons

For most Star Wars fans an exhibition entitled "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" featuring original artwork props, models, costumes and characters from the all four Star Wars films is certainly enough to make hearts start pounding.

But the Brooklyn Museum of Art, anxious to give this traveling exhibition, first developed by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, a firmer base in culture and history, has added approximately 25 objects
from its comprehensive collection. These objects examine how diverse cultures have interpreted the heroic journey throughout time.

Organized by Richard Fazzini, chair of the Department of Egyptian, Classical and Ancient Middle Eastern Art, this mini-exhibition, "The Myth of the Hero and Heroine," shows women as warriors and leaders (a Greek vessel from the fourth century B.C. featuring Amazon women), the role of the dragon in mythology (Jason Defeats the Dragon, an etching by Salvatore Rosa [1615-1673]) and the Faustian origins of Darth Vader (Faust in His Study, an etching by Rembrandt [1606-1669]).

Having established the artistic legitimacy of the exhibition, the museum invites visitors to screen a 30-minute documentary featuring interviews with actors Harrison Ford (Hans Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker); sound designer Bren Burtt; composer John Williams and, of course, director/producer George Lucas (both past and present), who takes great pains to state the obvious - that he owes more than a little to Flash Gordon, the Lone Ranger and westerns like High Noon and Gunsmoke.

"The only place we've got left is space," Lucas concludes.

Armed with a basic idea of the mythological roots and contemporary influences of the legendary film saga, visitors are now free to roam the two floors of the exhibition, designed by Matthew Yokobsky. And there certainly is much to see.

Star Wars: The Magic of Myth is rife with models of bombers, fighters, destroyers and droids; concept drawings, storyboards, and production paintings that illustrate how fantasy becomes film; and over 30 costumed mannequins of the best-known Star Wars characters including Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Hans Solo, and in the last room of the first exhibition floor, Yoda enshrined in a glass case. Here Yoda, the short, green Jedi master, is in the center of the room, while on a side wall he preaches from an Empire Strikes Back film clip.

Some of the mannequins are grouped in dramatic scenes. The crime lord Jabba the Hutt is shown reclining on his couch surrounded by members of his entourage. Queen Amidala is pictured in her galactic senate gown with her handmaidens.

Throughout the exhibition, interpretive panels remind visitors of the films' mythological sources - the path to atonement, the road to enlightenment.

Also throughout the exhibit, film clips highlight dramatic moments in the films - the opening scene from the first film, "Imperial Star Destroyer Rescues Rebel Escape Pod," "Luke's Attack on the Death Star," also from the first film, and "Queen Amidala Addressing the Galactic Senate," from Episode I The Phantom Menace

At the exit a "Watch This Spot!" sign informs visitors that after May 16 material from the next movie, "Attack of the Clones" will be displayed here.

Caught between their need to appeal to a wider audience and the necessity of pleasing older, more conservative patrons, many museums have been mounting serious exhibitions that reflect popular culture - whether it's Japanese anime, ethnic struggles or outrageous interpretations of classical themes. This time it appears the curators at the Brooklyn Museum of Art have reached too far and looked too deep.

Anyone who has seen even one of the Star Wars films knows the real excitement is not in the themes or the costumes or the mythological parallels. It is in the magical special effects in scenes like pod race in The Phantom Menace or the destruction of the death star in Return of the Jedi.

With all due respect to Joseph Campbell and his "Hero with a Thousand Faces," the Star Wars films are not about heroics but rather histrionics. Those who are not particularly enthusiastic about the films will not be impressed by interpretive panels. And real Star Wars fans will need no excuse to visit this exhibition, their last chance to get a glimpse of all those goodies before they head off to Sydney, Australia. [PS]

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