Ever since a long, intimate weapon that hums and glows in the dark was thrust into our consciousness 45 years ago, the Star Wars franchise has entered our psyche and set pop culture on a new course. If A New Hope was credited for sending fantasy geeks into raptures with its visual wit as heroes, villains and droids engaged in a game of space chess, the ensuing instalments bind diehards and the Fellowship even tighter with the Force. Love it or loathe it (or love it and loathe it, for older fans who think their precious childhood memories have been besmirched), the interstellar epic has bridged generations of moviegoers by making the galaxy more diverse through its many iterations and spin-offs.
This is why Resistance is futile. Although the space opera is admired and resented, as moviemakers turned a piece of escapism into an ideological turf war, Star Wars has developed a scholarly preoccupation among enthusiasts whose mania extends well beyond collectibles and conventions. The fandom only proved one thing: The franchise does not belong to pop-culture savant George Lucas or the genre-bending JJ Abrams who hopped between galaxies (you know, that other space Voyager saga that lived long, but did not quite prosper) — it belongs to the fans.
Sure, the Hollywood tent pole had its missteps, and we found our lack of faith disturbing after the prequel trilogy delivered a disappointing blow. But no one can resist the quirk of a Bigfoot piloting a spaceship or a swing band — made up of aliens — jamming on a UFO. Chalk it up to a flush of nostalgia, but every opening crawl that appears on the big screen, accompanied by John Williams’ familiar burst of brass and percussion, is an invitation for a new generation of fans to join the Star Wars family. Need we say more about the lightsabers, which inspired young Padawans around the world to set up Jedi clubs and challenge their friends to a duel with their DIY light sticks?
Such cult-like obsession reminds one that a sci-fi mythology like Star Wars needs more than the old gods to sustain it, and why The Fans Strike Back exhibition feels meaningful — it is curated by the fans, for the fans. Currently being held in Manhattan, New York until June, the show claims to be the largest Star Wars fan exhibit, featuring 600 official items scavenged and carefully preserved by ardent devotees across the galaxy. Not only models and life-size figures certified by the US Action Figure Authority are on display, but rare comic editions of the first trilogy from 1977, 1981 and 1983 can also be leafed through.
“You have your classic setups between the hero and the villain, between good and evil. And you’ve always got your underdog who somehow finds a way. We all find ourselves in that place in our lives where we wonder which path we’re going to choose, so the stories are very relatable. This is an exhibition that celebrates the fans themselves and their love of this genre,” enthused John Zaller, executive producer of Exhibition Hub, which is behind the exhibit.
Every nook of the space, either adorned with film posters, sculptures or bespoke accessories made by robotic geniuses, looks like a hyperspace leap forward in visual sophistication. Visitors will be charmed by the setup that replicates scenes from the whizz-bang franchise, starting with the classic 1980s and capping off with the early 2000s. To quote Luke Skywalker loosely, “You’ll find it full of surprises”.
FIVE NOT-TO-MISSED PHOTO-OPS:
A snow-covered Hoth
Immerse yourself in the icy planet and also the temporary headquarters of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. Relive one of the major confrontations in the franchise, Battle of the Hoth, as you walk through the rebel base teeming with faux icicles and walls evocative of a bunker with metal doors.
The 1:1 figure of Jabba The Hutt
The giant slug would have slithered its way to becoming the oldest character in the entire franchise, if he had not met his end at the hands of Leia Organa. Known for his cruelty and illegal activities such as spice-smuggling, slavery and gunrunning, Jabba the Hutt is one of the most powerful and notorious crime lords in the galaxy. A 4.8m model of this ruthless gangster is propped up on a platform made to look like his palace. Come in your Princess Leia slave outfit if you dare.
Anakin Skywalker’s podracer
Famous for being the fastest pod ever to compete in the Boonta Eve Classic, this shiny blue and silver piece of machinery was built in secret by the young slave Anakin Skywalker. This nimble vehicle gave him the edge he needed to win a racing competition and claim his freedom.
The Emperor’s throne room
This is a room of many things, from being the Emperor’s battle station to the site of the climactic showdown between Jedi and Sith at the Battle of Endor. Palpatine, the embodiment of all things evil, awaits you alongside one of his Imperial Guards in red.
Samurai Stormtrooper (or life-size figure of C-3PO)
The samurai Stormtrooper, winner of the first prize in the Cosplay competition organised by CIFIMAD in 2016, deserves a place on your Instagram but there is constantly a snaking queue to snag a shot. Instead, hunt for the many life-size figures around the premises, such as C-3PO and Darth Vader.
The Fans Strike Back is on until June 26, at 526 Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village, New York. Tickets from US$29.50 per adult. See here for more details.
This article first appeared on May 2, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.