MAAS Curator Damian McDonald interviews Laela French from the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art about the Star Wars universe and STAR WARS™ Identities: The Exhibition.
How did you come to be a curator with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art?
My background is in museum collections and exhibitions. I have a Master of Art History and spent my early career working with museum collections in Los Angeles. I worked at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, overseeing their loans and exhibitions. Their collection was a combination of historical and film artefacts, so working there really prepared me for working with the Lucas Museum. When the opportunity arose, I was intrigued. The rest is history.
What elements of the Star Wars universe make it so consistently engaging and relevant for audiences?
I love this question. It really gets to the heart of the magic of Star Wars. I believe it’s because Star Wars is not science fiction in the true sense but a new myth. Humans have been telling ourselves myths and stories to help us understand our place in the universe since we started talking and drawing on cave walls. Star Wars characters are classic archetypes we can all relate to. And, adding to the magic, George Lucas set his story in space, with all these fantastic creatures and aliens, and walking and talking robots. It was a trifecta of genius elements: the archetypal hero’s journey, set in space, with amazing special effects. The universe he created was so rich you could disappear into the story. It’s a new fairytale for the modern world. Kids today know Darth Vader and Jedi, and they role play the characters even before they see the movies. Star Wars is part of our cultural mythology. It is woven into the fabric of our shared identity and visual vernacular.
What interests you most about the creative process behind the characters in Star Wars?
I love how timeless the characters are. They reference cultures and archetypes from across the globe and different centuries. The Jedi look is part monk and part Samurai warrior. Han Solo could be dropped in a western film and fit right in. And then you have Darth Vader and the stormtroopers, that have some historic links [storm troopers were specialist soldiers of the German army in World War I] but also their own identity. They are new icons in our cultural lexicon.
Tell us about the Star Wars objects visitors will see at the exhibition.
There are over 200 objects from the Lucas Museum including all your favourite characters such as Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Padmé Amidala, and Yoda. There is a fabulous collection of spaceships from the TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon to a 2.4 metre Star Destroyer. Everything was used in the films, from concept design to costumes and ships and props. A few of my favourites are the BB-8 and R2-D2 droids, but there are also stormtrooper costumes from each film (a rare treat) and production paintings by Ralph McQuarrie (which are truly exquisite).
The Star Wars universe is full of strong and striking identities. Why do these characters resonate so much with people?
These characters still resonate because they are traditional archetypes blended with George Lucas’ own love of film and comics. George combined all his favourite aspects of film and comics into these characters and ensured they resonated by having their identity and role based on traditional archetypes: the hero, the rogue, the priestess, the wise guide/mentor, the sidekick and so on. The characters are flawed and imperfect and yet loveable and understandable. Even the evil characters have depth and conflict. We recognise ourselves in these characters and are pulled into the narrative.
Which Star Wars character do you identify with most closely?
I am a little Han Solo in that I don’t like to follow rules unless I agree with them. And I really relate to Princess Leia (and am sometimes called Princess Laela). I relate to her strength, fortitude and determination. As a young girl seeing the movie, when these powerful character traits were rarely portrayed, her character was really appealing. And Yoda, the wise and wacky guide. I love that George made Yoda both humble and goofy before you saw him as the wise Jedi master. I aspire to the ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try,’ philosophy that Yoda teaches Luke.
VINTAGE STAR WARS
The Museum’s all-original (1978–1984) Star Wars collection includes the Star Wars: Escape the Death Star Game (1977), the Kenner classic Millennium Falcon (1980), Star Wars bubble gum cards, Jabba the Hut on his throne playset, a Mini-Rig ship (a toy not featured in a Star Wars film), and many original figures from the first three films in the series.
STAR WARS™ Identities: The Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum open from 15 November 2018 until 10 June 2019.