In May 1977, it had all the makings of a box office disaster. The script had been turned down by numerous studios. It had no major stars and a troubled production. And though its obsessive creator had a major hit with a teen comedy, George Lucas had every reason to be nervous on opening weekend. But neither he nor anyone else could have known then what Star Wars would become.
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Much like the film, "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" -- a museum display of costumes, models and props from all four films -- already has broken attendance records, this time at the Smithsonian. With screenings, related lectures and a "Cantina" snack bar for kids, Houston's Museum of Fine Arts (the exhibit's only regional stop) expects more people to make Bantha tracks to this show than any other in its history.
The "art" exhibit does purport to offer stimulation beyond beholding Princess Leia's slave-girl bikini from Return of the Jedi. (Yes, fanboys, it's in the show.) While Lucas gave nods to Buck Rogers, old Hollywood westerns and Arthurian folklore, his guiding principles came straight from classical mythology and academics like Joseph Campbell. Mythic concepts such as the hero's journey, the wizened mentor, metaphysical insights ("The Force," anyone?), roguish partners, distressed damsels, monster combat and father/son issues, evident in all the Star Wars films, are spelled out in the exhibit's text to justify the lucrative lure.
"Star Wars: The Magic of Myth"
Museum of Fine Arts' Audrey Jones Beck Building, 5601 Main
March 11 to June 24. For hours and ticket prices, call (713)639-7300 or (888)733-6324 or visit www.mfah.org
"A lot of people think that Star Wars is the past century's greatest contribution to mythology, and I wouldn't disagree but the theme of the exhibit is how involved Lucas was in classical mythology. Pretty much each Star Wars character has some predecessor," says Marian Luntz, MFAH's film curator. "And it's full of symbolism and spirituality."
As for her own favorite display, Luntz cites the costume exhibits and the fully dressed Darth Maul. "It's really stunning to see them in their full glory," she says. "And let's face it: The whole thing is pretty cool."