Anyone who has been following my posts knows that I have a huge weakness for sci-fi and science, and if someone was to marry the two of those together, I’d be there immediately. Especially if it involved Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars or Middle Earth.
Well, it happened.
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is currently hosting Star Wars: Identities. Star Wars: Identities is a travelling exhibit that highlights human development using the mythos of the Star Wars universe. I had been keeping an eye on this exhibit as a few years ago I had been to the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit in Montreal, which was excellent, and the same organization (X3 Productions) was responsible for this one. And when I found out they were using Star Wars to teach people about psychology, I knew I had to go.
You see, we all have questions about how and why people turn out the way they do. Even people raised under the same roof can have wildly disparate personalities, and can view the world through very different lenses. The exhibit highlights the difference between Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and how, despite coming from the same planet and having (similar) genetic makeup, their lives take two very different trajectories based on their experiences and the environments they are exposed to.
So, I headed down to Ottawa Aviation and Space Museum with my parents in tow to check it out. Upon entry, you’re given a earpiece and a wristband that you can use to trigger the various displays. The exhibit is structured around 3 main themes, each of which has several stations: Origins, which looks at your species, your genes, your parents and culture, your Influences, which investigates the role of mentors, friends and marking events, and finally, your Choices, which include your occupation, personality and values.
Perhaps my favourite part was how, at each of these 10 stations, you make decisions and choices that help form your Star Wars character (mine is below). Are you good? Evil? A Wookie? A merchant? What do people from your planet do to celebrate? All of these choices are substantiated by psychological theories – for example, the station around personality asks you to fill out a short questionnaire based on the Five Factor Model of personality traits. Another station looks at how your culture can affect you, and how moving from one culture to another impacts your development using a theory called Acculturation (which, incidentally, is the focus of my PhD dissertation). Each of these is illustrated by contrasting Anakin and Luke (and occasionally other characters), and highlighted using clips from the movies.
Following my visit to the museum, I had a chance to chat with Sophie Desbiens, the Communications Manager for X3 Productions (the organization behind the exhibit).
Q: I understand that you consulted with psychologists at the Universite de Montreal to help with the design of exhibit. Can you tell me more about that?
The exhibition’s scientific content was created with the collaboration of a few scientists directed by the scientific content team of the Montreal science center. When we set out to explore that scientific notion of identity we wanted to make sure we were up-to-date and on point with contemporary ideas and theories for that type of subject.
Q: How did you ensure that the science wasn’t lost amidst the lightsabers and props?
That was easy in a way since the props are there to illustrate our point. As mentioned before, we take the Star Wars characters to explain identity. More precisely, we follow the evolution of Luke and Anakin Skywalker who were born on the same planet with very similar genetic background and see how they turned out to be completely opposite personalities. Also, the SW universe is very well known, people are familiar with the story and the characters so it is easy to take this as a jumping off point to go into more abstract subjects like genetics, mentorship, etc.
Q: Why Star Wars?
Why not? 😉 And as I said before, the characters and the story have been around for over 35 years now and still going strong. Why? Because it is the story of all humans in a way. George Lucas has always said he was influenced by Joseph Campbell when he wrote Star Wars and it shows as we have all the archetypes of every mythology here: it is the journey of the hero. The hero’s journey is most often than not a coming of age story, and in this we find the perfect connection to explore how someone grows up, acquires a certain identity throughout trials and tribulations.
Q: How is the exhibit set up?
Again, the Star Wars universe is perfect to illustrate the 10 components of identity we chose to explore. There is the notion of your Origins: Species, genes, parents, culture, your Influences: mentors, friends, marking events, and Choices: occupation, personality and values. All of these are part of your identity, they are the forces that shape you.
When you look and compare Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywlaker, all these 10 aspects have shaped them:
Luke was born on Tattoine, he is the son of Anakin who has a high-level of midichlorians in his blood, he is human. Luke’s mentors are Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, they (and his friends) will influence him towards the light side. Meanwhile, Anakin ended up being mentored by Palpatine who influenced him towards the dark side.
Q: What is your favourite part of the exhibit?
My favorite part of the exhibition is that I can create my own SW character with an RFID bracelet throughout the visit by answering questions related to those 10 aspects of identity. Also, we learn how characters are created in fiction as well as in real life.
Finally, I think it is really interesting to see the difference in how visitors create their avatar. Adults will tend to go along with reality, or something close to who they are, however the kids will naturally go for the complete opposite and be totally creative in their avatar.
Q: How has the exhibit been received?
Fantastic, not only from SW fans but also from teachers and especially parents who are glad that they end up having discussions with their teens because of this exhibition.
Q: How long are you in Ottawa for, and where are you heading next?
We are in Ottawa until September 2 and then we are setting up to move the exhibit for the European leg of the tour.
If you’re in the Ottawa area, I thoroughly recommend checking out the Exhibit. It is a travelling though, so if you can’t make it to Ottawa, keep your eyes open and hopefully it will come to a town near you soon. Tickets are $24 for adults, $20 for seniors and teens, and $13.25 for kids and include admission to the Aviation and Space Museum as well. They only let in a certain number of people at a time though, so I recommend buying your tickets online in advance (they have allocated time slots and let in ~50 people every half hour).
Disclaimer: I did not receive financial remuneration or any other incentive to attend the exhibit. I’m just a giant nerd.