One crate. One massive crate resting in the Field’s design loft where our extreme ping-pong table usually sits.
Ten people. Ten people standing around a massive crate in the middle of the Field’s design loft. Two on each corner. Two more sliding off the newly-unbolted front panel of the massive crate sitting in the middle of the Field’s design loft.
Twenty-five people. Twenty-five people stood around and watched eight exhibit preps (two on each corner) remove the top and three remaining sides of the massive crate sitting in the middle of the Field’s design loft.
When the boards were clear, thirty-five people paused and took a long, quiet look at the thing sitting in the middle of the Field’s design loft that used to be home to the Exhibits staff’s extreme ping pong table.
One Star Destroyer. The Star Destroyer. Eight feet long. 200+ pounds. Thousands of fiber-optic filaments. So many little plastic bits that the surface looks like a recently unearthed Snap-Tite burial ground. The subject of what is arguably the most famous, most gripping opening shot in film history.
And I was holding it in my hands.
Well, ok, not just my hands. Six of us had been carefully positioned (on the corners, along the sides, on the nose) to support its wooden framework for the five-foot journey over to the wheeled mount built specially for Star Destroyer Inter-Museum Transport.
This afternoon was absolutely surreal. We rolled the model into the elevator and headed for the ground floor. As I stood near my position at the back corner of the giant gray pie-wedge of plastic, I looked down to check out the little light bulbs Lucasfilm used to “ignite” the engines.
“Christ,” I whispered, and rattled off a few number codes under my breath.
“What’s up?” asked the rep from the Smithsonian.
“These lights,” I said, “I go through at least five a day here at the museum to keep graphic panels lit in Nature Walk and What Is An Animal. The Underground Adventure has dozens of them. And here they are, part of an image that is so deeply embedded in my head that I don’t remember not knowing it.”
All right, so I wasn’t that articulate at the time, but that’s what I was thinking. I probably said something closer to “wow… incredible…”
Still, the best part of the day came when we got out of the elevator and started the ship toward the soon-to-be-mythical Hall E. Most of our nervous, extremely cautious journey was done behind-the-scenes. But there was a stretch of about thirty or forty feet of public space we needed to cross between the end of the back hallway and the entrance to Hall E. I went ahead to join half a dozen other staff members in order to stop visitor traffic and clear a path for the Star Destroyer.
I stopped a mother and her family on their way out of the Underground Adventure. I apologised for the inconvenience, and told her that we’d be out of the way in a few moments. She correctly guessed that we were transporting an artifact. I said she and her family were welcome to watch, but they had to stay clear.
“With all this attention, it must be prety important,” she said.
In my best Jeremy Irons voice, I turned to her and said “You have no idea.”
No more than a foot of the ship’s nose was out the doorway when the mom realized what was coming into view.
“Kids, look,” she yelped, in the sort of voice she probably hadn’t used since she saw Menudo live when she was fifteen.
We stopped about fifty or so people to clear a path for the model, but by the time we arrived at Hall E, at least 200 people were crowded around ten people; ten people all huddled close together with little white Mickey Mouse-looking gloves on.
Ten people with artifact-protecting gloves. Ten people and one starship.
A Star Destroyer. The Star Destroyer. Eight feet long. 200+ pounds. Countless man-hours. Unending childhood and adult dreams and fantasies. 18 days left.
“The damage doesn’t look as bad from out here.”
P.S. This is probably as good a time as any to send an extra-special thanks to the good people from SITES (Smithsonian Institute Travelling Exhibits Staff) and the reps from Lucasfilm for putting together such a great show and for being so accommodating to a geeked-out, overzealous fanboy.