Imaginary relics from a time long ago and "a galaxy far, far away" lured unexpectedly large crowds on the opening day of San Francisco's strangest new art show.

An exhibit of eerily lifelike models of starships, bug-eyed monsters and alien weapons from the classic "Star Wars" films opened this week at the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens. The first ticket-buyer arrived at 5 a.m. - six hours before the doors opened - and by 2:30 p.m. 2,500 visitors had paid as much as $8 apiece to gawk at the cinematic equivalent of King Tut's treasures."It just shows you the power of `The Force,' " joked museum spokesman David Perry, alluding to the mystical power wielded by warriors in George Lucas' 1977 space thriller.

A life-size model of Darth Vader - the darkly clad, heavy-breathing space tyrant whose basso profundo threats were uttered by actor James Earl Jones - spooks visitors as they enter the 10,000-square-foot exhibit.

"It's amazing for people like me, who are in their 30s, to see this and return to our childhoods," Maria Pinelli of San Francisco said during a break from the exhibit, pausing to make her baby more comfortable in his stroller.

Many kids' eyes popped to see the model of the bloated, sinister Jabba - a celestial Sydney Greenstreet whose victims were hurled into the mouth of a giant sand creature, where, according to Lucas' scriptwriters, they would be "slowly digested for a thousand years."

And a display of space weapons looked as authentic as a display of Revolutionary War muskets. That's because the filmmakers deliberately "aged" them - making them look as if they had really been used, really been fired at screaming hordes of alien shock troops.

Likewise, one exhibit hall is a kind of spaceship junkyard. It's full of intricate models of spaceships as big as small cars - models that, on the silver screen, appeared as big as cities. The models were made to look dirty and roughed-up, as if they had really endured laser blasts and meteor barrages . . . plus the occasional crash-landing in an alien swamp slithering with tentacles.