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`Star Wars' goes to Air, Space Museum

Twenty years after "Star Wars" launched a modern mythology, the National Air and Space Museum is offering Americans a chance to walk into that world "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

Villain Darth Vader's seven-foot bulk looms in the new yearlong exhibit, where visitors can view the mystical Yoda, the costumes of hero Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, little R2-D2 and the egotistical C-3PO.Moviemaker George Lucas was on hand to preview the show, which opened Friday, and said the next chapter in the saga has been filmed and could be released within 18 months.

"Star Wars: The Magic of Myth," includes original props, models, costumes, characters and artwork from the three-film trilogy that took young Skywalker on the classic hero's journey from callow youth with a call to adventure to maturity and leadership - a trip Lucas designed to parallel Joseph Campbell's book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."

"Imagination is what makes reality happen," said Mary Henderson, author of the companion book for the exhibit. Star Wars focuses on characters set long ago and far away, "but whose lives are as near as the next heartbeat."

Like many ancient heroes, Sky-walk-er is a farm lad yearning for adventure when heralds come to him with a mission - in this case androids with word that Princess Leia is a prisoner.

Obi-Wan Kenobi takes on the role of Merlin, adviser to the young hero, training him and presenting him with his father's sword, much as Siegfried reforged his father's sword or King Arthur drew the magic sword from the stone.

Luke descends into the underworld of strange people and forces at the cantina, and like Gilgamesh and Ulysses, he needs hero partners and finds his in the adventurer Han Solo and his sidekick Chewbacca.

In the cantina and throughout the movie, aliens take many forms, but unlike most science fiction, not all are threatening or evil.

Lucas said that was intentional, to make people realize that no matter how different someone is, he or she deserves respect and some can even be loved.

The hero's search is at its midpoint as "The Empire Strikes Back" opens, sending Luke on a symbolic journey through hell when he is attacked by a huge Wampa on the icebound planet Hoth, later to escape and learn from mystical Yoda.

By the third film, "Return of the Jedi," Luke has mastered extraordinary powers but still must destroy the monster, a rancor, and confront his father, Darth Vader - the classic conflict of good and evil.

The exhibit details both the mythical connections and the extraordinary sources of inspiration ranging from the American West to Japanese Samurai, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers to German military uniforms and the feminine hero.

The long skiff weapon carried by Lando Calrissian is based on the Lochaber, a medieval Scottish pole arm.

Vader's uniform, which originally was based on a German military helmet and Medieval plague mask, later evolved to resemble the mempo mask and Kabuto helmet from the Japanese feudal period.

Lucas said his new movie - he declined to give the title - is set 20 years before the Star Wars trilogy and forms chapter one in a new three-part saga leading up to the original Star Wars.

Perhaps after 30 or 40 years, Lucas commented, he will complete all nine chapters he has conceived for this modern myth.

People wanting to plan a trip to the Star Wars exhibit can obtain advance tickets for $2.25 each at ProTix outlets in Waxie Maxie and Record and Tape Traders stores or by calling 1-800-529-2440.