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‘Star Wars’ show attracting thousands

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TOLEDO, Ohio — The imposing and menacing figure dressed in black is on display where a red granite lion from Sudan — a prized and priceless 4-ton piece from the British Museum in London — once stood.

The Darth Vader costume from "Star Wars" is at the Toledo Museum of Art because the dark lord has a particular drawing power.

Art museums increasingly are counting on exhibits rooted in popular culture to attract bigger and younger audiences. The wildly successful "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" is the latest draw.

"It's certainly not one of our traditional offerings," said Roger Berkowitz, director of the Toledo museum, a facility that is known for its outstanding collection of glass art.

"We hoped that it would bring in new and younger audiences," he said, adding that the exhibit will help make the museum a less intimidating place. "We're always working to make people feel more comfortable."

It seems to have worked. Galleries have been filled with families and young children, and the museum estimates that as many as 180,000 people will attend the show before it closes in January.

It's not just science fiction that is creeping into museums. There was "The Art of the Motorcycle" at the Guggenheim Museum of Art a few years ago, in which more than 301,000 people came to see the 114 motorcycles that lined the New York museum's famous circular ramp.

Last year, the San Francisco Metropolitan Museum of Art presented an ode to the athletic shoe.

"When you get people in the door to see 'Star Wars,' you might get them into the permanent collections," Rice said.

The traveling "Star Wars" show has been seen by more than 1.7 million people in six cities. It has attracted families with young children and people who normally wouldn't take time to visit the museum.

To help bridge the link to its permanent exhibits, the Toledo museum set up a companion display that helps explain why the art of "Star Wars" is universal and timeless. It uses works from the museum's permanent collection and shows off the heroes and myths present in traditional art.

"These are the same themes," Brown said. " 'Star Wars' is just a modern version of what people have been painting and sculpting for centuries."