Summer is here: having been beaten to the punch reviewing Dario Robleto’s simultaneous CAM and Inman Gallery shows, and with the most recent round of shows on Colquitt St. a dead loss (excepting Brian Portman‘s new paintings at Barbara Davis Gallery), Thursday I fell back on a long postponed treat: I couldn’t let the summer go by without seeing Star Wars: The Magic of Myth at the MFAH.
Having seen the first movie, A New Hope, at least seventeen times (including the opening matinee at the Springfield Mall, which I skipped school to catch), my fan credentials are in order, and I can say what I must without for a moment implying that A New Hope isn’t the greatest movie ever made, but . . .
The show is organized strangely. A collection of models, props and costumes from the archives of Lucasfilm Ltd. are laid out in a series of spacious black galleries, using the artifacts as heavy-handed illustrations of how the Star Wars movies embody archetypal themes. There is a palpable Shroud of Turin effect for us fans, which the show plays up. The physical presence of the REAL Millennium Falcon, Boba Fett‘s badass armor, or Yoda meditating in a Plexiglas cube spark an emotional quiver which is more poignant for its silliness. Rather than putting all the spacecraft models together, all of the costumes together, etc., the arrangement follows the plotline of the films, so that seeing the show is a shrine to the experience of seeing the movies.
George Lucas has procured a place for Star Wars in the halls of art, but wastes it. A New Hope was a great movie. It rightfully deserves a prominent place in the history of film, but not for its thematic depth. Rather than focusing on Star Wars’ truly innovative production techniques, for which a show of models and props is ideally suited, the show wallows in thematic hubris, and doesn’t ever get to the good stuff, like the radio controlled R2D2 model, or how the animatronics inside Yoda’s head work. In 1998, The Fort Worth Modern Art Museum hosted The Architecture of Reassurance: Designing the Disney Theme Parks, a complex and fascinating show of Disney objects and production drawings which gave the viewer real insight into Walt Disney‘s amazing vision, from its storytelling and marketing acumen to its creepy techno-utopian zeal. The Disney show had critical distance which Star Wars lacks; but then, unlike Disney, George Lucas isn’t dead yet (cryogenic stasis notwithstanding).
PS. A slap on the wrist to Enron and the MFAH for the three TV screens in the downstairs hallway of the Beck Building, and especially for the nauseatingly saccharine wall text accompanying them, explaining how Enron is the corporate equivalent of a fairy godmother. There is a delicate line between corporate sponsorship and hucksterism; Star Wars: the Magic of Myth is just this side of OK, but the Enron video screens are too much.
All images courtesy the MFAH and © 1997-2001 Lucasfilm Ltd. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Bill Davenport is an artist and writer from Houston.