Situated in the inner-city of Marylebone, just around the corner from Baker Street lies the London Planetarium, home of Madame Tussauds Waxwork Museum. For over 200 years the museum has showcased a variety of waxwork statues depicting a variety of people from celebrities to historical figures, fictional and occasional controversial persons of interest. They are remarkably successful having opened up branches worldwide and remain a British Institution in their attractions. So naturally when this intrepid journalist heard of a new Star Wars exhibit opening 16th May, he took it upon himself to brave the elements (British weather) and travelled a perilous journey (London Tube) to seek out the treasures within the green dome.
The entry prices range from £22 ($35) on-line booking to £35 ($54) on the door, and by booking on-line you go straight in via the booking entrance so it’s worth doing this to avoid the lines. After being issued a Star Wars wristband for the exhibit, you go through the museum tour first full of flashing cameras and plenty of opportunities to pose with a variety of characters. The famous Chamber of Horrors doesn’t disappoint with sounds of screams and statues coming alive out of the walls, and the taxi ride through London’s history is a fun jaunt through royalty and pop culture.
There’s a Marvel exhibit with a few popular characters from the movies and a 4D film in the Planetarium dome. The CG animated movie depicts the Avengers fighting Dr. Doom in London and is typical kiddie fun. But when the movie ends, the dome goes black and Vader’s inimitable breathing echoes throughout. The screen lights up with the Star Wars logo and the title music and as we are lead out of the theatre we follow along to the beginning of the Star Wars exhibit
The detailing of the exhibit is superb. The walls and doors are decorated to be reminiscent of starships and various buildings and planets, you get a real feeling of immersion in the galaxy. Each set that features the characters is fantastic with a great attention to detail, and unique to the characters and their surroundings. The first one we see is the final Maul fight in Theed’s Generator Complex, complete with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in full battle against Darth Maul. Following on from this is a recently turned Darth Vader on Mustafar, complete with dry ice steam billowing around him. All the while characters dressed as Jedi walk around and battle with their lightsabers, asking the patrons if they are enjoying themselves and adding to the overall experience. It’s hard not to be too giddy as the exhibit continues, but it’s there for that reason and the Disneyland-esque feeling of fun amps up the excitement of the tour.
The first two exhibits are the only ones representing the Prequels, presumably as the Original Trilogy scenes are more iconic and accessible, plus every character and their set is fully interactive so you can sit with them, stand with them, play Sabacc with them, whatever you want. The first one we encounter is Han’s Greedo Cantina encounter where you can sit in Greedo’s seat and argue about shooting first. They managed to portray the cool arrogance of Solo quite well and sitting opposite him you can’t help but feel a rush of happy.
Further models include the droids against a Tatooine backdrop, Stormtroopers in a Death Star corridor, and my personal favourite the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon where you can sit in Han’s pilot seat and activate a button that displays the hyperspace scene and sounds, all the while a giant Chewbacca model looks at you from the co-pilot seat! The amazing detailing of the Falcon controls and interactive features stand out as a highlight of the tour.
Master Yoda is nobly presented on a Dagobah set complete with tree roots and squishy flooring covered in swirling dry ice mists. The sounds of the series echo around the exhibit and Yoda’s giggle makes him almost appear alive!
There’s some photo opportunities offered by the museum staff as they take your pictures by two of the last sets for you, then give you a ticket if you wish to purchase them in the gift shop. The first is Vader reaching out in Cloud City during the big reveal, and looking directly at Vader as he reaches out to you is quite unnerving. You certainly don’t envy Luke when he was in that position.
The second set is by far the most impressive. Slave Leia, Salacious Crumb all atop the throne of Jabba the Hutt who leers over you with his slimy tongue lolling out. An incredible piece with a huge attention to detail and quite scary when seen for real to scale. One final scene is the tumultuous battle in the Emperor’s Throne room, complete with Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker clashing lightsabers with Darth Vader as Emperor Palpatine watches from his throne, his mouth in a twisted smile. Being able to get so up close to these models is a real blast, you’ve never felt closer to the movies and these iconic moments than when you walk around them, and the whole exhibit is displayed with such a level of detail and impressive likenesses of the characters that it makes for a complete experience.
The atmosphere of the exhibit is fantastic with music cues and sound effects playing around the tour, and the noises are unique to the sets (R2 actually makes noises, sounds of Jabba’s laughs by the big man himself and TIE fighters in the Throne Room) so you get such a sensation of being in the scenes that it makes it seem so real. The exhibit space is entirely new and it occupies every inch with aplomb. The friendly and enthusiastic staff help keep the tour fun and there clearly was no expense spared in production value. They really captured a feeling of being in the galaxy with exquisite designs everywhere and subtle sound effects that create an immersive interactive experience.
As previously stated, it’s worth booking on-line to save money and queueing times. It is still a massive tourist spot so expect queues and lots of milling about inside, but it’s totally worth the experience. There are some characters excluded that would’ve fitted in quite nicely, maybe a Boba Fett somewhere, but that’s only a small issue considering the scale of work put into the exhibit. These iconic scenes have never felt so real thanks to Madame Tussauds!
"Fun Exhibit Facts"
"Nearly 200 sculptors worked for over a year to create the 11 scenes"
"The figures combined are estimated to be worth £2.5 million, which is close to $4 million"
"It took 10 people 1,000 hours to make Chewbacca with yak hair, that’s a lot of walking carpet!"
"Jabba is, not surprisingly, the largest figure on display weighing in at 220kg and measuring 2.9 metres long and 1.5 metres high. The smallest is, not surprisingly, Salacious Crumb sitting at 41.2cm."
"Jabba had to be constructed in a separate warehouse due to his size"
"The sculptors went to Skywalker Ranch to get the measurements for Leia’s infamous bikini!"