In much the same way that the Doctor Who Experience is probably ‘the best thing ever’ for a lot of kids, I’m going to predict that the Star Wars exhibition at Madame Tussauds is going to elicit similar accolades from many Jedi younglings. But who am I kidding? It’s not just the kids who were getting excited at the preview launch party ahead of the official May 16th opening (why not May the 4th?) as pretty much every adult was making swooshing noises and reciting classic series dialogue while wielding lightsabers and interacting with these beautifully-created displays.
Long gone are the days when Tussauds displayed their waxwork dummies in rows – Florence Nightingale cowering next to Genghis Khan – out of context, and with little imagination. Nowadays it’s all about the experience, and as much time and effort is spent in creating the atmosphere of the tableaux – the lighting, dry ice, incidental music and sound – as in sculpting the models themselves.
Good news first. No Jar Jar, and only one scene from each of Episodes I and III. Wisely the focus is on Classic Episodes IV to VI. Entering the exhibition area through the doors behind the screen of the Avengers 4D Experience (great fun, and included in the ticket price) Stormtroopers and Jedi lead the crowd down the stairs to the Episode I finale confrontation between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul.
The supporting costumed actors help distract and engage with you to allow a steady flow through the exhibits, though I do wonder what queues will be like in the opening weeks and other peak times.
Darth Maul is impressive, as are the likenesses of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. Considering how much the models cost to create, exhibition-goers get a lot of opportunity to get up close and personal. I spotted no ‘do not touch’ signs, though there was a ‘No Droids’ policy in the cantina, and I only saw the museum staff get involved to help take photos rather than remonstrate over-eager fans.
In the next scene you and your padawan get to square-up against Dark Side Anakin in Mustafar’s volcanic lava flow. With glowing lightsaber in hand it was easy to get whisked away to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, and yes we were all making that low-pitched humming noise!
A number of the female fans were relishing cuddling up to a young Han Solo in his cubicle at the Mos Eisley cantina – I tried to goad him but he just wasn’t prepared to shoot first. Artoo and Threepio were frequently busy for photo opportunities but a personal highlight was sitting next to Chewbacca in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. There was even a big red hyperdrive button that when hit brought the star screen outside to life as the ‘bucket of bolts’ bursts into hyperspace. As I growled ‘Punch it, Chewie!’ to my Wookiee pilot, I reached back to my ten-year-old self and said ‘Job done.’
Moving to The Empire Strikes Back through a collection of Stormtroopers (some are static and some actors) we’re down in the swamps of Dagobah and there’s opportunity to spend some time sharing a log with Jedi master Yoda. And then it’s the Bespin Cloud City climax with Darth Vader leaning out to rasp the immortal line – “Luke, I am your [redacted for spoiler purposes].” Some of the overacted cries of “Noooooooo!” were criminal.
And if being with Chewie fulfilled the fantasies of ten-year-old me, then sitting next to slave girl Leia certainly ticked the box of the adolescent Nick. This Jabba’s Palace scene from Return of the Jedi is beautifully recreated, complete with slobbering Hutt (No, Joey Essex, it wasn’t a ‘big big caterpillar’) and his giggling minion Salacious Crumb.
Final scene was the Emperor’s Throne Room confrontation with Luke and Darth duking it out in the presence of the old dude. Some people were sitting on Palpatine’s knee, taking selfies; I can honestly say that was never on my bucket list!
Obvious omissions are Boba Fett, though actor Jeremy Bulloch was on hand and graciously shared a few minutes with us to express his continued love of the franchise. Maybe we needed an Ewok or too as well? But then why use up all the good characters at the beginning when you can add more as you go along?
As the Star Wars juggernaut lumbers towards The Force Awakens this Christmas there’s a real danger of the brand’s over-saturation. But if everything has as much care and joy sewn into it as Chewbacca’s mask, we can at least embrace the saga’s galactic takeover.
Verdict: A beautifully created experience. It’s a fully-interactive opportunity to immerse yourself with your favourite Star Wars characters. These ARE the waxworks you’re looking for. 10/10
The new Star Wars attraction opens to the general public this Saturday, 16 May. Info can be found by clicking here