The fourth of May is informally the Star Wars Day vacation, which random brands typically use to sell their wares. While it’s not quite as bad as the promotions coming out of the woodwork on April Fools’ Day, I think I’ll draw the line at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and add an X-wing Starfighter from Star Wars to his collection. The museum announced today that the famous ship would be on display in 2022, via a prop loan from Disney’s production company, Lucasfilm.
The Smithsonian says that the affected X-wing van Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and will be displayed outside the museum’s Albert Einstein Planetarium after undergoing “conservation at the Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.”
The first red flag I’d like to get rid of: an X-wing van The Rise of Skywalker? Really? The last movie in the Skywalker Saga is not particularly popular, but we don’t really need to repeat that here. That’s what Reddit is for, and now probably my email inbox. What is striking about calling The Rise of Skywalker for me, it really adds to the general feeling that the inclusion of this spaceship is an advertising opportunity for Disney rather than some kind of grand contribution to our national memory of space travel. Of course, Disney wants to continue to advertise its most recent Star Wars movie – it has a franchise to maintain.
Despite taking place long ago in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars has introduced generations of fans here on Earth to space as a setting for adventure and exploration, ”said Margaret Weitekamp, Smithsonian Space History Chair. Undoubtedly, that is true. Star Wars has had a huge impact about how people think about space, and Disney has made about as great an impact on culture with everything it has made and bought as a multi-billion dollar company can. But that doesn’t stop this from feeling a bit icky.
Space and air travel have long been driven by public and private partnerships (see NASA’s current relationship with SpaceX), and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum even has other Disney products in its collection, such as a Buzz Lightyear toy that has been in space and a Donald Duck Air Force patch. But I come to museums like the Smithsonian for the bits of history and culture I don’t know – the hidden triumphs, failures, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that lead to impressive things like people landing on the moon.
Not long ago, the Smithsonian organized the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, the pod that brought three astronauts to Earth from humanity’s first voyage to the moon in 1969. The museum also currently has the LM-2, the second lunar module used in ground tests on Earth. These are all real spacecraft, and that’s not even the satellites, loads, and other space ephemera which the Smithsonian has on hand.
It’s not that Star Wars whether the X-wing is not cool, good or significant. It’s that giving physical and mental space to a product meant to be sold rather than something that’s actually a part of human history feels like it’s distracting from the more meaningful pieces in the Smithsonian collection. Leave the props to the movies or Disney’s own curatorial efforts. I don’t think it would make us any worse.