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posted: 3/17/2013 6:00 AM

New Legoland exhibit builds on popularity of 'Star Wars'

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  • Kids can take control of model ships and have them take off from the domed palace on the planet Naboo as part of the new "Star Wars" exhibit.

      Kids can take control of model ships and have them take off from the domed palace on the planet Naboo as part of the new "Star Wars" exhibit.
    Courtesy of Jason Lock Photography

  • At the "Lego Star Wars Miniland" exhibit, small pods can be steered along Tatooine's desert landscape and past stands populated by hundreds of figures representing a scene from "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace."

      At the "Lego Star Wars Miniland" exhibit, small pods can be steered along Tatooine's desert landscape and past stands populated by hundreds of figures representing a scene from "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace."
    Courtesy of Jason Lock Photography

  • The new temporary "Star Wars" exhibit at Schaumburg's Legoland creates three interactive scenes.

      The new temporary "Star Wars" exhibit at Schaumburg's Legoland creates three interactive scenes.
    Courtesy of Jason Lock Photography

  • Visitors look over the new temporary "Lego Stars Wars Miniland" exhibit in Schaumburg.

      Visitors look over the new temporary "Lego Stars Wars Miniland" exhibit in Schaumburg.
    Courtesy of Jason Lock Photography

 
By Samantha Nelson
Daily Herald Correspondent

In January, Legoland asked visitors which line of the toy building bricks they'd like to see get more space on display: the robot heroes of Hero Factory, Racers' cars or the characters and ships from the "Star Wars" films.

"Star Wars" was the overwhelming winner, and now kids can see the result of their votes at "Lego Star Wars Miniland."

"We realized we wanted a new attraction and had an empty room that needed to be filled," said master model builder Andrew Johnson. "We wanted to get the community involved. I think everyone's really excited it's going to be 'Star Wars.'"

The 1,000-square-foot temporary exhibit, which opened March 8, features three interactive scenes from "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace."

Kids can control a ship taking off from the domed palace on the planet Naboo, sailing it over a waterfall while getting a view of soldiers and droids battling in the hangar.

"The Naboo starfighter scene was the hardest due to the size and weight as well as the awkward angle of cliffs and inclusion of interactive mechanical equipment," Johnson said. "It also rises almost 6 feet above the ground."

Stepping into the pod-racing scene, young visitors can compete like young Anakin Skywalker by steering two small pods along Tatooine's desert landscape past stands populated by hundreds of figures.

The track is littered with blocks from other vehicles that look like they've crashed. There's also an opportunity to take part in the film's final battle between the droid army and the Gungans. The weaponry moves and kids can shoot marbles to knock down lines of droids.

"I'm a big 'Star Wars' fan so I'm nerding out over here," Johnson said. "I'm excited to see kids come in and get blown away."

In December, the exhibit will move to a different Legoland and Johnson hopes to create another interactive exhibit based on "Star Wars: Episode 2: The Clone Wars," eventually making his way through the entire six-film series.

But developing the exhibit is no small feat. It took 1,500 man-hours to assemble the 500,000 Lego bricks and 2,000 mini figures used in this exhibit.

"The biggest challenge is just the sheer size of it," Johnson said. "It takes up the whole room."

While an exhibit based on the later movies may still be a long time away, fans can still get their fix here.

The score plays in the background and Lego and "Star Wars" lovers of all ages can pose for photos with a life-size Darth Vader or R2D2.

Legoland also will be hosting one of its regular Star Wars Days events in June, where the space will be populated by costumed characters and there will be all kinds of themed activities such as scavenger hunts and model-building workshops.

Johnson said the reception to the exhibit has been great so far.

"Shock and awe are the two words that best describe most guests' reactions," he said. "Each scene has been surrounded by children and adults since the grand opening."

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