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Originally published Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 5:35 AM

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'Icons of Science Fiction' show at EMP|SFM blasts off

An early look at the "Icons of Science Fiction" exhibition at Seattle's Experience Music Project | Science Fiction Museum, which features costumes and props from "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "The Matrix," "Doctor Who" and other movies and TV shows. Opens June 9, 2012.

Special to The Seattle Times

Exhibition preview

'Icons of Science Fiction'

Opens Saturday, June 9, at EMP|SFM,

325 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle; $20 ($15 in advance through EMP website),

$12-$20 (206-770-2700 or www.empmuseum.org/visit).

The public is also invited to an opening party from 8 to 11:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8; $20, 21-and-older.

Tonight in Prime Time

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Science fiction, in all its incarnations, is a big world. Or a big world of worlds, to be more precise.

So when Science Fiction Museum curator Brooks Peck set about creating the museum's new exhibition, Icons of Science Fiction, his first hurdle was to decide how to organize it.

Peck considered a few options — chronological, by subgenre — but didn't feel inspired until he was struck by an idea about the nature of science fiction itself.

"All of science fiction asks big 'What if?' questions," Peck said, walking through the exhibition last weekend while crews added the final touches in time for a June 9 opening. He decided to pose those questions and use the exhibition to survey ways different people have answered them.

The questions include "What if I had super powers?" "What if I were the Chosen One?" and "What if we fought a war with aliens?"

The term "icons" means not just human icons, such as those found in the museum's Science Fiction Hall of Fame — although each section does highlight a real-life person whose work embodies that question. It also means the stories those people devised and the costumes and props that helped them tell those stories through television, film and even video games.

The displays mostly focus on television and film of the 20th century, ranging from "Superman" to the reincarnated "Battlestar Galactica."

"There are way more questions than we can answer here, so that's one reason [the displays are] modular. We can swap in different questions" to keep the exhibition fresh and put other items on display over time, Peck said.

Each question gets its own space, with artifacts from different subgenres and media. The ability to freshen the exhibits was important because, unlike the "Avatar" exhibition the museum is hosting into September, this one will remain in place indefinitely.

Many visitors will find their way to this display after they leave a horror-film exhibition that opened last fall. The two complement each other and make for a hefty genre film component at EMP.

Although the science-fiction aspect has been a big draw since it first came to EMP in 2004, "after a lot of years, we needed change," Peck said. "We needed to refresh content and give things that had been on display a rest."

As with many of the artifacts in the museum's other exhibits, many of these are on loan from businessman and philanthropist Paul G. Allen. Others came primarily from other Northwest collectors. Perhaps not surprisingly, homes around Seattle contain spaceship models, alien costumes and far-out weaponry.

"Seattle is such a science-fiction town. There are a lot of collectors with really interesting things," Peck said.

Almost everything in the exhibit was used in an actual movie or television show, and many of the items haven't been on public display since their original use.

They include a Darth Vader lightsaber, a metallic Terminator skull and a "Stargate" movie headdress. There's also an armory of weapons, both human and alien (if you wonder who on earth has a hand big enough to hold the grip on that "Stargate: Atlantis" weapon, it was made for 6-foot-4-inch actor Jason Momoa).

Captain Kirk's chair from the bridge of the Enterprise really was used in the "Star Trek" series, and a replica will be on hand for photo ops during the exhibition's opening-night party.

Costumes include a Superman suit worn by Christopher Reeve, one of Lt. Uhura's uniforms from "Star Trek" and Neo's cassock-like costume from the "Matrix" trilogy. The museum had mannequins hand-carved to represent the bodies of the people who actually wore them on screen.

Science-fiction geeks will be able to instantly name items such as the Imperial Dalek from the "Doctor Who" television series (for those who are not science-fiction geeks, a Dalek is a villainous cyborg that looks like an upside-down trash can with plungers for arms).

But the exhibit is intended for everyone, whether they're into the minutiae or not.

For the most part, the emphasis is on the items themselves, surrounded by clean-line displays and soft lighting. But the museum went for one big splash at the entrance: Greeting visitors when they first enter is a "vortex" of lights, reminiscent of the view from the flight deck of Han Solo's Millennium Falcon when it hits warp speed.

There's also an interactive green-screen setup where visitors can choose their own backgrounds, use toys as props and film themselves in their own adventures.

"We want people to leave thinking, 'I could do that, too.' It's about getting people thinking about these ideas and then maybe going out and doing it themselves," Peck said.

Christy Karras: christykarras@gmail.com

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