Sam Lam: Legacy Camper

Once in a while, the Houston Museum of Natural Science Xplorations program gives children so much enthusiasm about science that they never really leave the museum. Sam Lam discovered the museum as a child with the Xplorations program, and has since never missed a summer at the museum. She now teaches some of the same summer camps she enjoyed when she was a kid.

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HMNS: When did you start attending summer camp here? And why?

SL: I started attending camps at HMNS when I was 6 or 7 years old, around 1998. My mom worked downtown and decided to look into sending us to camp at HMNS. After just one week, I was hooked. From that point on, I kept pestering her to sign me up for Xplorations year after year. 

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HMNS: What was your favorite class? What made it your favorite? Any stories from that class?

SL: My favorite class was Wizard Science Academy. Reading Harry Potter was a big part of my childhood, so it was very exciting to be able to attend a summer camp that incorporated science with a Hogwarts twist! I still remember dissecting an owl pellet and being convinced it was from Hedwig. I remember having Nicole Temple as my teacher and being so excited that she secretly let me switch out of the house that the Sorting Hat chose for me into the house of my choice.

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HMNS: What is your favorite memory from summer camp?

SL: I took a camp called, “Thrills, Chills, and Disasters” that talked all about physics and the science behind amusement parks. As an end-of-the-week field trip that wrapped up all our learning, we were able to go to Astroworld to see the physics in action. I loved going around and riding rides with all of my camp friends. It was such a unique opportunity that I am lucky to have had!

HMNS: If you could go back to Xplorations Summer Camp for one week this summer, what class would you take and why?

SL: I would definitely sign up for Bedazzled! I have had the best time teaching that camp for the past few years. I think the best part of Bedazzled is the Spa Day on Friday when campers get to dress as comfortable as they’d like and pamper themselves for the day. A day with magnetic nail polish and a nice, relaxing mud mask? Sign me up! 

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HMNS: What made you decide to come back and work at HMNS?

SL: When I was a camper, the Xplorations staff was always so enthusiastic and fun to be around. Because of them, I never wanted to leave camp when my mom came to pick me up. I wanted to keep the fun going and stay with them. When I officially “aged-out” of camp, I knew I wanted to come back and make camp a positive experience for others, just like the staff did for me.

HMNS: How did the Xplorations Summer Camp influence your life?

SL: During the summers, HMNS has been my second home for as long as I can remember and the people I have met there have become like another family to me. Some of the best friendships I have are with people I have met through Xplorations. Thanks to Xplorations and its amazing staff, I was able to meet and teach with fantastic teachers who inspired me to become a teacher myself. The best part of Xplorations Summer Camp is the people you meet—from the awesome campers, to the fun-loving TA’s and teachers, and the always cheerful and helpful education staff. My best memories from camp are because of them.

Sith take over HMNS Samurai exhibit during Jedi tour

 

Ever wonder where George Lucas got his ideas for the futuristic costumes in Star Wars? Darth Vader’s intimidating helmet seems the stuff of a sci-fi nightmare, and a hot, glowing light saber seems like a swordfighter’s dream. These costumes remain some of the most iconic in film history, but they were based in reality.

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An intimidating Darth Nihilus threatens guests with his light saber in the Samurai exhibit.

Lucas was a fan of Japanese samurai culture, and it shows through his costumes and the code of the jedi, those warrior-monks who trust in the Force and give their lives to the service of those they are sworn to protect. The jedi use ancient weapons even by the standards of the Star Wars universe, and train from childhood to master the secrets of the Force.

The samurai of feudal Japan held a similar attitude. The word itself means “service,” and while samurai could hold no possessions, their communities and the royalty they protected made sure their needs were met while they trained in the disciplines of combat and self-control. It was disgraceful to live as a samurai without a master, and taking their own lives at the end of their service was common.

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George Lucas modeled his Storm Trooper helmets in part from samurai warrior garb.

Lucas credited mythologist Joseph Campbell for influencing the structure of the Star Wars movies, explaining that in the West, mythology had begun to disappear with the downfall of the Western, and he wanted his work to “set standards” in the fashion of old myths. Couple this with a fascination with the famous film by Akira Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai, and Lucas had the makings of his space opera franchise. Though Kurosawa was a Japanese filmmaker, themes in the movie carried many of the same values audiences saw in the western: loyalty, trust, ingenuity, power, and faith in the underdog to name a few.

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Boba Fett also owes his look to the samurai.

Science fiction was the trending tale of the late 1970s. Interest in space and adventure ran high, and Lucas saw an opportunity to marry his love of mythos, Japanese culture, and the sci-fi genre into the highest-grossing film of all time until Titanic hit the big screen in 1997.

With the opening of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior temporary exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, docent Kris Mills, a student of costume history, saw an opportunity to demonstrate the link between Lucas and traditional Japanese clothing. Mills hosted the first Jedi-Samurai Tour Thursday night, a multimedia presentation featuring photography, Lucas’s costumes, and a demonstration of katana and light saber techniques. Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai was screened in the exhibit as well. Comparing the western art with the eastern culture side-by-side offers a deeper appreciation of Star Wars and samurai culture alike.

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The cast of characters who visited the exhibit for the Jedi-Samurai tour Thursday night.

“[Star Wars] was traditional Japanese clothing and values translated into science fiction,” Mills said. “George Lucas wanted to give his generation Buck Rogers, but he’d been reading Joseph Campbell, so he was influenced by the Asian saga.”

In the slide show, it becomes apparent that Lucas used samurai masks as models for Darth Maul’s face paint and other Sith helmets, samurai kabuto and Han Dynasty hair styles for Queen Amidala and other royalty, and the Japanese obi or robe for the jedi’s distinctive monk-like appearance. (One wonders whether Lucas didn’t use Asian terminology to name his characters Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi as well.) Adam Barnes, modeling the jedi costume, introduced these themes before guiding the guests into the exhibit.

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The bear-like Ewoks of planet Endor seem similar in many ways to samurai archer.

“The idea of imperialism and a grand empire versus a small band of samurai-like rebels is also very Japanese,” Barnes explained.

Models appeared in an Imperial Storm Trooper outfit, Boba Fett’s armor, the costume and face mask of Darth Nihilus, a Sith lord from the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and in a Chewbacca outfit. With the models standing beside samurai helmets and armor, it’s easy to make connections. Of course, it’s also a blast just to hang out with Star Wars characters and see cool samurai gear, not to mention a great photo op!

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Come to see the jedi and Sith, or come to see the intricate samurai armor. The armor itself is a must-see.

Take the Jedi – Samurai Tour July 16 or August 20 from 6 to 9:30 p.m., or check out Samurai: The Way of the Warrior before the exhibit makes like a ninja and vanishes September 13. For more information about this and other presentations, visit HMNS online.

 

 

 

 

 

A Long Time Ago on the Other Side of the World… Samurai culture inspires George Lucas’s Jedi and Sith

vaderStar Wars revealed the amazing creativity of George Lucas. Star Wars characters seemed foreign—even alien—to American audiences. Of course, like all creative geniuses, Lucas had his inspiration. His characters resemble actual humans from a long time ago, but from a galaxy not so far away.

Just on the other side of good old planet Earth, a few hundred years ago, samurai warriors were respected and revered.

To Star Wars fans, it is no secret that George Lucas was inspired by Japanese culture when creating his Star Wars epics. Japanese influences can be seen in costumes, hairstyles, make-up, as well as the weapons and swordsmanship.

Although the amazing visuals of the characters clearly have Japanese origins when you learn what to look for, the most telling influence of samurai warriors on the Galactic Empire may be Bushido, the way of the samurai. The spirit of Bushido is reflected in the Jedi Code.

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Lucas is known to have studied the works of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. When you see this film, you will see the origins of the Jedi and Sith. Haven’t seen a Kurosawa film? You are in luck! You can view the iconic film Seven Samurai at HMNS on April 14 and see the force of the samurai that inspired Lucas’ Star Wars empire.

How did the code of the Samurai warrior translate to the Jedi Knights? Need light shed on the transformation of samurai sabers into an energy blade? How did the armory and arms of the Samurai influence that of the Galactic Empire?

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This summer you can learn about the influences the samurai made to the Star Wars movie franchise in special evening tour of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibit offered on June 18, July 16 and August 20. Space is limited, so book your galactic samurai adventure now!

Film Screening: Seven Samurai
Tuesday, April 14, 6:30 p.m.
One of the most thrilling movie epics of all time, the newly restored, high-definition edition of Seven Samurai tells the story of a 16th century village whose desperate inhabitants hire the eponymous warriors to protect them from invading bandits. Filmmaker Akira Kurosawa weaves philosophy and entertainment, delicate human emotions and relentless action, into this tale of courage and hope. Mark Kerstein of Hokushikan Chiba Dojo will introduce the film. For advance tickets, call 713.639.4629 or click here.

JEDI – SAMURAI TOUR
June 18, July 16, August 20
6 – 9:30 p.m. (last entry at 8 p.m.)
Armored warriors of the past inspired the creative genius of a filmmaker—in a galaxy not so far away. In this multimedia tour of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibit—led by HMNS staff and a few guest Jedi, Sith and Samurai guides—the origins of many of George Lucas’ Star Wars heroes and villains will be unveiled. You will also enjoy demonstrations of light saber and kendo katana. The compelling links between Samurai and Jedi will build your appreciation for both. For advance tickets, call 713.639.4629 or click here.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (4.4.08)

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

You’ve got some ‘splainin’  to do, Wilford Brimley! Oatmeal might be a carcinogen?

Huge,weird-looking sea beasts have been found off the coast of Antarctica. National Geography has a new photo gallery of the creatures, which range from “Ack!” to strangely beautiful.

It sounds like something from “Star Wars” – the movie, or the Reagan-era government program – but this space laser is for finding “potentially habitable Earth-like planets.”

A new study found that animals may be “stuck in time” – that is, they can keep track of how long it’s been since something occurred, but they can’t form a memory of when it occurred. Which may be why my Boston Terrier is begging at the dinner table mere moments after being fed.

Creative Commons License photo credit: trespassers william

I’m thankful they’re at least moving the endangered tortoises, rather than rolling over them with tanks…apparently, the army is undertaking “the largest desert tortoise move in California history.” 

However, conservationists are protesting the evacuation, as the land set aside for the tortoises new home “is too close to an interstate highway and is plagued with off-road vehicles and illegal dumping that would disturb the animals.”

(As a sidenote – is there really someone who keeps those kind of records? “Eegads, sir! I never thought I’d live to see the day. You’ve topped the Great Desert Tortoise Evacuation of 1939 by exactly 3 tortoises!”)