Finding the science in science fantasy | Susan Waitt

Following a Star Wars-themed exhibition at Esplora in Kalkara, Malta-based but US-born Susan Waitt, co-organiser and artist who cut her teeth at Disney – spoke to Teodor Reljic about the enduring power of George Lucas’ epic space fantasy saga, and how it can even serve to educate us about scientific discoveries and innovations

Could you give us a lowdown of your early artistic experience? How did you score the chance to work for Disney and what was that experience like?

Even as I kid, I would seek out masters of the surreal and bizarre in art – first in books, then in visits to museums and galleries. Luckily, my Catholic grade school hosted many bus trips to some of the finest art museums in NYC! Disney was a huge factor in my early experience of popular art – and the fit for me as an artist was a natural and easy one. I answered an advert calling for Disney book illustrators for Langley Disney Studios and – wonder of wonders – I was one of six artists chosen but only after I proved that I could draw the Disney characters “on model” and from every perspective. To have been an animator would have been the icing on the cake – but alas, the opportunity never came.

How did you end up immersing yourself in the Maltese visual arts scene?

I served as the artistic director and set designer for Liquorish TV for four years. I was also Curator of the Cathedral Museum Annex at Palazzo de Piro in Mdina for a while as well as organiser for that venue’s ‘Art and History of Counting Prayers’ rosary exhibition. Most recently I exhibited 22 of my own works at my ‘Night Gallery: The Uncanny and the Sublime’ exhibition in Valletta.

What was it about Star Wars that you found interesting to explore with your skill set, and what were your aims with this exhibition in particular?

The event/exhibition in which I participated on November 11 and 12 – the very first of its kind in Malta, was hosted by Euro Media Forum (and brilliantly organised by Justin Camilleri and Joanne Cachia) in collaboration with the Esplora Interactive Science Centre in Kalkara.  It was wildly successful, drawing together fans and enthusiasts of the Star Wars canon to display and share collections and models.

Star Wars is a very familiar human story of good versus evil, corruption and redemption, but set on alien worlds and aboard starships in a universe of futuristic super-weapons and lightsaber duels – it has big love stories, epic space battles, larger-than-life heroes and villains, gorgeous alien landscapes. Essentially, Star Wars is the ultimate ‘space opera’.

How does such a fantastical world like that of Star Wars serve to enlighten scientific concepts, as this exhibition purports to do?

Most of the technology in Star Wars was first conceived in the late 1970s, yet it still seems futuristic.

Technology in our world and a galaxy far, far away may not be so different. Science Fiction or Fantasy really does meet Science Reality in the film series.

Recently, IBM has stated that Kyber crystals give lightsabers their power in the Star Wars universe, and is educating people about the power that lasers wield in our world. They also tell us that Superconductors are the future of mass transportation. Hovercrafts are in our near future. Additionally, quantum computers could be just on the horizon.

Susan Waitt
Susan Waitt

According to C-3PO the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1, so how did the Millennium Falcon safely travel through the famed Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs? It’s quite possible that the ship used something similar to a quantum computer. Hello AI, and the technological ‘Singularity’.

Also, in Star Wars, helper droids perform various tasks to assist with daily life. In our world we are already employing robotics in industry - security, medical, and military applications abound.

The Force is an energy field that binds the galaxy together – a useful tool for both the Jedi and Sith. but now legitimate scientists like Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose are saying that through superconducting quantum effects in our brains we are tied in, connected to the fundamental, Planck-level of the Universe itself – past, present and future!

What’s next for you?

Most immediately, a Science of Superheroes event in the spring of 2018 and a reprise of the Star Wars event later in 2018 , both at Esplora and organised by Euro Media Forum. I so enjoy working with the Euro Media Forum (EMF) team headed up by Justin Camilleri, since they think cinematically and theatrically as do I. Their work ethic and “can do” attitude is infectious! Everything creative begins with wonder and curiosity – the natural features of childhood, I might add! To inform and inspire kids to opt for more STEM subjects at school is one of the great bonuses, I think, of connecting fun and learning.

Somewhere up ahead awaits my ‘Knights in White Satin’ exhibition of which I spoke last year. I am steadily working toward that longer range goal.