Star Wars literally pops up at a Spanish library

Stumbling upon a two-month exhibit bringing reading to life in Zamora

A few years ago, a group of my friends entered into a lively debate about the ideal age for our children to be introduced to Star Wars. None of us had children at the time, so it was a rather hypothetical exercise that of course surfaced strong opinions without any consensus. Well, for Eliza at least, we now have our answer: 15 months old. I just didn’t expect it to be at a library in the Spanish town of Zamora.

Roughly 2 ½ hours by car northwest of Madrid and less than an hour east of Portugal, Zamora is a small city of just over 60,000 residents built into the hills along the Duero River, replete with a captivating castle, cathedral, and pedestrian walkways. An express bus runs from Salamanca eight times a day on weekdays (€6.50/US$7.35 one way), so we planned a post-Thanksgiving adventure together as soon as Cathlin finished her language studies for the afternoon.

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Cathlin and Eliza on the road to Zamora

From Zamora’s bus station, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll into the city center while Eliza looked for doggies and we admired the architecture. Our arrival overlapped with all of the shops being closed during their daily lull between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., so we found an empty table at a tapas bar on the Plaza Mayor for a small beer and toast. Looking out on the cobblestone streets, we felt like we were a long time ago but not exactly in a galaxy far, far away.

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Wandering the cobblestone streets of Zamora

Little did we know how that would change a few minutes of a walk away, as we wandered off the main Calle de Ramos Carrión onto a side street to admire the view through a grove of plane trees whose leaves were down and whose branches had knotted, or inosculated, together.

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Plane trees linked together just past the public library

But before we reached the vantage point, we realized we were being watched. There, beneath the flags of Castile and León, Spain, and Zamora (which has an utterly fascinating backstory in its own right), a stormtrooper peered down from a banner announced the opening of “De La Guerra de Las Galaxias a Star Wars,” at the public library (Biblioteca Pública de Zamora). Having opened only one day earlier, we weren’t certain what the exhibit covered but immediately made our way inside to find out.

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Sean approaches the exhibit’s entrance

In 1977, three weeks after the U.S. debut of the first Star Wars film (i.e., Episode IV – A New Hope), Spain held its first democratic general election since before the Spanish Civil War more than 40 years earlier. Acknowledging the legacy of Star Wars during this period of transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy in Spain, the exhibit explores the global merchandising power of the franchise through books, in particular: “un libro desplegable,” a folding book, perhaps better known as a pop-up book.

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Beginning with early translations of La Guerra de las Galaxias and running through the latest in the franchise, including its spin-offs, the few dozen pop-up books collected by Ana María Ortega Palacios and Álvaro Gutiérrez Baños showcase how the stories of Star Wars were told or retold three-dimensionally in print.

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The collection is heavy on U.S. editions, with a scattering from Canada, Colombia, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom as well. A limited edition from Orchard Books (a British children’s imprint of Hachette) incorporates a playback of Darth Vader’s characteristic mechanical breathing. Others include their artists’ signatures. There’s a fold-out music sheet, stickers, wood-cuts, and engineering plans to both the Rebel Alliance and the Imperial fleets.

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Collectors, book publishers, comic book enthusiasts, and general film fans alike will wish they could actually flip through the pages and bring the editorial origami into action, but the selected pages and exhibit notes include enough teases to prompt further curiosity.

For instance, I learned about Madrid-based Tres Rosas Amarillas, a specialty bookshop and publisher who specializes in such books, with children’s editions I suspect Eliza would  love. I never knew of the Danish paper engineer Ib Penick who reintroduced the form to its great popularity, holding several U.S. patents for elements that make pop-ups, well, pop-up. And I never imagined C-3PO saying, “Funky Beats, Sir?”, but Jim Mahfood sketches a speech balloon of exactly that in a 100-copy print run highlighting the influence of street art in his work.

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Snapshots of a short film introducing the exhibit

A second room featured other cultural icons produced even earlier as pop-ups in print form: a Mickey Mouse comic from 1933 as well as examples of Batman, Flash Gordon, Star Trek, Superman, and more. It’s a perfect exhibit for a library: surfacing the political, social, and artistic context of a massive pop-culture phenomenon in a way that’s fundamentally grounded in books.

As for the right age to introduce a child to Star Wars, what do you say? I hope the Force is strong with Eliza and thought I even saw her pretending to wield a lightsaber as Cathlin and I took turns pushing her stroller through Zamora’s public library. But maybe we can wait a little longer, since she had some serious pop-up reading of her own on the bus back to Salamanca.

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If you’ll be in Zamoraor love Star Wars or pop-up books so much that you end up flying to Madrid and hopping the high-speed Alvia train to Zamorathe exhibit is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. until January 12, 2019.

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