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George Lucas to open 'Star Wars' museum in Chicago

Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, Alfred E. Neuman and Kim Novak may all be headed to Chicago to live under the same roof.

The Windy City this week was tapped as the future home of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the dream project of director George Lucas, whose credits include "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" and other blockbusters.

"LMNA will be a gathering place to experience narrative art and the evolution of the visual image-from illustration to cinema to digital arts," reads a statement from the museum.

"I'm actually super excited about the Lucas museum because there hasn't been anything that looks at quite what they're going to look at," said Brooks Peck, a curator at the EMP Museum in Seattle, which focuses on music, sci-fi and pop culture. The Lucas project, which is still somewhat under wraps, looks like it will be "highlighting very American art forms" including the work of Norman Rockwell, special effects and sci-fi blockbusters, Peck said. "These are all American inventions."

The website for the planned museum includes a neo-classical painting from Maxfield Parrish, a 1963 cover of MAD magazine, a pinup-style drawing of actress Kim Novak by Alberto Vargas and a still from the movie "Rango." Peck said he's hoping the museum includes a lot of behind-the-scenes items, such as storyboards and technical equipment that is gaining in popularity at other museums,

The Lucas museum will "be a gathering place to experience narrative art and the evolution of moving images-from illustration to cinema to the digital mediums of the future. The museum's seed collection-a gift from founder George Lucas-spans a century-and-a-half and features the images and the mediums that have profoundly shaped our cultural heritage," according to the website.

Seattle's EMP museum, co-founded by Microsoft's Paul Allen, has had some experience in this realm, including "Icons of Science Fiction, Battlestar Galactica" and "Avatar: The Exhibition." The Avatar exhibition was a technical behind-the-scenes exhibition while the Battlestar Galactica show focused more on the story and themes, said Peck, who worked on both shows. "Sci-fi allows you to explore different social problems a little bit removed because it makes it easier to talk about," he said.

Indeed, this won't be the first time Lucas' work has found its way into a museum. In 1997, the hugely popular "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" exhibition made its debut at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and toured internationally for several years after.

That exhibition drew heavily on Joseph Campbell's view of the "hero's journey" drawing on mythical themes such as a young hero with faithful companions, an endangered maiden, a wise guide, monster combat, sacrifice and resurrection. And of course it included scale models of the Imperial Star Destroyer and the Millennium Falcon and costumes from the likes of R2-D2, C-3PO, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Boba Fett, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Darth Maul and Jabba the Hutt.

"George was a good friend of Joseph Campbell, and has been a good friend to the Foundation," the not-for-profit Joseph Campbell Foundation said in a statement to CNBC. "We admire and respect George's decision to share his extensive art collection with the public, and wish him success in finding an appropriate venue."

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Chicago this week was chosen as the winning city for the museum, which is planned to open by 2018. On Wednesday, the location was approved by Lucas' museum board members; their names have not yet been made public, a spokeswoman for the museum said.

"Choosing Chicago is the right decision for the Museum, but a difficult decision for me personally because of my strong personal and professional roots in the Bay Area," said Lucas, who set "American Graffiti" in his hometown of Modesto, California.

While Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he's enthusiastic about the museum's plans, the Chicago Tribune warns there will likely be a legal challenge from open space advocates who will argue the plan for the 17-acre site violates Chicago's landmark Lakefront Protection Ordinance. The Lucas group plans to submit architectural renderings for the site to the City of Chicago in the fall.

"No other museum like this exists in the world, making it a tremendous educational, cultural and job creation asset for all Chicagoans, as well as an unparalleled draw for international tourists." Emanuel said.

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Indeed Chicago could use the boost as its share of the international tourist market has grown more slowly than other major U.S. cities, according to data from the U.S. National Travel & Tourism Office. International tourists are much sought after as they tend to stay longer and spend more, according to industry surveys.

The Lucas project should help provide a strong boost to Chicago's already strong museum scene, said Ford Bell the president of the American Alliance of Museums.

While the Alliance's database includes more than 22,000 U.S. museums, there is no other narrative art museum. "I think it's unique, which is what you'd expect from George Lucas," Bell said.

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(The EMP Museum exhibition on "Battlestar Galactica" included items from the archives of NBCUniversal. CNBC is a division of NBCUniversal.)

-By CNBC's Amy Langfield. Follow Road Warrior on Twitter at @CNBCtravel.



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