In Shops From Another Galaxy

Did you catch those scenes of the clone factory and of the battle-droid plant in Star Wars Episode 2, Attack Of The Clones? I thought they were some of the more interesting parts of the movie (not that the rest of the film was dull, however). It's just that any depictions of manufacturing in popular culture are revealing.

Columns From: 7/1/2002 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Did you catch those scenes of the clone factory and of the battle-droid plant in Star Wars Episode 2, Attack Of The Clones? I thought they were some of the more interesting parts of the movie (not that the rest of the film was dull, however).

It's just that any depictions of manufacturing in popular culture are revealing. For one thing, they are few and far between. Admittedly, life in the factory or machine shop is not noted for glamour or profound drama. The same can be said for business offices, retail stores and schools, yet we see more of those settings in theatres or on TV. When manufacturing IS part of the story, it is usually to provide a background of abusive management practices or oppressive working conditions.

The latest Star Wars episode presents a peculiar high-tech/low-tech contrast. The clone factory (run by aliens) is decidedly science fiction. It mass produces identical "human" beings in a futuristic laboratory-like operation, starting with embryos in glass tubes. With the recent debates about stem cell research and therapeutic tissue cloning, the appeal is to the imagination already apprehensive about such prospects. This is the factory to dread.

The battle droids, on the other hand, are shown being forged, stamped and assembled on a nitty-gritty transfer line. The machinery is rusty and dirty. The air is steamy and smoky. The automation equipment appears crude, inflexible and quite dangerous. This is the factory to loathe.

The clone factory scenes mimic the big-customer-on-a-plant-tour experience very well. It has the graciously polite PR office tour-guide giving well-rehearsed explanations of production steps, along with the plant manager touting his plant's record on productivity, quality control and efficiency . . . at making human killing machines. The irony could have had more effect with added tongue-in-cheek spoofing of plant tour hype, but these scenes served the plot well enough.

The droid plant scenes bothered me simply because they confirm the impression many people have of real-life factories: that they are repulsive and frightfully unsafe. The hero and heroine have to survive being trapped on the conveyor belt as it heads toward a stamping press or a ladle of molten alloy. It's about as suspenseful as Snidely Whiplash tying poor Nell to the log rolling toward the cartoon buzz saw.

But let's not take our summer entertainment too seriously. Movies are for escape. We'll have plenty of opportunities to immerse ourselves in the reality of today's manufacturing technology at IMTS this September!

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