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“Star Wars” Guardian Angel

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What if your job involved caring for Yoda, Max Rebo, and a Naboo Starfighter? For Madlyn Moskowitz, an archivist for the George Lucas collection, her daily reality is a “Star Wars” fan’s fantasy.

All archivists deal with the past, but Madlyn Moskowitz’s job is unique. The objects in her collection are not just from a time long, long ago — but also a galaxy far, far away. Moskowitz, ’05, works as an archivist for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the George Lucas-run collection of materials from the filmmaker’s various entertainment productions. After Lucas sold his production company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company in 2012, he retained control over the memorabilia from the first six “Star Wars” films as well as from other Lucas productions like the “Indiana Jones” films. Moskowitz is a member of the staff at the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California, which oversees the collection and shepherds them to museums around the world, such as the recent “Star Wars Identities” exhibit at Paris’ Cité du Cinema.

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Photo by Steve Yamane

Moskowitz’s path to the Skywalker Ranch was an unusual one. At U-M, she majored in American Culture, taking film classes taught by professors like Jonathan Freedman and reading books on subjects like pre-Code Hollywood, the name of the film era before censorship guidelines. “I was astonished I was getting credit to take a college course on something I was reading by myself all the time,” she said.

Wanting to be a teacher, Moskowitz went back to the School of Education the following year to obtain her teaching certificate. She then earned her master’s in library science at New York University, following a three-year stint teaching at a Brooklyn public school.

It was while searching for a film-based archival internship that she netted her first job with a beloved American pop-culture figure: Jim Henson’s archives in Queens, where she handled original artwork for the Muppets and “Sesame Street” and some of Henson’s sketches from college. “I loved the kitschy-ness of the puppets,” she recalled. “I loved that they were these simple foam creatures.”

Moskowitz also completed an oral history project while at the Jim Henson Company, interviewing puppet builders in the workshop. “So not only did she help manage our collections, Madlyn added to them when we placed her finished project into our archives,” said Karen Falk, her supervisor at the company.

Connections at the Henson job led to a stint at the Lucas Museum Archives. Moskowitz was looking for more experience at a popular studio specializing in family entertainment, and after interning there for a summer she was offered a full-time position. Currently, she works in the props, models, and costumes department, handling objects like droids, AT-AT Walkers, and the elaborate dresses worn by Naboo royalty in the “Star Wars” films. She also assists the traveling exhibit team, which displays objects like production sketches and ship models in museums around the world.

Because Lucas is no longer involved in the “Star Wars” franchise, Moskowitz is not involved in the upcoming Disney-produced sequels and spinoffs like this fall’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” However, she does assist researchers who visit the ranch searching for details on the past for continuity on the new films, such as “the diameter of Han Solo’s pants.” The Lucas Museum Archives will also display six costumes from the new movie, in partnership with Disney, alongside the original costumes in an exhibit in New York’s Times Square this fall.

Though Lucas is currently in the early planning stages of building a permanent museum in Chicago to house his collection, Moskowitz, for the moment, is happy on the ranch looking after even the muchmaligned “Star Wars” prequels.

“We find things to appreciate about the prequels,” she said. “There’s a lot of artistry.”

But a favorite part of her job is noting the impact these preservations have left on people. How proud, for instance, visitors are to say they saw the original “Star Wars” in the theater. “It’s really fun to realize how important that is to people,” she said.

Moskowitz also has a U-M connection to Lucas. As a trombone player in the Michigan Marching Band, she played at the 2007 Rose Bowl match in Pasadena. John Williams conducted the band as they played his arrangement of the national anthem. Little did she know, years later she would get to hold Williams’ handwritten “Star Wars” scores?

Such is the power of the Force.

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