Yoda is my spirit animal.
And though he never said, “Geek out, you will,” I like to think it was implied as I arrived at Lucasfilm Ltd.’s campus in the Presidio district to embark on a day of photography and general geekery.
Waiting for my guide in the foyer at The Letterman Digital Arts Center where Lucasfilm is housed, its neutral couches draped with Southwest-style blankets (a George Lucas fave), led to unabashed marveling over lightsabers and Chewbacca statues on display, all icons from a galaxy far, far away.
We decided to drive north first, and as we headed into the pristine countryside of Marin County where Skywalker Ranch sprawls across thousands of verdant acres, it all felt a lot like traversing planetary lines. Like wrinkling time between the real and surreal, making parsecs and miles one and the same.
On one side, the shiny red cables of the Golden Gate Bridge and the traffic that comes with it. On the other, the redwoods and ravines of Endor.
No, really. Some scenes from Return of the Jedi were filmed there.
Deep in Lucas Valley (coincidental name) and framed by Lake Ewok and curliqued vineyards, the main house is what strikes you first. The beautiful Victorian styling, a gray roof sloping gracefully into dormers and turrets, scalloped green-and-white canopies giving it a cheerful air, etched glass windows prismatic in the impossibly golden sunlight.
Then, the hills get you. Sloping and lush, alive with knobby vultures and wild turkeys, they practically invite you to lay on them and never ever leave, if to do nothing else but watch the swallows dip and dive among the clouds.
Don’t though. Unless you’re attending the company’s annual Fourth of July barbecue, security frowns upon that. Not telling how I know.
Turn back toward the main road, and the rather drily named Technical Building stands tall, nestled among vineyards and Cypress trees, its mix of warm woods, stone and bricks offering the eye a juxtaposition of textures and modern angles. Mixing stages, feature film dubbing stages, editorial services, scoring stages (one can accommodate a 130-piece orchestra), and a 300-seat screening room are all located within the building, as is Skywalker Sound.
Quiet hallways are lined with Lucas’ collection of movie posters – the largest in the world – and along the outside of the building, bicycles bearing mini “Skywalker Ranch” license plates encourage guests and employees to wheel around the property, designed with no above ground electrical poles or wiring, so as not to interrupt its natural beauty.
When I could capture no more with my camera or my already close-to-exploding-from-the-awesome mind, it was time to head back to San Francisco and explore the vibrant Lucasfilm campus, where the flagship office for the Lucasfilm Companies is housed, along with Lucasfilm, LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Lucas Licensing and Lucas Online. It’s where cutting-edge campus meets historic military base, and where Lucas has proposed to build The George Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, a place where he can hang his Death Star-sized movie poster collection, replete with other works from Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth. There are also plans to showcase costumes, props and a droid or two.
Photography is normally prohibited within Lucasfilm’s hallowed halls, so I was absolutely thrilled and honored and nonchalantly schoolgirl giddy to discover I would be allowed to shoot within the inner sanctum. And, while I couldn’t capture everything – a lot was off limits – let’s just say the building is a living museum. Framed posters from every movie ILM has worked on line the walls, along with matte paintings from all the Star Wars films.
Bright hallways and airy stairways are filled with props, scaled models, life-size replicas, employee artwork, and what amounts to a veritable treasure trove of iconic geekery (Wicket and C-3PO may or may not handle reception on one of the floors) – switched out now and again to keep things interesting. Offices are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and there’s an in-house sound studio, a motion-capture studio and one of the largest render farms in existence within the building as well.
As my eyeballs fell out of my face and rolled dramatically across the floor time and time again, eventually, our tour came to a glowy end over freshly carved turkey and avocado on sourdough. I gazed out over the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts and the Transamerica Pyramid – all within view from the campus’ gorgeous, window-walled dining commons – and wished I could somehow hologram my thoughts into R2-D2, not just because my head was filled with so much wonder from all that I’d seen, but because it meant I’d be taking him home with me.
Hey, a girl can dream.
Photo credits: Pilar Clark, Chris Argyropoulos (lead photo only)
Photo edits: All me.
My thanks to San Francisco Travel and Hotel del Sol for providing me a cheery place to edit the photos I captured while in California. And to Chris, jams and jellies. I’ll never be able to say those two words without laughing again.