Episode III: Attack Of the Media Droids
Saturday, May 7, 2005
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. The Lucasfilm publicists are protocol droids, no-nonsense blond beings hard-wired to strict time tablings. A visit to Skywalker Ranch has been compared to entering the Jedi temple. A serious journey. Total inner sanctum. No personal photography allowed. The public? Not welcome. Fans of the "Star Wars" saga make do with aerial and satellite images. Wisely, security guards patrol the perimeter, on alert for obsessives dressed in storm trooper costumes.
Somewhere inside, George Lucas is marshaling his minions for the release of the story's final installment, "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," opening worldwide May 19.
We could feel his presence. The time of our meeting drew near, when he would explain to us that the "Star Wars" epic was not only a story of a father saved by his children but a rumination on the dark side of the Force, represented by Julius Caesar and Richard Nixon.
The 60 or so press junketeers assemble at the nearby Embassy Suites Hotel. We are mostly male, middle-aged. The vibe is boys camp. Included in our number are some "Star Wars" "hard-cores." The type who can answer the difficult trivia questions in "A Guide to the Galaxy," the cheat sheet helpfully provided by Lucasfilm.
Question: Lando Calrissian's operation on Cloud City mines what type of gas?
Answer: Tibanna gas.
The shuttle van for the junketeers ascends the hairpin turns of a two-lane road called Lucas Valley Road, the Marin County hills as bucolic as the planet Naboo. Then a right turn through the gates and onto Skywalker, built with the fortune made from the "Star Wars" franchise.
Worldwide box office gross to date?
And that is just for the films and does not include the net from the video and computer games, action figures, magazines, toys, Halloween costumes, books and DVDs.
As we move through the gates, guards in blue uniforms drive by in red pickups. Omnipresent, yet discreet. We ride past the Skywalker Fire Department, with its fleet of tanker trucks. The greenhouses growing organic consumables. A younger wag aboard our transport whispers, "Man, you could grow a lot of weed out here." He is shushed. There is a softball field. "The animal facility." The Archives. Vineyards growing grapes for Francis Ford Coppola wines. Then Ewok Lake and beside its placid waters, an X-Wing fighter, a prop from the series, sitting on the beach.
The main "house" is a sprawling pseudo-Victorian, the rooms filled with Gustav Stickley-type craftsman furnishings and art. Thomas Hart Benton. Maxfield Parrish. Our guide welcomes us. Lucas, we learn, does not live here, but "in a house in the neighborhood." These are his offices and work spaces. Lucas did write a short story, we are told, about a family that could have once lived here, if they had existed. The place looks a hundred years old, with weathered stone and burnished wood. It was built in 1985, a marvelous fake. "You're all very quiet," our guide observes. "You're allowed to talk." But we remain silent.