ForceCast co-host Jimmy Mac took a few side-trips while he was in California for Lucasfilm's Episode I 3D press junket. Check out his report below.
As we continue with my series of reports from The Phantom Menace 3D media event at Skywalker Ranch, I'd like to fill you in on a couple of "side trips" I made while visiting northern California last week. The first was to Lucasfilm's Big Rock Ranch, home to Lucasfilm Animation. Located about 2 miles down the road from Skywalker Ranch, Big Rock is where work is done on the hit TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It is so named because of a "big rock" located on the perimeter of the grounds near Lucas Valley Road. Judging by the amount of motor tourists pulled off to the side of the road to take pics, I would say this is a popular spot for sightseers. However, I was more interested on what was inside the gates, and I was not disappointed.
Much like its sister site, Skywalker Ranch, one is immediately amazed at the sheer beauty of the well-kept grounds and gardens. The architecture is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright and the main building is surrounded partially by a tranquil man-made lake. Interesting statues appear in various places surrounding the exterior of the building, including the iconic bronze Yoda statue by artist Lawrence Noble. The interior is decorated with incredible woodwork, impressive artwork, and walls lined with selections from George Lucas's massive personal collection of international movie posters - All hand-picked by the man himself! It's true...George actually chooses where each poster is displayed based on his esthetic values and preference. His fingerprints are all over this place!
While at Big Rock, I was able to visit with The 104th Battalion Wolf Pack's alpha-dog, Clone Wars Supervising Director Dave Filoni. It was cool to see Dave saying it loud and proud with his wardrobe choice - His custom-made t-shirt featuring symbol of The Wolf Pack. Being at Big Rock and seeing Dave in his work environment actually felt like I was in a wolves den! But, this was just the first stop of the evening...We needed to track down another member of the Wolf Pack and he was just a little ways up north off the 101. So we hit the road and headed off to see Steve Sansweet at Rancho Obi Wan!
We made it to Rancho Obi-Wan in no time at all and Steve was at the gate to greet us. He immediately took us into his amazing chicken-coop-turned-museum and, after listening to a greeting recorded by Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, James Arnold Taylor, we started the tour in Steve's office. Everywhere you look is Star Wars, which you would totally expect considering this is, after all, Steve Sansweet's office. If the tour ended right there, I would have left a happy man. But, wow, there was still tons more to see!
Our next stop was in the library, which is easily the greatest repository of Star Wars publications anywhere. Multiple copies of every Star Wars book, novel, or guide can be found here, many in several different languages. I quickly recognized the Star Wars promotional booklet released prior to the film that was saved from the trash by Steve to become his first ever Star Wars collectible. I had to take his pic with it! Filoni pointed to a large stainless steel Boba Fett statue on the floor of the library and commented on how that piece is one of his faves. Again, I felt if the tour ended right there, I would be satisfied. But, of course, I knew the best was yet to come...
We came to the end of the hallway and Steve threw open the doors revealing a birds-eye view of his magnificent Star Wars museum - 9,000 square-feet packed with 35 years of Star Wars memorabilia, props, toys, statues, and much, much more. "Whoa! Look at that view!", Filoni exclaimed as we gazed upon the huge room featuring a life-sized Darth Vader at the entrance. I was absolutely tounge-tied as I ran down the steps in a meek attempt to absorb it all at once. I could not even figure out where to go as I felt like I was being pulled in every direction at once. Once I caught my breath, Steve continued to show us around, and I felt a flood of emotions - Shock, awe, and surprise just being a few of them. We asked about specific pieces in the collection and Steve had great stories about them all. He even let us take a peek at his "adults-only" collection, tastefully hidden behind a large black curtain.
Like I said, due to the sheer volume of awesome Star Wars collectibles, I found it hard to stand still! It was so much to take in at once; I was overwhelmed! At one point, I found myself standing in the middle of the room, involuntarily spinning in a circle. After I completed my 360, I looked over at Dave and Steve thinking to myself, "Thank god they didn't see me do that!" But you cannot help yourself because visiting Rancho Obi-Wan is such an amazing experience. As you walk around the museum, like some strange sort of osmosis, you soak in so much passion for Star Wars, you feel like you are going to burst!
After a stop in a small room featuring many rare action figures (like unproduced Droids prototypes), a Lawrence Noble Yoda statue (just like the one at Big Rock) and many other rare film props and memorabilia, you find yourself facing a big, black curtain. When Steve was certain Dave and myself were ready, he opened the curtain to reveal a full-sized replica of the white-walled hallway from the Rebel Blockade Runner in A New Hope. As we slowly walked into the dead-on replica of the iconic set, a video image of stormtroopers appeared on a television screen at the end of the hallway. They proceeded to interact with Steve, demanding he "show identification". Steve quickly dispatched the troopers by using an old Jedi mind trick and the blast doors zipped open to reveal the back half of the museum. This is the newest addition to Rancho Obi-Wan, and it's most impressive. The large room features an art gallery, game arcade, props, set pieces, and more Star Wars goodness. We admired the replica life-sized holographic chess table that looked like it came right out of the Falcon's main hold and the large, white chair featured on the bridge of the Mon Cal Crusier in Return of the Jedi. Just as impressive was the video monitor built into the war room table from Yavin IV that was part of the Lucasfilm pavilion at San Diego Comic Con last year. It lives on in Rancho Obi-Wan!
Filoni instantly gravitated over to the arcade area where he was convinced he would be able to break his all-time personal best high score on Star Wars Arcade. I jumped into the Podracer sit-down cabinet and raced as, who else, Ben Quadineros. I didn't fare so well in The Boonta Eve Classic, so it was time for some good old fashioned pinball - Star Wars Episode One-Style! I had a great game, making it to number 4 on the high scores list. After burning thru a few more credits in the arcade, I had to pull myself away from the arcade to study the very tastefully displayed Star Wars artwork taking up the back of the room. From Randy Martinez's huge Sgt Pepper's inspired piece for 2007's Celebration Europe, to the many decorated helmets from The Vader & TK Projects, to even some original artwork by our Wolf Pack leader, Dave Filoni, I was beyond impressed. As you can see in the video below, the art exhibit in Rancho Obi-Wan rivals those of most major galleries.
All good things must come to an end, and around midnight, the Wolf Pack reunion at Rancho Obi-Wan wrapped up. But I eagerly anticipate the day when I can return and soak in some more of that palpable Star Wars energy and love for the franchise that only this place can generate. A trip to Rancho Obi-Wan should be a priority for any and all Star Wars fans - from the casual to the hard core. To be there is to fully understand why you love the saga yourself and Steve's hospitality, devotion, and passion is second-to-none. While it's true, the museum is not open to the general public, you can still go on a tour of the facility with Steve himself! Simply visit www.ranchoobiwan.org to learn how you can book an appointment via membership, and treat yourself (and your friends) to an unmatched, interactive Star Wars experience. It's mandatory for your fandom.