Images: (clockwise from top) Technical building sound studio, library (credit: © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved)., sitting room inside the ranch, overlooking Lake Eowk, honey for sale in the general store, Skywalker Ranch Fire Brigade mug.
Leading up to the release of Strange Magic, the newest film from George Lucas that opens January 23, I found myself in the fortunate position of tagging along on a tour of his secluded Skywalker Ranch. The 5,000-acre estate, nestled in the hills of Marin County, Ca., isn’t just home to Skywalker Sound, arguably the best film postproduction studio around, it’s also just an incredibly inspiring place. So what did I learn from my totally epic tour of Skywalker Ranch? Here are eight fascinating facts about the estate the Force built.
1. Your favorite characters? Been there.
The busiest place on the ranch is the Technical Building. It’s a 153,000-square-foot state-of-the-art sound studio that has a “world-class scoring stage, six mix studios, ADR and Foley stages, 34 editing suites, and a 300-seat screening room.” I can’t even imagine typing out the names of all the films that have mixed their sound, scored their soundtracks or did their voiceovers at Skywalker Ranch. But to drop a few names, I could mention Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic Park, and The Incredibles. And while there I bumped into the producer of Pixar’s Inside Out who was mixing the film.
2. They make more than movies.
If you’ve got 5,000 acres of fertile ground, why let it sit there doing nothing? In front of the Tech Building grapes are grown to make Skywalker pinot noir and Skywalker rose. Olive trees are sprinkled along five acres of the nearby hillsides and are harvested to make extra virgin olive oil. They also package up two-ounce jars of their own wildflower honey collected from hives on the estate.
3. They’ve got everything… even room for sleepovers!
Skywalker Ranch has its own inn, which might seem odd, but actually totally makes sense. Filmmakers work long hours, so instead of driving the windy road back and forth to a hotel, they can just stay at the quaint retreat that features bedroom suites and apartments. Unfortunately, rooms are reserved for those working on a project at Skywalker Ranch. While staying there, visitors can shop at the Skywalker General Store. There they can buy onesies for the baby, hoodies for the kids, lightsaber umbrellas, coffee mugs, as well as the before mentioned Skywalker honey, olive oil and wine. I left with a Skywalker T-shirt, a bottle of rose, two jars of honey, and a Skywalker Ranch fire department mug. That’s right, I said fire department. Skywalker Ranch has its own fire brigade that protects all 5,000 acres of the estate, plus it helps out the surrounding area in times of need. Check out the brigade’s Millennium Falcon logo. It’s one of the only visual references to Star Wars at the ranch.
4. It’s a great place to look for Ewoks.
Although a girl can dream, I did not actually spot a single Ewok on the tour. But I did see Lake Ewok, a small man-made lake in the middle of the compound. They do have cows, pigs, goats, chicken, turkey and horses on the property. But sadly, there wasn’t a single Wookie in residence.
5. It could be an awesome place for dress up.
Sprinkled throughout the Main House are various cinematic treasures that any kid (or adult for that matter) would love to get their hands on. Encased safely behind glass are Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, a cane and hat used by Charlie Chaplin, an original model of Jabba the Hutt and Indie’s iconic whip and fedora.
6. … And it’s the best place for storytime… ever!
I’ve been to the Vatican, I’ve toured Hearst Castle, I’ve walked through the Dream Suite at Disnyeland, but never has a room taken my breath away as much as the research library at Skywalker Ranch. The two-story book heaven includes thousands of volumes organized by theme, a huge stained glass ceiling, and a piece by Maxfield Parish hanging above the fireplace.
7. Nobody’s actually home.
The crown jewel of the ranch is the gorgeously appointed Victorian. This 50,000-square-foot mansion is used for business meetings and houses George Lucas’ office (and although it is homey, he does not live there). With its art nouveau flourishes, arts and crafts furniture, Tiffany lamps, and rich wood walls, the building looks like it was built in the 1920s rather than 1985.
8. There’s really, really cool stuff in the barn.
The casually named “barn” houses Lucas’ archives, which includes the actual ark from Raiders of the Lost Ark, oodles of props from the Star Wars films and so, so, so much more. A good lesson for the kids, save all those important things. They might be worth something someday.
Sunny Chanel is a regular contributor to Fandango Family, Babble.com, Mom.me, Disney Imagicademy and Mommy Nearest as well as her own whimsical site Wonder and Company. When she isn't writing, watching movies or doing crafts, she is playing dress up with her eight-year-old daughter.
For more about Strange Magic, check out the trailer: