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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

The force is still with us at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch

The future is bright for Star Wars, with Episode VII filming in Abu Dhabi, and the continuing success of the franchise was in evidence during a rare visit to George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in California
The main house at the filmmaker George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in California. The house holds the Skywalker Sound studios, as well as Lucas’s offices and research library. Veronique Dupont / AFP
The main house at the filmmaker George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in California. The house holds the Skywalker Sound studios, as well as Lucas’s offices and research library. Veronique Dupont / AFP

George Lucas, the man behind the mega-successful interplanetary saga Star Wars, may well have retired, but his spirit looms large at the famous Skywalker Ranch.

The creator of Luke, Leia, Indiana Jones and Darth Vader bought the property in 1978 with proceeds from his first blockbuster hit – Star Wars – to realise his dream of creating a haven for filmmaking outside Hollywood, at a cost of about US$100 million (Dh367.3m), ­according to The Wall Street ­Journal.

The rare visitors who are allowed into the huge complex – which covers 1,900 hectares, near San Francisco – must first weave round hills, orchards and pastures occupied by cows and deer.

Within its boundaries, there are several screening rooms, vineyards, an underground pool and even a small inn for clients and friends.

“The ranch has its own police, so do not get away from the group; they are not very flexible,” warns a spokesman during a recent media visit.

Beside an artificial pond dubbed “Lake Ewok” lies the “technical” building that houses the studios of Skywalker Sound, specialising in special-effect sounds for science-fiction and fantasy films – those by Lucas but also for outside clients, recently including Guardians of the Galaxy.

Working there are several longtime collaborators of Lucas, who refer constantly to the ideas and spirit of their revered mentor.

“George always said that music is half of the movie experience,” says Matthew Wood, a Skywalker Sound employee.

On the other side of the pond, the massive white, slate-roofed main house boasts a research library with 21,000 volumes as well as the former office of the owner, now 71, who hardly comes in to the studios these days.

Lucas “is retired. He got married and just had a baby”, a spokesman says, referring to Lucas’s daughter ­Everest, who was born a year ago.

“He is working on his narrative art museum project in Chicago,” the spokesman adds.

The building – decorated with film mementos such as Indiana Jones’s bullwhip and pieces from Lucas’s art collection, including several canvases by Norman Rockwell – has the air of a museum.

The filmmaker sold his company and the rights to his sci-fi saga to ­Disney in 2012 for $4 billion, one of the biggest-ever such deals.

The media empire aims now to make good on its investment.

Three new feature-length films are planned, with Episode VII currently filming in London after location shooting in Abu Dhabi, and the animated TV series Star Wars: Rebels debuting on the Disney XD channel in 46 countries in October.

In downtown San Francisco at the Lucasfilm headquarters, ­Lucas’s former colleagues have gone back to work expanding the Star Wars universe while preserving its appeal for millions of fans.

With Star Wars: Rebels aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 12, Disney and Lucasfilm also hope to tempt a new generation to the world of the Jedi and the Force.

The TV series “represents this new era” beyond Luke and Leia, says the executive producer Dave Filoni in the studio offices, which are decorated with a collection of hundreds of posters of Lucas’s films, plus statues of Darth Vader, spaceships and monsters.

Star Wars: Rebels features five fugitive rebels who live in their spaceship and who, obviously, battle the nefarious Empire.

“George always said that you cannot rely on the Star Wars lure of ships and lightsabres. You need the family to work as a story,” ­explains Filoni, wearing his ever-present black cowboy hat.

But for fans worried about the Star Wars universe post-Lucas, Filoni promises that nothing big is ­changing.

“Disney shows great respect for the franchise,” he says. “They know that we’re the ones who know it best.”

artslife@thenational.ae