On November 15th, members of SARLACC embarked on a 4-day Star Wars Road trip from Seattle, through the Redwoods of northern California, to our ultimate destination, Petaluma, CA. home of Rancho Obi-Wan. It was an amazing adventure filled with stops at several Star Wars landmarks including the filming locations for Endor in Return of the Jedi, ILM and the gates of Skywalker Ranch. Our trip coincided with Life Day, the anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special.
Day 1, November 15th
Our Caravan of Courage, consisting of the three transports and 11 members, embarked from separate points of origin to meet at the rendezvous point near Sullust… er, I mean Portland. After stopping for lunch downtown, we all headed to Billy Galaxy’s, a vintage toy shop that had a nice selection of vintage Star Wars collectibles. We could have stayed there all day, but we had to get back on the road. We finally arrived at our stopping point for the night, the Ship Ashore Resort in Smith River, CA. The motel was where the crew of Return of the Jedi stayed and where they viewed the dailies each night after filming. It didn’t look like they had updated the motel at all since then.
Day 2, November 16th
We got up bright and early and headed south on Highway 101. Our first stop was the Fort Dick Market, a small convenience store that just so happens to have a large fiberglass prop rock used in the Ewok battle scenes. We were the excitement of the day for the staff as our group poured into the small shop taking pictures and asking questions. The owner happened to be there and he told us the story of how the crew would stop in there for supplies. When filming wrapped, they drove by and threw the rock at him from a moving truck! He mentioned that “some guy from Seattle” had once offered to buy it from him, but he refused to sell it. I wonder who that could have been? We were pleased to see they had upgraded their old display of the rock (just sitting on a shelf above the salad dressings) to an actual acrylic display case above the deli counter.
The next stop was, Owen R. Cheatham Grove in Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, the filming location of the speeder bike chase from Return of the Jedi. Dwarfed by the giant Redwoods, it felt as if we were actually on the forest moon of Endor. It was easy to spot very specific landmarks that were visible in the film. We suited up in Stormtrooper armor and camouflage ponchos and posed with our blasters and plush Ewoks for some great photos. We still had a long drive ahead of us and it had just started raining again, so we said goodbye to Endor and headed towards Petaluma. We arrived late, but we were still buzzing from the excitement, so we gathered at the hotel to recap the day’s adventures and partied into the night.
Day 3, Life Day, November 17th
Another early morning start. We met up with a few other members who had opted to fly down and drove into San Francisco. We stopped for the obligatory photo-op of the Golden Gate Bridge and then headed across to the Presidio, home of the offices of Industrial Light and Magic. Being Saturday, ILM was closed, but we took pictures of the bronze Yoda fountain out front and through the windows of the lobby. We stopped for lunch in the Haight district and popped into Super7 to check out their cool Star Wars merchandise. Then it was back to Petaluma with a quick detour down Lucas Valley Road to see gates of Skywalker Ranch. George didn’t answer.
We then met up with a few more SARLACC members and left for the highlight of the trip, a tour of Rancho Obi-Wan, Steve Sansweet’s incredible Star Wars collection. Steve was a gracious host and tour guide, explaining in great detail the story of the ranch and the origins of specific items and how he acquired them. There is no way to put into words the enormity of his collection. We drooled over many rare and one-of-a-kind props and collectibles. Upon completion of the guided portion of the tour, we had a great meal provided by Steve and his staff of volunteers.
In honor of Life Day, Mike Demaine read aloud the speech that Princess Leia gave in the Holiday Special. Steve was about to break into the Life Day song when Chewbacca, dressed in the traditional red robes, arrived to present him with a commemorative Wookiee Life Crystal. More personal, hand-made gifts were presented and, before we knew it, we had been there seven hours. We said goodbye to Steve and the collection and headed back to the hotel for another late night.
Day 4, November 18th
A full day of driving ahead had most of us checking out early and hitting the road. A few others squeezed in a trip to Francis Ford Coppula’s Winery. The caravan drove fourteen hours straight through from Petaluma home to Seattle. It rained heavily the last half of the drive, but we made good time.
It was an incredible journey! We’re already looking forward to the next road trip. Tattooine filming locations in Death Valley and Yuma, AZ anyone?
Special thanks to: Steve Sansweet, Anne Neumann and the volunteers at Rancho Obi-Wan. Gus Lopez for coordinating the tour. Curt Hanks, Mike Demaine and Amy Sjoberg for organizing and designing the gifts, t-shirts and swag. Tom Stewart, Curt Hanks and Chris Stone for driving and their passengers for keeping them awake and entertained along the way.