Visit to Skywalker Ranch, Lucasfilm and Rancho Obi Wan – April 2024

What a trip!

Over the last 18 months I’ve been able to ask the nice folks at ILM/Skywalker Sound to put me in touch with some of my heroes. Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston and most recently Phil Tippett. And last summer they asked me to moderate the Andor Effects panel at Star Wars celebration London. But, I never imagined I would get an invite to Lucasfilm, let alone an additional invitation to Skywalker Ranch. But those very things happened in a matter of 24 hours a couple of weeks ago. 

I was already due to be in the U.S.A for NAB, a huge broadcast media technology show in Vegas. I was there with one of my favourite clients, EVS Broadcast who traditionally make video and audio servers for replays, highlights and playout on live sport and shows across the world. Over the years they’ve gone onto produce media infrastructure and asset management solutions too. So, my role in Vegas was to demonstrate to some of the many thousands of visitors, the LSM VIA and some of its new machine learning powered tools. And that I did for four whole days. Wearing holes in my new white converse as I paced the booth, carefully describing the product to customers big and small.

Some of the EVS Broadcast Demonstrator Team having just finished our week at NAB in Vegas

Before travelling I mentioned to my contacts at Lucasfilm that I would be in the U.S and was immediately told “head on up to California and we will give you the tour at the Presidio”. Following a post on Facebook asking for recommendations for where to stay (and where not to stay) in San Francisco, I got a bunch of kind replies and I then got a message from Mac Smith at Skywalker Sound saying “come to the Ranch for lunch”.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading! 

That same post on Facebook also led to a former colleague saying “you can stay on my sailing boat in the marina in Sausilto”. An option I had never considered, but honestly it made the trip all the more possible, financially.

And then, as if things weren’t already amazing enough, chief model maker Lorne Peterson (former guest of the podcast) also spotted my post and said “let’s meet up”. So when I told him I was visiting the ranch he said “I’ll meet you there!”. Crazy!

So I booked my flights, and at 3am the morning after NAB, I headed to Vegas airport to fly to San Francisco. 

Taxi to Vegas airport in the small hours

Arriving at the other end after an hour and a half flight (most of which I slept through), I picked up a rental car and drove it on the right (or wrong to me) side of the road. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge my memories of my last visit here in 1997 came rushing back. Not only did I not have three kids the last time, I wasn’t even married. Back then, I was also travelling with my sister and her boyfriend, now husband and father to her two children. One of whom is now an adult! And yet it felt like no time has passed at all. Its a cliche, but life rushes by!

Captain Simon’s boat in the Sausilito Marina

So, day one was straight to the boat, to check out how it worked on a whistle stop tour of the cabin with Captain Simon. Then up to Skywalker Ranch by 11:00am to meet Mac Smith, Sound Supervisor.

The lush hills of Marin County, California

The road that approaches the ranch through Lucas Valley (no connection to George other than I guess it seemed like the perfect fit when he was looking where to build his movie making complex), the many hills and mounds are covered in a lush green grass with the occasional huge rock jutting from the ground. It immediately put me in mind of the lush landscapes of Naboo. I half expected a Battle Droid tank to breach a hilltop and descend towards me.

With little more than five miles to go, I pulled over and did the thing that any fan would do. I selected John Williams main theme from Star Wars and blasted it through the hire car’s speakers. Ensuring of course that I dialled it down as I turned right into the ranch’s unassuming entrance. I was greeted by a friendly women at the security booth and sent on my way through the incredible compound. Across a covered bridge and up to the tech building where Skywalker Sound is based. The whole place has an air of history despite its relatively short life. Something I would later learn was absolutely George’s intention. Even going as far as mythologising the story of a retired sea captain that built the place in his retirement. It could have felt “fake” but George’s ideas are so beautifully rendered, it’s easy to imagine you are in a property at least 100 years old. And let’s face it, Skywalker Ranch has some serious history anyway.

I got out of the car next to the tech building, designed to look like a 1880s winery, and immediately spotted Mac Smith coming towards me. Taller in real life than on Zoom, his big smile and chilled demeanour immediately put me at ease. I’m not the most demonstrative person, but honestly I was buzzing from the inside out. “Welcome to Skywalker Ranch” he said as we stepped through the doors to the open “entertainment area”. The sun illuminated the room from above. It was a beautiful day both inside and out. And the feeling was one of instant serenity. 

Sound Supervisor Mac Smith and I outside one of the many beautiful buildings at Skywalker Ranch

Mac proceeded to give me a short tour of the building, popping in to see Randy Thom, director of sound design at the Ranch. Randy and I had previously arranged an interview for this podcast but life got in the way and we had to cancel. We briefly chatted and said we should rearrange it soon, and I let him get back to his work on what appeared to be a new animated feature.

On returning to the main atrium room, I was greeted with a “Well hello Jamie! Good to see you, and in person this time” from the great Lorne Peterson. Lorne is the legendary chief model maker who worked for Lucasfilm film from 1976 to the mid 2000s. He’s also a wonderful guy. Very open and very willing to impart his experience and knowledge.

So, led by Mac we went for a walk around the different sites at the Ranch. The main house was closed, but we did get to walk around it while both Mac and Lorne pointed out particular features and stories adding details to the history of the place. We visited a live foley stage (very cool) and walked past the old archives building which I immediately recognised from the flythrough video on the blu-ray box set.

Myself, Sound Supervisor, Mac Smith and the legendary model maker, Lorne Peterson outside the main house at Skywalker Ranch

We then bumped into model maker, John Goodson who was there working on the archive. Lorne said I should interview him some time, to which he immediately agreed. It always helps when you have someone like Lorne to endorse your podcast! So hopefully the Lucasfilm guys can set that up for me soon.

Maybe I’ll get to see the archive on my next visit or maybe it’ll be showcased at George’s museum in years to come. For now I’ll just rewatch that Don Bies tour on the Laserdisc.

Next it was lunch at the fitness centre. After a week in Vegas eating whatever I could manage to find at the convention centre and a couple of visits to Taco’s El Gordo, I jumped at the “wellness bowl” featured on the Skywalker Ranch menu. Even if I did add a Wagu burger from George’s grazing cows. It tasted fantastic. Mac and I chatted with Lorne about his time at Lucasfilm, his love of model making and how open George always was to people’s suggestions and ideas. Citing one story where he asked for George’s advice on a particular model, to have George reply “I think that’s your department Lorne”. He really did entrust his crew with so much.

After lunch we wandered some more about the beautiful site. Lorne left to head home. Mac and I entered the Stag theatre. A 300 seater cinema decked out with laser projection and dolby atmos, though you wouldn’t know it. The speakers are expertly hidden behind the walls. Mac pointed out that the theatre was raised off the floor. The hollow below helping to aid the resonance of the bass. After meeting JT, the lovely resident projectionist, I was taken into the auditorium and offered George Lucas’ seat, dead centre for the optimum experience. JT then ran a demo reel of some of Skywalker Sound’s best work from across the decades. What an incredible experience to be seeing Star Wars and other films while sitting in George Lucas’ preferred seat, in one of the best spec’d theatres in the world, and at Skywalker Ranch! 

It’s a good job the sound was loud, because I think I was making some involuntary noises by this stage. Twenty minutes or so later, I was left astonished at the experience. Mac beaming next to me. He clearly gets a thrill being able to share this with folks like me.

The Ranch’s buildings are adorned with George’s incredible collection of movie posters dating way back to the 1920s. I was delighted to know that we both own an original Kagemusha poster from the master Akira Kurowsawa. I mean, George did produce that film with Francis Ford Coppola, so that figures.

My Akira Kurosawa “Kagemusha” Poster, bought direct from Japan

Before I knew it, it was time to leave, but Mac had an extra surprise for me. An invite to come back that very same evening for an Academy screening of Alex Garland’s new film Civil War. Despite having been awake since 3am in Vegas that morning, I jumped at the chance. “Yes! I’ll see you later Mac. Thank you!”.

It was then time to leave, past Lake Ewok and out of the automatic gate at the exit and navigating to a Target store on the 101 to get some much needed supplies. After grabbing some lunch and doing some shopping, I just sat in the carpark, the windows open, flabbergasted at what had just happened. Aged 4 I first fell in love with Star Wars. And here, some forty plus years later I had just visited Skywalker Ranch! Insane.

Leaving the Ranch, past “Lake Ewok”

I sat there in the carpark, and then in a Starbucks, for what must have been hours. It hadn’t seemed worth heading back to the boat. And honestly I was in a daze. So at 6pm, I began the short drive back to the ranch for the screening. Mac greeted me once again and we took our seats in the theatre. Without any fuss or trailers, the film began and I was instantly aware of the pristine projection and incredible sound again. It was by far the most immersive screening I’d ever experienced. In most cinemas you’ll hear the aircon, but here there was silence, or near silence when it was needed. Often followed by, in this film, a loud sound of gunfire. At least one moment caused both Mac and I jump out of our seats. The film is a tough watch, but I did enjoy the experience of its presentation in the incredible Stag theatre.

Before we left we headed up to Mac’s office and to my delight, his childhood collection of Star Wars toys were there, neatly stacked ready to sort for grading or presentation. We shared so much love for those movies, there was an almost unspoken connection between us through all of the creations around us, all from the mind of George Lucas. Make no mistake, Mac is one of us. But he made it to the Ranch to work on many film and TV projects!

Leaving in the dark, I knew I’d just had one of the most epic days of my 47 years. That’s when the data connection failed on my phone and I was left sat on the roadside trying to get Vodafone in the UK to lift the bar on my spend limit. Which turned out to be more difficult than it needed to be! Finally I was back on the road and heading to the Marina in Sausilito. Trying to remember everything captain Simon had shown me there 12 hours before.

I parked up, tiptoeing past “live-aboard” boats, to where Simon’s boat was moored. Unable to find the breaker for the lights, I spent the next ten minutes fumbling about with the aid of my phone torch, before collapsing into bed. Nine hours later I woke up to the sound of waves gently lapping against the hull of the boat. I’d been rocked to the best sleep I’d had in months. What a day yesterday was, I thought to myself. Wait… I have another epic day ahead of me today. This time a visit to ILM at the Presidio on the other side of the Golden Gate bridge.

Posing with the Yoda fountain just outside of the Lucasfilm building at the Presidio, San Francisco

My 11:30 call time there was extended slightly by trying to find somewhere to park. As I finally approached the building on foot, I passed the famous Yoda fountain, took a quick snap and entered through the door to be greeted by Greg and Chris who I’d previously met at Star Wars celebration for the Andor panel. “Welcome to Lucasfilm” said Greg. Within seconds we were chatting like old friends as we entered the movie theatre for some Lucasfilm videos and trailers, including the very amusing Deadpool & Wolverine trailer. Those films are not really my cup of tea, but I did chuckle several times and will probably go see it based on the trailer. Next up was a tour of the building via some amazing screen used props and items. Many of which I’ve posted photos of on Instagram (so go take a look). The highlights for me being the matte paintings by Mike Pangrazio and Chris Evans. It was so marvellous to see them in person. Able to look at all the amazing detail of images I’ve known most of my life.

Again, like Skywalker Ranch the building had a feeling of serenity to it. Incredible views from many of the rooms and even a coffee shop called Javva the Hutt. Complete with custom signage and spaceship adorned kitchen worktops. After some four hours touring and chatting, we sat in the Javva lounge for a cup of coffee and a sandwich from a local deli. Talking with Chris and Greg, it’s clear they both love their jobs. Chris told me he decided at an early age “I am going to work at Lucasfilm”. He shoots much of the behind the scenes material including interviews with many of the people I’ve been lucky enough to interview. At one point Greg paused, then said “I like to think there is a slightly alternate universe in which Jamie works here with us at Lucasfilm”.

The original door from the Kerner building

The final stop of the day was the Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm company stores, where I took my time. It was so tempting to spend a thousand dollars, but I’d given myself a limit of $200. So I got a couple of magnets, a Falcon keyring, a Ranch mug and water bottle, an exclusive ILM logo “The Creator” T-shirt, some Star Wars poster playing cards and some stickers, including a rather fetching Gonk droid one, which I quickly applied to my laptop.

Merch from the Skywalker and Lucasfilm stores at the Presidio

And that was it. Two epic days were over. I went back to the boat, and sat reading and looking at the ocean in front of me. At one point I felt a sudden wave of emotion. Not only because I’d been able to visit those amazing places, but because of the generosity of my hosts Mac, Lorne, Greg and Chris. They knew how much it had meant to me, because it meant a great deal to them too.

But wait, it wasn’t over! For day three I had arranged to meet Pete Mummert of The Indiana Jones Minute podcast (he lives locally) and head up to Steve Sansweet’s Rancho Obi Wan in Petaluma. 

Pete was gracious enough to pick me up from the marina. A blessed break from all the driving I’d been doing over the past two days. Pete is a kind, gentle soul, that I could tell immediately. And despite not being a Star Wars nut on my level, he was a warm and enthusiastic host. Our love of Indiana Jones led to our first stop, Indy’s house from Raiders of the Lost Ark, located on Alder Avenue in San Anselmo. A quick snap of the two of us in front of the property and we were on to our next location…

The Raiders House, San Anselmo, California

We quickly stopped by Imagination Park to see the Indy and Yoda statues. After questioning the dates on the plaques there, (1973 and 1974, hmm!) we took some more snaps and headed to Petaluma, where unbeknownst to us it was Butter & Egg Day Parade & Festival. The streets were lined with the residents’ chairs, ready for the parade. The Spanish, Colonial and Victorian architecture made it feel like a city lost in time. A snapshot of 50s America. After a quick coffee and a wander we headed up to our final destination, Steve Sansweet’s vast ranch, housing the world’s biggest collection of Star Wars memorabilia.

Me and Pete Mummert (of the Indiana Jones Minute Podcast) pictured by the statues of Indy and Yoda in Imagination Park, San Anselmo

As we arrived it was clear that it was very much a ranch from the outside. Chicken’s clucked as one of the ranch employees welcomed us and introduced us to our tour guide, Yannick. Moments later we were heading in the door and up the stairs to see an amazing collection of posters mounted on the walls. Then into the extensive library. I couldn’t help thinking that I should have brought some copies of my book “Return of the Jedi – Unauthorised Timeline” with me. Maybe I’ll send him one.

Then through the door to see a monolith housing dozens of original action figures. Man, I love those figures. They ARE Star Wars to me. Such a big part of my childhood and later life. In every direction there was a rare toy, prop, costume, poster, lamp, toothbrush… everything you could think of. Steve was clearly a dedicated collector from day one. In fact I’ve just arranged to interview Steve in the coming weeks. I have lots of questions!

The Monolith of original vintage figures at Rancho Obi Wan

I won’t spoil it any further, but if you get the chance to visit the Ranch, it’s well worth your time. Steve’s love for the movies is very apparent. As is his appreciation for the tens of pieces of fan art he’s been sent over the years. All proudly displayed on the extended (and extended again) building.

Some super-rare toys including a Palitoy FX-7 and the infamous General Veers from Sears department store
Pete Mummert and I aboard the Tantive IV (at Rancho Obi Wan)

Pete kindly returned the now exhausted me back to the marina. Simon was there with his lovely family using their paddle boards and canoes. After a short sit down and read of my book (not Star Wars related, but a classic Japanese crime novel), Simon offered me a try on his paddleboard. A quick change into some shorts and I was on the board and standing up within a minute. Gentle paddling around the marina thanking the maker that I’ve always had pretty good balance. I had a feeling that the Pacific was pretty damn cold. Luckily I stayed atop the board. And as I de-boarded, I caught a glimpse of something in my peripheral vision. As I turned I saw two Bat rays gracefully gliding through the water, the larger of the two must have been four or five feet wide, the smaller three feet wide. As Simon reached for his phone to take a photo, the large one darted with a burst of acceleration that startled the smaller one. What a treat to be visited by these magnificent beasts. Fish that had inspired artist Ralph McQuarrie as seen in his concept work for The Empire Strikes Back. A perfect way to end my stay at the marina. To bed early for more deep slumber.

Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Copyright Lucasfilm.
A bit of paddleboarding in Sausilito on my last full day

I woke, showered in the private facilities at the marina and dutifully packed my case. But my flight wasn’t for another nine hours. So, I headed back to the Presidio, parked up with an incredible view of the bay and the Golden Gate and took a wander around the park which sits atop the tunnels of the 101 highway.

After a relaxed sit down, watching the world go by, I decided to take the advice of both Greg at Lucasfilm and Pete, my Rancho companion, and visit The Walt Disney Family Museum. The 40,000 square foot space in the main museum building features historic materials and artefacts bringing Walt Disney’s achievements to life. There are interactive galleries that include early drawings and animation, movies, music and listening stations. Finishing with an incredible 12-foot diameter model of Disneyland. I learnt so much in those couple of hours. It was also great to see a display of artwork from Sleeping Beauty, a film that my friend, Joe Alves worked on back in 1958. One of his first assignments during his time at Disney. If you get the chance, do visit the museum.

The huge model of Disneyland at The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, California
Outside The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, California

Off to the airport to head back to London. As I dropped off the hire car, got through security and passport control, it hit me again. What an incredibly fortunate man I am. I have a wonderful family that supports me in everything I do (special shout out to my wife, Becca for being awesome on every level). A job that pays the bills and a hobby that has led me to the opportunity to visit all of those great places, meeting some great people and making friends along the way. And it all started in my childhood a long time ago, in a small town far far away from California. Having this hobby keeps me connected to the kid inside. A valuable attachment that allows me respite from the difficulties that adult life can throw at us. Star Wars is always a shortcut to that place. And now I have more incredible memories to include.

A day long remembered! 18th April 2024

My next thought was… Should I try to get to Japan for Celebration 2025? I’ll leave that decision for another day.

About filmumentaries 154 Articles
Creator of the Filmumentary (TM) format.


  1. Jamie, what a lovely and well deserved reward for all the hard (hitting)work you’ve done with all the Bay area filmmakers in your series of podcast interviews. Great article and wonderful insights into the whole ‘making of’ process. Exactly what i love.

  2. Wow Jamie! Well deserved. Felt right there with you. If ever in Oporto, Portugal, and in need of advice, feel free to reach out. All the best and keep doing this lovely work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.