Once Upon A Galaxy: A Journal of The Making of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’
Alan Arnold. Sphere Books Ltd 1980
MARIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
Monday, October 29 
The Marin County peninsula points south toward San Francisco's waterfront and is linked to it by the Golden Gate Bridge. Thus it has a coastline on the Pacific as well as one on San Francisco Bay. On the bay side, the peninsula is marked by creeks and inlets and small picturesque harbors, many of which are the settings for some spectacular apartment complexes with their own marinas. Because Marin County has experienced a huge increase in its population during the past twenty-five years, highways have
proliferated and with them the inevitable extrusions of a highly mobile society: shopping centers, all manner of eating places, gas stations, used-car lots, and so forth - their common denominator being easy access for the automobile. As with anywhere else, the environment of the freeways is often ugly, a hapless embroidery in the midst of which there are some pleasant little towns with attractive names: Mill Valley, San Anselmo, Tiburton, San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur. And above the bay on a ledge where the fabled bridge completes its audacious leap from the city is Sausalito, a beautiful little township built among the pines and cypress of the cliffside, wit hone of the best views of the San Francisco skyline.
San Anselmo I found to be a charmingly nostalgic and primarily beautiful town. In the afternoon of a sunlit Sunday, I sat at a timbered cafe beside a little wooden bridge spanning a brook. The cafe had the feel of countless yesterdays, thus I was surprised to learn that it had been built in 1975. Similarly where there had been a drugstore soda fountain, there was a now an ice-cream parlor called the Sweet Sensation where some very young teenagers lingered with there girlfriends, ritualizing over milkshakes. A fine double fronted store that had once dispensed seeds and hardware to local growers was now a classy emporium selling costly porcelain, glass, and silverware imported from England, Germany and France.
It is in San Anselmo that George Lucas has his editing facility in a building just off the main street. He lives on the outskirts of the town among the pines and the redwoods. It was there I visited him for a final interview, and we talked in a study panelled with natural redwood and heated by a pinewood fire. When we had finished, he drove me back to my lodgings in a well-worn twelve-year-old Chevrolet, hardly a symbol of status nor a deliberate exercise in under consumption, simply the car Lucas had grown comfortable with.
As we parted, I suggested to him that it was possible in an environment such as Marin County to become remote from the problems of the world. But he denied that there was any risk of becoming self-centered in his retreat. "If I want a super-stimulating environment I can always fly to New York," he said. "There's stimulation in San Francisco and we are only and hours flight from L.A. Such cities have all the social evils and social blessings of our day. I don't have to live there to be aware of them.
"Do you keep in touch with filmmakers around the world and see their films?" I asked.
"There is a film archive in Berkeley which gets films from all over the world. We see films and sometimes meet with filmmakers, but I keep in touch more by involvement. Now that we've finished the fine cut on Empire, I'm leaving for Japan. I'm executive producer of a film being directed there by Kurosawa. But I’ll always return to Marin. It's where I have a sense of belonging."
It was to be the last of our meetings. I left more impressed than ever by George Lucas's essential simplicity. In his woodland setting he seemed a figure from a fairy tale, a puck in an elfin landscape.
Alan Arnold: What drew you to Marin County?
George Lucas: When I graduated from college in Los Angeles, I knew I didn't want to stay there. I decided I would come back to Northern California and work here. But I had to have a link to an airport so I could go to Los Angeles to conduct my business. My wife and I looked on the peninsula near Palo Alto and San Jose, and then looked up here in Marin and decided we liked it well enough to settle here.
AA: What do you like about it?
GL: I like Marin's rural quality. Yet we're not far from the city, so we can go into San Francisco for cultural events or for business.
AA: What is the extent of your holdings in Marin County?
GL: We have three offices in San Anselmo including an editing room. In San Rafael we have Industrial Light and Magic. What we're trying to do is build the ranch facility which will consolidate all these units into one place. Then we won't be spread over the countryside the way we are now.
AA: The ranch is Lucas Valley, a 2,000-acre holding. Is the fact it is called Lucas Valley pure coincidence?
GL: Yes. It was already named Lucas Valley, and it was the only piece of land that seemed appropriate for our needs and financially within my reach. It's also an easy distance from San Francisco. It only takes about seven minutes longer to get to the ranch from the city than to get to San Anselmo.
AA: When the ranch scheme materializes will you lack anything Los Angeles can provide?
GL: We won't have soundstages. The ranch is purely a "think tank" concept and largely an environment in which writers can create. It will have a library, editing rooms, a place to do the music and the rerecording. It will not be a place to make movies but to write and finish them. Mostly it will be a place to think.
AA: What is the setting like?
GL: It's classic Marin County country, hilly with redwood forests and its own meadow.
AA: What other filmmakers are located in Marin?
GL: In Mill Valley, there's John Korty who was really the first one to come to Marin County. Then there's Michael Ritchie, who grew up in Berkeley and decided to move to Marin. Matt Robins and Hal Barwood moved up here form Los Angeles. Walter Murch came up with me and Francis Coppola to start the American Zoetrope Company. Phil Kaufman and several filmmakers live in San Francisco. I think it would be breaking it down too regionally to say that Marin County is separate from San Francisco in the filmmaking world. It would be better describe us all as Northern California filmmakers. As a group we have all traded ideas and helped each other over the years.
AA: Tell me more about the overall concept of the Star Wars saga.
GL: There are essentially nine films in a series of three trilogies. The first trilogy is about the young Ben Kenobi and the early life of Luke's father when Luke was a little boy. This trilogy takes place some twenty years before the second trilogy which includes Star Wars and Empire. About a year or two passes between each story of the trilogy and about twenty years passes between the trilogies. The entire saga spans about fifty-five years.
AA: How much is written?
GL: I have story treatments on all nine. I also have voluminous notes, histories, and other material I’ve developed for various purposes. Some of it will be used, some not. Originally, when I wrote Star Wars, it developed into an epic on the scale of War and Peace, so big I couldn't possibly make it into a movie. So I cut it in half, but it was still too big, so I cut each half into three parts. I then had material for six movies. After the success of Star Wars I added another trilogy but stopped there, primarily because reality took over. After all, it takes three years to prepare and make a Star Wars picture. How many years are left? So I'm still left with three trilogies of nine films. At two hours each, that’s about eighteen hours of film!
AA: What will the next chapter be?
GL: The next chapter is called "Revenge of the Jedi". It’s the end of this particular trilogy, the conclusion of the conflict begun in Star Wars between Luke and Darth Vader. It resolves that situation once and for all. I won't say who survives and who doesn't, but if we are ever able to link together all three you'd find the story progresses in a very logical fashion.