Letterman Digital Arts Center / Episode III Release Party

The Presidio in San Francisco is an old, abandoned military complex, originally created to defend the West Coast of the United States from attack. Now mostly made up of abandoned brick buildings, it has become the home of the Lucasfilm empire. Lucasfilm has been working for a few years now to create a new, state of the art campus on the site. The campus will house Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), LucasArts, and Lucasfilm. While much of the direct movie-making divisions will stay at Skywalker and Big Rock Ranches, a large part of the new digital division will move to the new site. This is probably about as historic a place as is the old Disney Studios . So it was a real honor to be able to step onto the campus for the Episode III after-party.

We entered the complex through a huge underground parking garage. There were dark suited, men-in-black security guards checking badges and faces at the entrance. “Keep those badges in sight,” they advised us, in that gruff, sort of good-fella tone. “The Boss is here today, and he wants everyone wearing one of those.” I started to wonder if I might not be going to a party hosted by Jabba the Hutt!

The parking garage reminded me of the Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings. My first thought was how easy it would be for someone who spent a totally focused day at work to take an elevator down to the complex and be at a loss for where they parked!

We were greeted at the top of the elevators by a trio of Wookiees  —  a group of costumes from the film setup on display in the entry hall of the event. Signs everywhere proclaimed various dining areas themed to locations from Episode III — the Mustafar Dining room, Coruscant Dining room, and others.

A huge crowd had gathered around one corner of the first room we entered. There, Robin Williams and George Lucas had stopped to greet guests, chat, and take pictures with them. I’d been warned that there wasn’t really supposed to be any picture taking or autographs at the event, but since both of the celebrities seemed to be open to it we decided to sidle up and see if we could say hi.

From 2005 – Star Wars Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith Premiere and After-Party

Robin was wonderful. I shook his hand and told him I liked his work, and he thanked me. I asked him if we could take a picture and he said, “Sure.” He’s looking really good, as you’ll see in the picture. Very trim and well muscled — cut like the movie star he is. Natasha asked him how he liked the film. “TERRRRR-riffic!” he said, sounding kind of like Tony the Tiger. He was a blast to meet. He was one of my heroes as a kid.

I couldn’t believe George Lucas was actually just hanging out there taking pictures and shaking hands. He played a lot with the kids that came up — you can tell he’s truly a parent at heart. When we finally got over to him I think he was trying to sort of sneak away from the photo ops. I kind of felt bad bugging him. I walked up and, to tell you the truth, I know I said something to him like “I really enjoyed the movie,” or “Hi there, Mr. Lucas,” or “Gurgle, smip, Star Wars!” But I can’t remember what it was. Natasha walked up and followed up with a more coherent, “We came all the way from Walt Disney World to see the movie.” George, ever laconical, said, “Oh?” Natasha asked if we could take a picture and he said, “Sure.” Sort of during the picture his secretary was trying to grab him and pass along some info, so it took a couple of seconds to get a shot of him looking into the camera. He got dragged away by his secretary so we said “Thanks” quickly. It was totally, totally, incredibly cool to have a minute or two with him, and I’ll treasure the look into his world that we got for a long time. I really equate George with Walt Disney — a true innovator in entertainment who has made changes to the very basic nature of the art that will reverberate for many, many years.

It was really gracious of both George and Robin to pose for pictures with us. They seemed very down to earth and friendly and I really appreciated the minute or two they took with us, since they were swamped with people and probably wanted to enjoy the party.

We also met was Matt Wood, the voice of General Grievous in Episode III and the Supervising Sound Editor on the prequels. Matt actually started his Lucasfilm career in LucasArts, and is a good friend of the friends who invited us to the event. We got to be buzz droids on the wall for a conversation where some of his friends were teasing him about his newfound fame.

“I looked you up on eBay and your signature is worth $60,” our friend Johnny kidded him.

“I know, I’m expensive because I’m RARE,” Matt chuckled, obviously feeling a little awkward about his newfound fame. “I spent two whole days at the autograph table, and I’m rare! Go figure!” (Matt did spend long hours at the autograph table at Celebration III, I can confirm. A friend of mine from the Orlando Sentinel actually brought him lunch one day when Matt couldn’t find the time to get away.)

Matt also related a great story about the cough Grievous has in the film. “We were looping the dialog,” he explained, “And George was there and he had a bad cough. He said, ‘Go’ to prompt me to start a line and then coughed before I could get it out. I said the line after he finished, but when we showed it the next time, we left the cough in. I guess George liked it because when it was done, Grievous had developed that cough. So Grievous is really my voice and George’s cough.”

“The great thing is,” Matt added, “When the Clone Wars people saw it, they actually ended up adding a scene where Mace Windu kind of Force-squeezes Grievous’ innards and he develops the cough. So there’s actually a story reason for it now. Pretty cool.”

I also got to meet Pablo Hidalgo, the Jedi Web Master who helped all of us fans enjoy the filming of Episode III with his deft handling of the web cam and his scintillating set diaries. Okay, I’m a web geek, but it was great to meet Pablo. He’s done a lot for the fans by being our eyes and ears on the set, and I appreciate it. He was also the writer of a couple of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game books, which I’ve always been a big fan of.

The rest of the event was amazing. Huge buffet tables filled with lasagnas and baked salmon and veggies and such. The dining rooms were decorated with these huge banners with stills from the film. Some of them were like 40 feet long, covering an entire section of the hallway with a still shot of Coruscant or a shot of some of the characters. There were props from the movie setup in various places. The Wookiees, Darth Vader, Tion Meddon, and other characters from the films. Another building housed a huge display of props and costumes from the film. There are a bunch of pictures of these in the gappage gallery.on Picasa.

The Letterman Digital Arts Center is a really beautiful facility. It’s nestled right at the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge and has a stunning view of the Palace of the Fine Arts (the dome in some of the pictures that looks kind of like Naboo from “The Phantom Menace”) across the street. There’s a public park there with a brook and a garden. It’s really peaceful, kind of a wonderful college campus. Natasha and I both commented later that, yeah, we could work there easily. I know I had an envious moment as I watched some kids rolling down the hills that made up the park. I really wanted to just jump over and do that too.

I was sad to have to leave, but it was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope I’ve done some justice to the wonder of the trip, and I hope everyone enjoys the pictures! I have to say a big special thanks to Tabby and Johnny, who invited us. They really made a couple of Star Wars fans’ dreams come true!