Archive | October, 2012

Newsflash! Disney Owns Star Wars!

30 Oct

he 5 stages of a corporate buyout:

1) Denial

2) Anger

3) Bargaining

4) Depression

5) Acceptance

(the Dark Side are they)

…OK. I’m out the other side after hering the shocking news of the day.

For those of you who don’t like to follow links, Disney just bought Lucasfilms for $4+ Billion (with a “B”). The news crashed on top of the world at lunchtime today like Hurricane Catrina (too soon for Hurricane Sandy jokes). Included in the press-release was word that the next Star Wars movie (Episode 7) is scheduled for release in 2015, with Episode 8 and 9 to follow shortly there after. The nerd-universe was STUNNED.

I must admit at first I didn’t know how to get my head around the news. Star Wars fans (fanatics) have been aware on one level or another for years that this day was coming. Lucas has officially announced his retirement from filmmaking, and categorically announced he is done making Star Wars movies. What then is left for the franchise? Death… or evolution.

Truth told, Lucas has run out of steam over the past decade. For those of us heavily invested in its heyday, the videogames, movies and everything else of yesteryear were head-and-shoulders above the stuff that’s been put out in recent memory. Disney and Lucas have been a natural match for decades, what with Star Tours and Indiana Jones. So no surprise there.

As it was I happened to be flipping through Entertainment Weekly this morning reading about the new Bond film “Skyfall,” which people are touting as (no kidding) the best Bond flick ever. Here we have a franchise that’s still alive and vibrant after 50 years. Generations have a relationship with James Bond. Really, why can’t it be the same for Star Wars.

Sure, future installments won’t have that unique Lucas-ness. Sure, John Williams won’t be around forever to score the films (he’ll be 81 in January). Different directors, composers and leading men have come and gone with the Bond franchise too. But it still manages to preserve that essential Bond-ness, while continuing to evolve over the years.

One thing is for sure: with Disney now making the decisions for Star Wars, there’s no end in sight for new Star Wars material. More toys. More games…. and more movies. Movies that my children are going to be excited to see. Movies that I’m going to be excited to see with them. Sure, there are going to be the equivelant of “The Timothy Dalton Years” as Star Wars lives on. But there will also be a fair share of “Daniel Craig” years too. The point is, Star Wars will live on.

That can’t be a bad thing.

-Dork Dad

addendum: Here’s the YouTube video announcement that I just tripped over:

Lord Of The Ring Bearers

30 Oct

 

o how do you know when your efforts to raise your children in the culture of all-things-geek are coming along as planned?

Answer: When your son proudly announces that at his Auntie’s wedding his sister gets to be the flower girl and he gets to be the “Lord of the Rings.”

 

Lord of the Ring Bearers

 

Aaaaaand my work here is done.

-Dork Dad

Interview with Ron Fugelseth – The Dad Behind “Toy Train In Space.”

29 Oct

ome time last month a viral video was unleashed on the Internet that swept across the Dad-blogoverse like a wildfire. Ron Fugelseth documented one fantastic chapter in the Calvin-and-Hobbs-ish life of his son, a toy train named Stanley, and the amazing adventure that Stanley went on. Told through the perspective of a 4-year-old boy the video quickly exploded across the world, and suddenly Ron and his family were getting attention everywhere from the local papers, to bigtime network TV shows. The pinnacle of the experience was a trip for the whole family to New York to appear on the Katie Couric show, where Ron and Jayden happily shared a couch with Katie herself. 3.5 million views later and the video is still touching hearts the world over.

“A Toy Train in Space”

When I saw the video my first reaction was to think that this was something that I *MUST* do with my own kids. I actually thought to myself “Somehow I’ve got to get a hold of the guy behind this and figure out how he did it.” The next day a friend of mine posted to her Facebook wall,

“Hey, check out this video my good friend Ron Fugelseth made that’s totally going viral.”

“Wait!” I messaged her. “You know this guy?!”

“Yeah.” She replied. “He and my husband grew up together. He lives in town here. You guys are neighbors.”

Within an hour Ron and I were facebook-friends (I guess “facebook-friends” is a thing now, isn’t it?).

Suddenly doing this project with my own kids was within grasp. And if I did manage to pull it off it would make for a fantastic blog post. Then it occurred to me, why would I blog about doing it with my own kids when I’ve got the main man right here in my own neighborhood? I could totally ask him about it, interview him even, and put THAT on my blog. He agreed, and last week we finally met up at a local watering hole to talk about the experience.

Ron Fugelseth and DorkDad at the local waterig hole

Ron himself is a charming, genuine, extremely pleasant person to interview. He got up in the middle of our conversation to politely ask some rowdy drunks at the next table to keep it down because we were recording audio. The drunks asked what the audio was for and I nearly did a spit-take when Ron described me as a “big-time blogger”. I don’t mind saying I thoroughly enjoyed sharing a beer and conversation with him over the course of two hours, not as a blogger doing an interview, but as a dude/dad/dork just  hanging out with another dude/dad/dork. Ron is a man who, in my opinion, has his priorities right. He and I have more than a little in common and that made the conversation flow very naturally. It’s easy to be friends with a guy like Ron Fugelseth.

By the time I got to interview him he’d already made the rounds to all the heavy hitters – The Associated Press, Katie Couric, and even another dad-blog. I came at the interview from the perspective that everything that could be asked had already been asked. Now that the 15 minutes are winding down we decided instead to focus our conversation on the experience as a whole – on what it’s like to have a viral video, and the effect that the experience has had on him and his family.

———-

DorkDaddy: Just so you know, last month I published what I thought was going to assure me a spot in the 2012 Dad-Of-The-Year finals. Not even one full week later your little video came out and blew my paltry little efforts out of the water. Every day since I look in the mirror and say to myself “Dude, you clearly need to up your game.” Do you have something to say to all the fathers out there you’ve put to shame?

Ron Fugelseth: Well, I think we’ve all lived under the shadow of Bill Cosby for far too long now. For me I felt like someone had to do something really big, just without the sweaters, to solidify someone else in the position of the pudding-pop guy. I feel like I’m 6 to 36 months away from being the next pudding-pop guy.

DD: Someday, when historians chronicle the history of Internet viral sensations, your chapter will come right after “Gungnam Style.” How does that sit with you?

RF: When I think of what makes a viral video, what the tricks are: someone getting kicked in the nuts, some kid getting their finger bit, a silly dance, a cat rolling over… That’s what “viral” is to me. So the fact that mine went viral and has none of that is totally weird.

DD: In our communications you have freely admitted that you are a dorkdad yourself. If you had to submit your dork-curriculum vitae, what sort of line-items might we see on it?

Ron’s son watching Star Wars after his dad gave him his old Snowspeeder toy. What sort of dork saves his old Star Wars toys for 30 years to give to his kids?

RF: This is easy. When I was a kid, probably up to when I was a teenager, I had collected almost all of the original Star Wars figures. They’re still at my parent’s house with my Lego pirate ship that I assembled and never de-assembled. It’s all there. Also, when I turned thirty I built myself a m.a.m.e.-cabinet (multiple arcade machine emulator). It takes quarters, it’s got hundreds of games in it, I mean the *REAL* ROM’s. Total dork. I play “Street Fighter” with all my friends. Lastly, and this is the hugest one, I made a “Goonies” retrospective documentary. I worked on it with my business partner and my brother-in-law. We met Chunk, Corey Feldman, we went to Astoria for the 25th anniversary… Steven Speilberg and Richard Donner saw it. Richard Donner’s assistant called us and said he saw the documentary and he loved it. So two years ago in Astoria we got to go down the red carpet with the actors. Our website for it blew up. Crazy. I was sure that that was going to be my 15 minutes of fame… and it wasn’t. Who knew?

DD: I think that qualifies you. I now certify you as a member of The Legion of Dorks.

RF: I’m honored.

DD: Tell me a little bit about your family.

RF: My wife was an elementary school teacher until we had children, and now she works at home taking care of our kids. My son, Jayden is 4 and my daughter Izzy is 2. I was actually going to keep them anonymous and I tried for so long until I did an interview with a local paper which it turned out was an A.P. writer, so it went out everywhere – which is why I’m getting an alarm on the house ‘cause it’s totally terrifying.*

*at this point the conversation drifted into keeping kids safe in the Internet age, which goes beyond the scope of this interview.

DD: I won’t be so cheesy as to ask what your “parenting style” is, but when you think about it in your quiet moments, how do you approach your role as a father?

My son with the old Xwing toy his dad gave him after watching Star Wars. What sort of dork saves his old Star Wars toys for 30 years to give to his kids?

RF: Although I think of my wife as the really structured one, you know she’s a school teacher, she’s very good at what she does, really good under pressure, really good at handling kids – I’m not as good at that. I’m the guy who’s like, “Well, maybe we’ll have a little bit of chocolate. Maybe we won’t go to bed exactly on time ‘cause we’re going to look at YouTube videos of stickbugs or a praying mantis.” I’m more loose in that way. I think the way I look at my parenting style is I’m very, I guess, touchy-feely. I’m always hugging and kissing and holding my children and constantly verbally telling them how much I love them. I’m constantly telling them “You make me happy.” I hope that that doesn’t end. I want them to grow up knowing that I love them. That’s my thing.

DD: Something planted the seed in your mind for this particular project. Where did the idea come from and where did you get the instructions how to make it happen? And for the sake of my own personal self-esteem, please don’t tell me that you came up with it all on your own.

RF: *laughing* Hell no. There’s no way. I am not the “smart science guy” that I knew growing up. This came just because I realized that I needed to document my son and his train, because it really is like Calvin and Hobbes. I knew I also wanted to work on my storytelling, to build a story out of this. And then I saw the “legoman in space” video that two high school kids did and I thought if they can do it, I’m a grownup, I should be able to do this. I got Stanley. I want to build a story. I got the video these kids made. There it was.

DD: So then you obviously had to do some research.

RF: Yes. I started looking up YouTube videos of people who did it and looking at the similarities, and also people who blogged about it and looked at the similarities between those. I didn’t want to do the huge go-pro project and spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on this which I wound up doing anyway – and my wife was like “This better fly.” The moment I let go my wife’s voice was in my head “This better work.”

DD: To the casual viewer there’s a production value to this movie that goes way beyond Windows Movie Maker (which is where the limits of my home-movie skills lie). Tell me about your background in this regard. In other words, tell me why a normal dad has no hope of making a video of this quality.

RF: I’ve been doing motion graphics, flash presentations, website design… all digital media is sort of what my company does. As a kid I drew pictures. Now as an adult it’s sort of become Photoshop, and Aftereffects and those sorts of things. It’s become my new creative outlet. With my business, everything I do something creative with it, it goes straight into the business. This was the first personal project where I had zero professional obligations, and it was really freeing.

DD: And how about your educational background?

Ron and his kid wearing matching Vans. What sort of dork takes pictures of himself and his kid wearing matching Vans?

RF: I have an AA in graphic design. I got hired right out of school. I went to this school called Masters Institute, it’s gone down now since the dot-com bubble crash, they were like “you spend an hour on general ed, and four hours on photoshop.” I was like “Oh, that’s for me!” So I just excelled. It was like I’d found myself. Suddenly I could have fun at school. I got hired right out of school, and I started working. Then the dot-com bubble happened and my business partner and I were working for a company doing what we’re doing now and we were like “Why don’t we just do this for ourselves?” And then we did and here we are.

DD: So after I saw this and decided that I needed to do this with my kids, I started to get my head around the challenge. You found Stanley 27 miles away. As I wrapped my head around the project I realized 27 miles that way is the ocean, and 27 miles the other way are impossible mountains. I imagine there were logistical challenges to making this work that the casual viewer was completely unaware of.

Dorkdad and his kid wearing matching Vans. What sort of dork takes pictures of himself and his kid wearing matching Vans?

RF: It’s so funny that you ask that because for 6 months before I released the video I told my friends “Hey, I’m going to launch Stanley in space” and they were like “What?”  Nobody got it. It was beyond what you think of as a normal household project. So like you figured out, there’s no way to launch a project like this where we live because the ocean is that way, the mountains are that way, and cell-phone coverage is lost. But my in-laws live in the East Bay, and we go there a lot, and I saw this one other group of guys do a launch from that area and I realized I could launch it from there too. So I found a website that actually predicts, from where you launch, where it will land based on today’s wind patterns, and it really worked. In fact, it worked so well that the day I went there it told me the wind had changed, and that it was going to head off in a direction where I was going to lose it. So I had to tell my wife “I know you’re going to be late for your hair appointment, but let’s stop in this other town and let it off there. It’s most likely going to land in this farming area. Let’s just do it.” And it worked. Logistically speaking it took me two months of watching the wind three times a week to finally find the day where I could tell where it was going to go so I wouldn’t lose it.

DD: Which speaks to a level of obsession that no man needs to admit to for any project.

RF: That may be true, but as a creatively oriented person I need something to focus on, like when I’m driving to meetings or whatever, and this gave me six months of focus. The entire process was fulfilling even before we launched it, before it went viral.

DD: So there were obviously a hundred things that had to go right for this project to work at all – a lot of unknowns. The wind had to be right. The weather had to be right. You had to find Stanley. The camera had to work. Stanley had to be in focus. Can you describe for me your reaction at that moment when you loaded that memory card into the computer, saw the footage for the first time and realized that the whole thing actually worked and it was fracking awesome.

RF: Well, finding Stanley in the cornfield at night was terrifying. When it landed my brother and I drove 45 minutes away to this field when it was getting dark. I go with my cell phone, the battery was dying, into the corn. I can only see 3 feet around me. There’s no seeing through the corn. It was dark. The corn was over my head. It was like deep sea diving. I was thinking to myself “Dude, this is bad.” So we leave and go back to my in-laws. Two days later I take my wife and kids out there again, Jayden’s asleep in the back of the car and I’m thinking to myself “Why am I putting my family through this?” So we get there and I’m weaving through the corn and all of a sudden I see orange, and my heart leapt. I thought “They’re back. This is it.” And I was just *hoping* the footage worked. But all I know is I have Stanley back. So that’s a win. So I get it. I don’t even touch it. I go get Jayden, wake him up from his nap, and I’m like “Oh, Jayden. Why don’t you look over here?” He finds it. Really that’s his reaction. He sees it. We drag it back. I open it up. Everything looked normal and intact. So I popped it into the computer, I look and my wife and I are watching this video. We were like “OK, there’s Stanley. He’s in focus. That’s great.” Suddenly I see black behind him and I said to myself “Oh my gosh. It worked.” That feeling of *Ron goes speechless for a moment* Like, I did this. I can’t even describe the feeling. I got Stanley back. He hit the corn. He didn’t break. His face stayed in focus. Everything went perfect. When have you ever put together a project like this when something didn’t go wrong – when everything went perfect. Never. This time it went perfect.

DD: When this went viral I imagine your Email inbox being full, and the phone ringing off the hook in the living room, and Jayden out in the backyard playing with Stanley completely oblivious. How has this entire experience affected your family?

RF: The thing I realized is that Jayden and my daughter have no idea. All they know is we talked about it for six months, and we got to see a video about it. He just knows we spent time together. We made Stanley go on the TV. Stanley went to space. Now he knows that there’s Angry Birds in space, there’s Stanley in space, we’ve got library books of space, so he’s starting to get it. It’s so fun having 15 minutes of fame, but having the subject of it being so oblivious to it… I still have to be the dad to this kid who doesn’t think I’m any better or any worse. He doesn’t care. It’s am I going to read him a book or not. That’s been awesome.

DD: What are the perks and pitfalls of having a viral video that people may or may not be aware of?

RF: I did not intend for my kids to be “out there.” That’s uncomfortable. It’s also weird when we’re out somewhere and I get mad at him in public and suddenly I’m thinking do I have to put on a front because we’re public? Going to places and people who own the restaurant we’re in recognize me from the video and come to talk to me about it. And now here’s my son who’s not eating and who’s being difficult because he’s tired, and I need to be a parent. Yet we *need to be so fun and look so cool and look like we’re perfect people*. It’s silly to say. I’m not a celebrity. But I now get a tiny, tiny, tiny taste of what they must go through. The other side of it is that people who have viral videos, it can almost become their worst enemy because now you have an audience with expectations – so I have more to think about. It’s harder for me to get that perspective back. Am I making “3 Men and a Baby 2” or “Weekend At Berney’s 2”? So it’s a parentally and creatively weird place to be in.

DD: So now that the 15 minutes are winding down, how do you reflect back on the experience?

RF: You know, the writer and director of “Toy Story 3” tweeted my movie. Things like that will never go away. How do you process things like that? I get to be this guest artist at the WACOM website. It’s a really great company that makes this really great tablet – it’s how I live professionally. They called and asked if I used their product. I was like “Of course I use your product.” So they sent me some stuff. Adobe tweeted my video. So how do you come out the other side of that sort of thing? I don’t want to be like “Oh, I’m special.” I’m just a guy who came up with a funny thing. So I’m trying to keep it realistic. I’m still the same semi-self-deprecating person I was before. Whatever I come up with has to go with my family, my son and my friends. I can’t worry about what other people think. I can’t be the crazy viral-video maker.

DD: OK, I’d like take a different direction here. Let’s try a little free-association. I’m going to give you some choices and you give me the first instinctive answer that comes to mind. Don’t think too much. You have to go with your gut here.

RF: Awesome. Bring it.

DD: Coke or Pepsi?

RF: Dr. Pepper

DD: Oh it’s going to be like that, is it?

RF: I told you, I’m a creative person.

DD: That’s cool. You get one free pass. How about Mac or PC?

RF: PC. I used to be Mac and I’ll never go back.

DD: Facebook or Twitter?

RF: Facebook

DD: Marvel or DC?

RF: I guess I’m not a comic book person. But I like the X-men movies, so whatever they are that’s for me.

DD: They’re Marvel.

RF: Cool. Marvel then.

DD: Batman and Superman are DC though. You just have to know that.

RF: Ooooh. That’s tough then. But I picked Marvel, so I have to go with it.

DD: Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?

RF: I’m only going with Daniel Craig because my wife likes him.

DD: Hunger Games or Dragon Tattoo?

RF: I’m gonna go with Dragon Tattoo even though there were so many uncomfortable situations. But I went to go see the other one to appease my wife and I was like… no way.

DD: This one I suspect you’re going to have strong feelings about. Thundercats or Voltron?

RF: Woah. This is tough. This goes straight to the heart of my childhood.

DD: This establishes what kind of person you are, so take your time.

RF: I wish you’d said Transformers or Gobots. That would have been easy. I’m gonna go with Thundercats.

DD: Star Wars or Star Trek?

RF: Oh, Star Wars. Star Wars was my childhood. Star Trek I don’t even get.

DD: Well then that said, Kirk or Picard

RF: *looks confused* Kirk?

DD: Picard is played by the same actor who played Professor X in “X-men.”

RF: OK, let’s go with that then, right? Picard. You’re killing me man, because I’m gonna be quoted on this and people are gonna be all “who is this guy?”

DD: So let’s get you some redemption. Ewoks or Gungans?

RF: Ewoks, dude. Oh yeah.

DD: Indiana Jones IV, or Superman IV

RF: Indiana Jones, hands down.

DD: Clubber Lang or B.A. Baraccus

RF: Dude, you know my Mr. T obsession.

DD: That’s why I asked.

RF: B.A. man. I mean Clubber Lang is to me B.A. Baraccus playing Clubber Lang. It’s A-Team all the way.

DD: OK. Well done. I think we got an accurate peak into your soul. What’s next for Stanley?

RF: The truth is there’s nothing next for Stanley beyond whatever my son says. I was literally cleaning up toys before I got here and Jayden was on the couch and he said “Daddy, don’t clean up Stanley.” Stanley is going to live on with my son in the way that everyone knows. I mean Stanley is really real. As far as my perspective, my next video is going to be more like what I think of as an afternoon with Jayden and Stanley. It’s more like a dad having fun with his kids. And then I’ve got kind of an elaborate idea for the next one that I’m slowly storyboarding because it’s got some challenges, and it’s got a storyline that for me would pull out emotion.

A picture of Ron’s son as the family frantically shopped for clothes to wear to New York. Ron assures me that this picture has nothing to do with the next place Stanley’s going.

DD: Just between you and me, as 55-year-old women go, is Katie Couric really as hot as…

RF: *interrupts the question* Yes.

DD: …as  hot as they say she is?

RF: Yes. When I saw her the day before we went on the show - they let us go see the show the day before and go watch from the back. I just remember observing her and thinking that in person she’s very bubbly and outgoing. Then when I met her she was good with the kids. I mean she was busy. It’s not like we hung out and drank a beer. But she was great with the kids and I was impressed at how she was really good at what she did. When you look at someone like her you think “Man, you were really attractive when you were younger, and you still are today.”

DD: And now keeping in mind the fact that I’m about to pick up the tab for our beers, who’s a better interviewer, me or the guys from How To Be A Dad?

RF: Well, you bought me beer. They didn’t buy me beer. So I’m going to go with the beer-factor and say you are because I’m kind of buzzed. I guess that means I’m a cheap date.

DD: And with that we conclude our interview. Thank you very much.

RF: Thank you, man. That was a blast.

—–

To follow the further adventures of Stanley and Jayden, check out their Facebook page here.

Sometimes Our Dreams Are Bigger Than Our Bodies

19 Oct

y dear Son,

Five minutes ago I was lying next to you on your top bunk. Tonight was long and packed with more fun than a 4-year-old can handle. You were asleep before your head hit the pillow, and I laid there next to you for some time just listening to the sweet little boy snores of a stuffy nose left over from a deep cry after a heartbreaking defeat. Tucked under your Batman sheets, Jellycat safe under your arm, the innocent baby look on your sleeping face – the one your big sister has grown out of – I looked at you and all I wanted you to know while you dreamed was how proud I am of you.

Sometimes our dreams are bigger than our bodies.

You and your sister were so amazing on the sling-jumper. Your mother and I couldn’t believe how fearless you both were. You strapped right in and went for it, while your mother and I held down every over-protective parenting instinct we have. Sure, your sister went incredibly high, but you – you figured out how to flip all by yourself. Your sister couldn’t even do that, and she’s 6! I bet you were the only 4-year-old at the entire festival even big enough to go on that thing, let alone to flip backwards. You were Superman. You were fearless. You were so brave.

And bless your sweet heart, when your mom and sister found us later that evening and your sister was bursting at the seams to tell us how she climbed all the way to the top of the rock-wall by herself, your first instinct was to tell her “Wow. Good job!” Naturally your second instinct was to get to the top of that rock-wall all by yourself too. So off we went to wait in line, your sister for the second time, with all the enthusiasm and expectations of success in the world.

Of course your sister went up before you, and by the time you got strapped into the harness and clipped onto the rope, she was already half way up. You tried, son. You tried so hard. It was dark, and cold, and damp from the heavy fog. But you still tried – four, five, six times. And when your sister made it back down after reaching the top a second time, you tried one last time. You made it so far, son; so far above my head I couldn’t even help you from where I was standing.

But rock-walls aren’t built for four-year-olds, and it was dark, and cold, and damp from the heavy fog. I saw it on your face the moment you realized you weren’t going to make it to the top tonight. I felt it too, buddy – right in the pit of my heart. I wanted you to make it to the top just as bad as you did. You did everything you could to hold in the tears on your way back down, chin quivering, eyes filling up. But it was already late, and when you finally made it into my arms you couldn’t hold in the disappointment any more. Sometimes dads are there to help you get up on that rock-wall, and sometimes dads are there to let you cry it out when you don’t make it to the top.

Sometimes our dreams are bigger than our bodies.

After a long night of games and food and fun I carried you, my big little boy, home in my arms while you let out all your disappointment on my shoulder. But halfway home you toughened up and decided that next year was going to be different. You told me that between now and then you and I were going to practice the rock-wall together, over and over, until you could do it all by yourself. Because next year you’re going to be a kindergartener, and next year you’re going to make it all the way to the top of that rock-wall. Other than the red eyes and a few deep, shaky breaths, the kind you get after a good, hard cry, there were no signs of tears by the time we made it home.

Teeth brushed, pajamas on, we snuggled under the covers of your bed and closed our eyes to imagine what it would be like at the top of the rock-wall next year. You were asleep before you could tell me about the view up there.

Sleep well my son. Dream big dreams. Some of them we’ll realize together. Some you’ll have to do on your own. But know in your heart how proud I am of you, how brave you are, and how much… how so incredibly much I love you.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

-Daddy

Pilgrimage To Skywalker Ranch

8 Oct

 have to admit, I brainstormed half a dozen different ways to start this blog post, but there comes a point where you eventually just have to own it. In 2008 my dear friend Carla sent me a link to this YouTube clip with the message, “You could totally be in this movie!”

My response, “Are you kidding? I could have *WRITTEN* that movie!”

Now, in my defense I have never dressed up for a convention. I’ve never stalked a celebrity in their private lives for a signature, and I’ve never gone through anyone’s trash in the hopes of finding a DNA sample to clone the celebrity so I can have him/her for my very own. I’m a healthy dork, and that means knowing where the line is drawn. Being a “healthy” dork is all well and good, but that doesn’t mean I’m not very well educated in the dork-arts.

Anyone with any connection to the Star Wars legacy is aware that George Lucas owns a sprawling ranch just north of San Francisco. What exactly goes on there is less clear, but over the years the legend has grown to resemble Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory. A reclusive genius billionaire locked behind impenetrable gates in a compound where unimaginable mysterious secrets happen every day. Some time ago the magic that sprang from within changed the very industry, but today it sits quiet, dormant. Windows shuttered, lights out, the reclusive genius wounded by the world stays deep inside its walls, and no wonders have sprung from within for years.

The main house at Skywalker Ranch… where all Star Wars nerds want to be burried.

But we Star Wars nerds remember.

…and every once in a while we walk up to the entrance, peer in through the gate, and just for a moment let our imaginations wander to what secrets and treasures lie inside.

This is the story of how I took my family to Skywalker Ranch.

My parents live 5 hours away (if traffic is friendly… it’s taken us as long as 9 hours to drive there). Making the drive with 3 kids in the car is harrowing, but we can’t expect the grandparents to drive down to visit us EVERY time. So 3 or 4 times a year we pack up the minivan and drive north through San Francisco and beyond to visit them.

There is nothing pleasant about driving north through the city of San Francisco. That city was not built for the 21st century. But if you manage to survive the unholy congestion of 19th avenue, and you get beyond Golden Gate Park, you are rewarded with the coastal beauty of The Presidio, an old military base right on the bay dotted with red tile-roofed, Spanish-style stucco buildings and hearty cypress trees. Just beyond that is the Golden Gate Bridge. On a clear day you can see the tops of both towers above, countless sailboats darting around on the bay below, and on the other side amber hills that gave California the name “The Golden State” lined with countless drab-colored oaks. It’s almost enough to make your forget the misery you went through to get there.

Looking north from The Presedio.

There’s a tunnel just north of the bridge, and on the other side are some very swank communities. Before the Golden Gate Bridge was built Tiburon and Richmond were places you used to “Summer” after a ferry ride across the bay, and a horse-drawn carriage from there. Now it’s some of the most expensive real-estate you’ll ever see. You drive for 15 minutes looking out the window at how the other half lives and then crest over a hill at San Pedro Rd in the city of San Rafael. From there (if you look past the sprawling auto dealerships at the foot of the hill) you take in the wide open spaces of Northern California. As you leave San Rafael and move into the long stretch (last chance for a potty-break, kids) you pass Frietas Parkway and Lucas Valley Road.

Did I take this picture while driving on the freeway? Don’t ask any questions you don’t want to know the answer to.

Most people drive by unaware, but Star Wars nerds… we know.

Legend has it that when “Empire Strikes Back” looked like it was going to be a hit, George Lucas went shopping for real-estate far away from the Fascist movie-making culture of Hollywood. There were two contenders, a parcel in Lucas Valley (named for a real-estate mogul at the turn of the century, not the film-making mogul) and one in nearby Smith Valley. A friend advised George at the time “Are you kidding? You have to take the one at Lucas Valley.” And so he did. We’ve driven past the Lucas Valley Rd. exit dozens of times over the past 10 years. Every time I look at the exit, like Charlie peeking through the gates of the chocolate factory, and think to myself “There it is.”

It’s funny how life works out though. A childhood friend of mine with just as much appreciation for all things Star Wars as I have, settled with his beautiful family in San Rafael. In fact, his exit off the freeway is Lucas Valley Road. He’s come down to my neighborhood once or twice, and our families have visited. Naturally it’s only polite to return the favor, especially when you’re already passing through town, right? “Oh yeah,” he says. “Skywalker ranch is just around the corner. We drive by it all the time. My wife grew up here. She’s been up and down Lucas Valley Road her whole life. I know right where the gates are. I can totally show them to you.”

Done and done.

Arrangements were made through a flurry of texts. Permission was obtained from the wives. Google maps were consulted. We launched to head home from my parents place and about 2.5 hours later, just when we all needed a pit-stop, we just happen to find ourselves in San Rafael right at Lucas Valley Road. We pulled off and drove up to my friend’s house for hugs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potty breaks, and photo-ops with the new babies (we both have one). Certainly the visit was the chief priority, but there was no forgetting the other major item on the pit-stop agenda.

We shoehorned the family back into the minivan, this time with my buddy in Chewbacca’s… er, um, I mean the passenger’s seat to operate as chief navigator. Two blocks later we turned left onto Lucas Valley Road and we were on our way. “See the top of that hill there?” he asked, pointing off to a peak a few miles away. “That’s where we’re going”.

Big Rock

We set off down the road (past the Juvenile hall) dodging high-end road bicycles every 30 seconds or so. You move on past the gated communities, then past the million dollar homes and eventually into a gorgeous open space preserve called “Big Rock” (there’s a big rock at the trailhead of some amazing hiking and mountain biking trails). The fence on the side of the road changes character as the land changes from county to private. “See that gate there?” my friend asks and points to a well-landscaped, obviously high-end but still under-stated entrance. “That’s his too.” Apparently Lucas owns a number of parcels in the area. Skywalker ranch is a little further down the road. We dipped into a little forested area, the road wove in and out of some lovely redwoods – UnDorkMommy, who was sitting in the very back with the baby for the last 3 hours fighting off being car-sick was not amused.

A quiet little turn-out marked by the address we were looking for told us we were there. There were no stormtroopers flanking the road – not a sign of R2-D2 and C3PO to be found anywhere. It was just a clean, understated wooden gate with a stone façade that you might expect to see at a state park. The only indication of what laid beyond was a security kiosk where guests call in to have security open the gate. We pulled over and turned off the car. “All right, kids. This is it!”

In all seriousness, when I hatched this plan my big fear was that the man, George Lucas himself was going to drive up and see an obnoxious family taking a photo outside the gate to his private residence. In doing my research I was happy (and surprised) to learn that Lucas himself does not live at Skywalker Ranch. Good. I imagine it’s pretty hard for a guy like him to go out in public. I can appreciate that and I certainly don’t want to make his life more difficult in that regard. It would certainly bother me if throngs of fanatical fanboys trekked to take photos in front of my house. I also didn’t want to be a nuisance to the community either, although I imagine people like me at that address are not an unfamiliar sight. The best strategy – get in and out like SEAL Team 6.

I hustled my family out of the minivan and threw the camera into my buddy’s hand. I popped the hatch to the car, pulled out some toy lightsabers (gee… How did those get in there? What an incredible coincidence) and we all did our best Jedi Knight poses in front of the gate for a picture. Thankfully nobody needed to get in or out of the gate when we were there, but a couple folks drove by on the road and waved to us. They obviously knew exactly what we were doing and had seen it before. Picture taken, we quick piled back into the minivan and headed back the way we came down Lucas Valley Road. Mission accomplished.

As a friend said to me last night, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” So here it is, the photo we took… after a little touch-up I did once we finally got the kids to sleep last night.

At the gates of Skywalker Ranch. Note: when you give a lightsaber to a 7-month-old, always make sure it’s deactivated.

I owe a *HUGE* thanks to UnDorkMommy. She rode in the back of that minivan down a windy for a 45 minute sidetrack, smack in the middle of a 6 hour drive after spending the entire weekend with her in-laws – and she did it all without rolling her eyes even once.

Also, special thanks goes out to my buddy who took us there and snapped the picture. As I said, he’s as big a Star Wars geek as I am. He’s also a successful Workman’s Comp. attorney in the area. He tells me he’s just waiting for the day that he gets a client from Skywalker Ranch so that he has to have full-access to the facility for discovery. When that day comes I may just have to clear my schedule and go to work for him to help with his documentation.

Call it “Fanboys – Episode 2”.

-Dork Dad

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