Not Far Away
Fans of the Star Wars franchise are anticipating the imminent release of the last film in the series — “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” So how does a self-professed car nut, auto journalist and Star Wars geek prepare to experience the end of a story that started a long time ago — namely 1977? One way would be to take a Star Wars-themed road trip through California, with the final destination being the closest thing to that galaxy far, far away — the new Galaxy’s Edge experience at Disneyland. Since there are plenty of locations steeped in Star Wars lore to visit throughout California, we began our journey in the San Francisco Bay Area — where it all began.
Choosing Our Transport
As an auto journalist and dedicated Star Wars fanatic, deciding on an Earth-based vehicle for a Star Wars-themed road trip can be a bit daunting. A SoroSuub X-34 landspeeder with its three air-cooled thrust turbines would be amazing, but it is out of date with the arrival of the new XP-38, and an Imperial Walker would be quite impressive but a bit slow and destructive, so we turned to a car company that has a clear affinity for everything Star Wars — Nissan.
Nissan and Star Wars
While Star Wars took place long, long ago, Nissan continues to look to the future with innovative powertrains, advanced safety technology and a wide variety of vehicle offerings. After all, this is a company that once had a life-size TIE Fighter in its Los Angeles Auto Show display, and close tie-ins with the Star Wars film “Rogue One,” going as far as having a 2017 Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition compact crossover to complement the movie premiere. That said, given the long drive between the Bay Area and Galaxy’s Edge in Anaheim, we skipped the Rogue for this Star Wars road trip — instead Nissan provided us with the efficient and comfortable 2020 Altima sedan.
Imagination Park, San Anselmo
We started our journey in Mill Valley, California — a central location to the primary Star Wars destinations we had in mind. Slightly north of Mill Valley was our first official stop — San Anselmo. George Lucas was living in this small town when he wrote the bulk of the script for “Star Wars,” the first film — in fact, Lucas still calls San Anselmo home. In June of 2013 San Anselmo dedicated Imagination Park, located in the center of town, which sits on land donated to the city by Lucas. But the big draw to this small park is the fountain that has two statues facing away from each other — one of Yoda and the other of Indiana Jones, another product of the Lucas genius.
Star Wars Created Here
Artist Lawrence Noble sculpted both statues in Imagination Park, and the Yoda statue is identical to the one located outside the Lucasfilm offices at The Presidio (a later stop on our trip). The plaque beneath Yoda states, “Star Wars Created in San Anselmo 1973.”
After our visit to Imagination Park, we climbed back into the Nissan Altima and enjoyed winding roads while heading north. The road to Skywalker Ranch is Lucas Valley Road, and while this would rightly be named for George Lucas, it turns out the road’s name is simply a coincidence — a man named Lucas was a 19th century rancher in the area. Unfortunately Skywalker Ranch and accompanying Lake Ewok are not open to the public. The entrance isn’t marked in any way; however, it is easily found via GPS on Lucas Valley Road. We cleared our minds and focused our thoughts hoping the gate would open, but clearly the force was not with us that day.
Rancho Obi-Wan, Petaluma
After our brief visit to Skywalker Ranch, we continued north to our next stop — Rancho Obi-Wan. Granted, many private collections of Star Wars memorabilia exist, but none compares to the sheer number and rarity of pieces at Rancho Obi-Wan. According to the folks at Guinness World Records, this is indeed the world’s largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia with an estimated 500,000 items in the collection.
Owned and curated by Steve Sansweet, this special collection is located on private property at an undisclosed location outside Petaluma, California. Sansweet spent 15 years as an employee of Lucasfilm and continues to freelance as the company’s Fan Relations Advisor, so he knows a thing or two about Star Wars. Sansweet was kind enough to show us around — to call this collection overwhelming is clearly an understatement.
Rancho Obi-Wan has Star Wars pieces on display from around the world — some sanctioned, others bootlegged or simply one-off items created by fans. We perused a full library of Star Wars literature with titles that include “Star Wars Imperial Handbook: A Commander’s Guide” and “The Bounty Hunter Code.” Sansweet even has a few of his own creations in the collection, since he has written more than a dozen Star Wars books.
Much to See
Once in the main rooms, visitors at Rancho Obi-Wan get the impression that the collection goes on forever. There is a plethora of props, costumes and models used in the movies; original movie posters and displays; thousands of figurines as well as a wide variety of promotional items, some of which are quite surprising.
Star Wars Toiletries
Even the bathroom is filled with Star Wars-themed toiletries that include “Storm Pooper” toilet paper and “Scent of a Wookie” cologne.
Unique Movie Props
A couple other exemplary items on display at Rancho Obi-Wan: a Reverse Power-Flux Coupling Cover from the Millennium Falcon, recovered from Elstree Studios in England by Anthony Daniels (who plays C3PO in the movies), as well as a piece of original “snow” from the Wampa cave in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Tours of Rancho Obi-Wan are available to the public but must be booked well in advance of arrival. Drop-in visits are not allowed, and the location is not provided until a tour is booked. For more information, go to http://www.ranchoobiwan.org/visit/tour-rancho-obi-wan/.
Muir Woods — Forest Moon of Endor
Another impressive location worth checking out lies south of our base in Mill Valley: Muir Woods National Monument. Although no filming for the Star Wars movies took place here, Muir Woods is said to be the inspiration for the forest moon of Endor from the film “Return of the Jedi.” Walking among the giant redwoods evokes an eerie feeling; in the right light, imaginative minds may see hundreds of Ewoks hiding in the trees, building impossible traps for stormtroopers.
Just beyond the Golden Gate bridge on the way into San Francisco is The Presidio. An absolutely beautiful place to stop in its own right, The Presidio is a U.S. national park with a lovely view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Beyond the park’s beauty, The Presidio has a Star Wars tie-in as well. The area is home to Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic. There is no sign outside the building, but the offices are still easy to find — visitors will know they’re in the right place when they see the fountain with a Yoda statue, the twin of the statue on display at Imagination Park.
Star Wars Lobby
The Lucasfilm lobby has typical plants and couches similar to any office, except this one also has life-size models of R2D2, Darth Vader and K-2SO, the Empire security droid that was reprogrammed in the movie “Rogue One.” Shelves display an array of books interspersed with Star Wars figures and limited-edition items such as the artist proof of the Thermal Detonator from “Return of the Jedi.”
Since this is a working production facility, there are no public tours; however, true Star Wars aficionados will still say it’s worth the visit to spend a few minutes looking around the lobby in rapt reverence.
After two days of seeing the Star Wars sights around the Bay Area, we headed south towards Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland in Anaheim. The drive is slightly over 400 miles — a bit shorter than the Kessel Run — and since we wouldn’t get to pilot the Millennium Falcon until we arrived in Anaheim, we made the drive in the 2020 Nissan Altima.
Even though the Altima is far from intergalactic transport, Nissan boasts that the sedan’s zero-gravity seats with dual-density foam and added bolsters are NASA-inspired. After spending more than seven hours behind the wheel, we found the seats to be amazingly comfortable with no fatigue or aches. Add to this a smooth ride, spacious trunk and Android Auto integration, and the Altima becomes one excellent road-trip car — Star Wars or not.
Our road-going Altima was equipped with Nissan’s innovative new 2.0-liter Variable Compression Turbo 4-cylinder engine that produces 248 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque at a very low 1600 rpm. According to Nissan, this is the world’s first production engine that uses variable compression — a lower compression ratio provides more power, while a higher ratio gets better fuel economy.
Many small turbocharged engines on the U.S. market provide decent power, but as speeds increase fuel economy tends to decrease. This is not the case with the Altima’s VC-Turbo engine. Keeping up with traffic heading down I-5 in California meant our speeds were often well into the 80s, but even at these high speeds the fuel economy kept increasing. By the time we arrived in Anaheim, the Altima’s trip computer displayed better than 33 mpg — including time spent driving around the city.
When Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise in 2012, it created all sorts of possibilities for Disneyland attractions. This makes Disney a prime destination for any Star Wars fan — especially with the opening of the all-new Galaxy’s Edge.
Planet of Batuu
Walking into this new attraction is like entering another world — specifically the Black Spire Outpost of the distant planet Batuu. According to starwars.com, Batuu was located on the edge of the galaxy — hence the name. The detail of the overall presentation is unbelievable: every storefront, signpost and background building immerses visitors deeper into the world of Star Wars. Stormtroopers wander the grounds, occasionally “harassing” visitors.
Winding through streets of the outpost, visitors arrive at an open square that contains the piece de resistance — a full-size replica of the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” and one of the most recognizable ships in the Star Wars series. Behind the big ship is the entrance to the amusement ride Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
Flying the Falcon
Smugglers Run lets visitors take off in a virtual Millennium Falcon and fly it on a secret mission. The cockpit looks like it’s straight out of the movies, but before going in everyone gets handed an assignment — pilot, gunner or engineer. We heartily recommend asking for a pilot assignment, which is much more fun and engaging than other roles.
Piloting the Millennium Falcon can be stressful — best to unwind with a drink afterward at Oga’s Cantina. This Cantina looks like a mashup of bars featured in the Star Wars series — the prime place to find pilots, bounty hunters, smugglers and other galactic travelers. Visitors can enjoy drinks such as the Blue Bantha, Blurrgfire, Jabba Juice or Carbon Freeze. We recommend making reservations — the line can get long.
Beyond Galaxy’s Edge, a couple more Star Wars destinations lie within Disneyland’s Tomorrowland — Star Tours and Hyperspace Mountain. Star Tours is a highly entertaining virtual 3-D jump into the world of Star Wars with C-3PO as accidental pilot. Star Tours has several different adventures, so be sure to experience this attraction multiple times.
Coincidentally, the year the movie “Star Wars” premiered was the same year that Disney introduced its new space-themed roller coaster: Space Mountain. Now that Disney owns the rights to Star Wars, the ride has been renamed Hyperspace Mountain and refreshed with a Star Wars theme throughout. A great improvement over the original — especially for diehard Star Wars fans.
Long Ago, Not Far Away
The original “Star Wars” movie began with the phrase, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Now it has been a long time — more than 40 years — but the galaxy isn’t so far away anymore. A quick trip to California uncovers plenty of ways to enjoy Star Wars in our galaxy, and our Nissan Altima made excellent transport for our out-of-this-world road-trip primer before the last film in the Star Wars series — “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”