I have interviewed Lucas on two occasions. The first was years ago amid the din of the Long Beach Grand Prix, where he was wearing racing togs as one of the celebrity racers. The second time was a phone conversation last year while I was working on a piece about the filmmaker's stubborn support of his "Young Indiana Jones," a vaguely remembered television series that he had revived as a lavish DVD library. After both interviews, I went through my notes struggling to stitch together a story; the man clearly has a fabulous imagination, but his gifts are more visual than verbal. One journalist I know compares him to an engineer, socially stiff and engaged more by ideas than people. Not so, says Tom Forster, the ranch manager of Skywalker from 1989 to 2006. "George is a regular guy," Forster tells me over the phone, "and the way he has stayed that way through the years is by keeping a distance from all the people that want a piece of him. Success hasn't corrupted him in any way." It's Forster who tells me that the best way to understand Lucas is to understand Skywalker Ranch, a place that "shows everything George values."
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Lucas land purchase that led to Skywalker but, like its owner, the place keeps its secrets quiet. There has been no real media coverage or meaningful profile of the ranch north of San Rafael. That's why a year ago a chartered bus with three dozen Japanese tourists drove up Lucas Valley Road, their cameras and wallets at the ready. They assumed the place was like Universal Studios and they could pay $30 to peek behind the curtain and go home with some souvenir Yoda ears. They were met by Noah Skinner, an exceedingly polite member of the Skywalker Ranch Fire Brigade (yes, Lucas has his own fire department). He patiently posed for photos and then sent them on their way back toward the 101 Freeway. Skinner says more fans will be coming this year because Lucas is back in a big way: The first Indiana Jones film in 18 years is due in May and the animated film "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" hits theaters in August. People are even making movies about Lucas--the upcoming comedy "Fanboys" is about geeks trying to break into Skywalker Ranch.