NICASIO, CALIF. --
Skywalker Ranch is a cross between Disneyland and Yellowstone Park.
Home to George Lucas' production company, the 2,600-acre ranch is a reflection of its owner: high-tech and low-key. Although he has become famous for pushing the envelope of special-effects technology, Lucas still writes his scripts in longhand. While technicians fiddle with a physics lab full of paraphernalia, he takes quiet walks in the solitude.
"It's a nice, contemplative environment, which I need to think," he told reporters invited to the ranch to discuss "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones," which opened worldwide Thursday. "Having a peaceful environment is very important to the creative process."
At a casual glance, Lucas' ranch looks like others that dot the mountains an hour north of San Francisco. You spend 20 minutes winding your way up -- and down and around and back up again -- a narrow road that leaves some people with motion sickness. When you finally reach your destination, you're sure you're in the wrong place. All you find is a simple gate blocking yet another narrow road that twists off in the distance to a barn and house.
But the stuff in Lucas' movies is make-believe, and, as it turns out, so is much of the stuff in his real life.
Look into the trees behind the fence and you'll see video cameras monitoring your every move. That barn is not a barn. Inside are a sound stage and a full-size movie theater that is among the most technologically sophisticated in the world. And the house, which turns out to be huge once you work your way up to it, actually is full of offices, including a two-story research library and a basement editing facility that could double as an underground military command centers.
Even the field on which the deer are grazing hides a secret.
"It's the top of an underground parking garage," revealed Kevin Kurtz, a member of Lucasfilm's marketing department. "It's such a beautiful area that George didn't want it marred by having cars parked all over. They're all hidden."
Lucas doesn't live on the ranch, but he clearly feels at home there. It's not far from where he grew up. When he formed Lucasfilm Ltd. in 1971, he left Hollywood and returned to the Bay Area. Seven years later he bought the ranch and moved his company there, although he almost changed his mind when he discovered that it's located on Lucas Valley Road, named after an 1880s rancher who is no relation. He wanted to maintain a low profile, and he was concerned that the road, which has its own freeway exit, would attract curiosity-seekers.
Then he found another way to keep a low profile: disguising his ranch. Even when you're on the property, it's easy to overlook things. Other than the barn and the house, all buildings are hidden behind thick stands of trees.
When you squint to make out the shapes behind the leaves, a whole new world appears. It is, in effect, a mini-city. There are two more "houses" of offices, a fitness center, day-care center, company store, health center, four restaurants and a motel. The ranch even has its own fire department (which also responds to fires in the surrounding area).
"We're something of a captive audience," spokeswoman Jeanne Cole said in explaining the amenities. "It's not like we can run into town for lunch."
That also explains the motel. Other filmmakers come to use the facilities, and they need a place to stay. Steven Spielberg and his editors recently spent several days at the ranch, putting some spit and polish on "Minority Report," a sci-fi adventure that opens June 21.
The ranch doesn't have a dress code -- most workers wear T-shirts and jeans.
"That's where the 'suits' work," Kurtz said, pointing to the house that holds Lucasfilm's corporate offices.
Does anyone actually wear suits?
-- Jeff Strickler is at firstname.lastname@example.org . To read more about the making of "Star Wars" magic, see next Sunday's Arts & Entertainment section.