My Skywalker Ranch Adventure, By Mark Hamilton Of Ash

I was lucky. I was born in 1977, the year the original Star Wars, A New Hope, was released. One of my earliest memories was going to the cinema to see The Empire Strikes Back and then going straight to the toy shop with my mother. She bought me Darth Vader and a storm trooper and from that point, I was hooked. My entire childhood evolved around Star Wars - the toys, role playing adventures in the playground and watching the movies every single day. Millions of kids the world over fell into the very same boat. We were transfixed, given a gift, a fantasy world to let our imaginations run rampant. We loved it. We lived for it. Eventually, sometime in ’85, the fever died down temporarily, as Return Of The Jedis grip waned. Years passed, but in the early ‘90s there was a re-awakening. Unfounded rumors of new movies circulated through my high school (this was way before the internet existed in my home in rural Ireland), and people began seeking out their old toys. A dormant bug was stirring from hibernation. Various VHS re-mastered reissues of the classic trilogy whet the appetite and by the time the special editions hit the theaters, nostalgia was in full swing. Then, the build up to the first new movie in 16 years created complete hysteria. Now with Revenge Of The Sith bridging the gap between George Lucas’s recent prequels to the original trilogy, the saga is complete but never more alive.

Throughout the history of our band, Ash, we’ve always been public that we were fans, and that I in particular was an obsessed dork. We named our debut album, 1977, in homage to the year of A New Hope’s release. The first sound you hear on that album is an imperial TIE fighter screeching across the speakers. We babbled incessantly in interviews about being Star Wars kids (which is possibly why we never got sued?). We covered the Cantina Band music as a b-side to one of our biggest hit singles. We got invited to the UK’s Royal premiere of the Special Editions. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) personally asked us to play on a custom built stage at the wrap party of The Phantom Menace, met George Lucas and mingled with many other cast members. Then two years ago a dream came true when we were approached by LucasArts (the computer game division) to provide music for a new project. Our song “Clones” became the first outsourced music to be used in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, featuring in the prelude game to Episode III, Republic Commando. We were invited to Skywalker Ranch, saw the game through it’s developmental stages at the LucasArts compound and recently returned to play a secret show for the company at I.L.M. (Industrial, Light and Magic, the special effects wizards) as well as playing at the European Republic Commando launch party in London. I attended “Celebration III”, the enormous convention held last month in Indianapolis, going along with the LucasArts crew. They’re starting to know us up there in Northern California, so well that last week we got to attend a special preview of Revenge Of The Sith at the ranch in the best possible theatre in the world. Here’s what happened…

Driving to Skywalker Ranch is like going on a pilgrimage. This was my third visit. I love it there! Set over thousands of acres in the rolling hills outside San Rafael, it is one of the most beautiful and tranquil places in the world. As our car drove past Ewok Lake, Luke’s X-Wing sits by the waters edge, causing a flashback to a scene from Dagobah. We head to the Technical Building (Home of Skywalker Sound) for the pre-screening drinks and snacks. A squad of Imperial Stormtroopers guard the guests. George is present and seems to be enjoying himself. I have a brief 30 second chat with him and then leave him to it. The day was an MTV special event, with Good Charlotte performing to 100+ lucky competition winners on an open air stage outside the main ranch building. They are being filmed for a “Total Request Live” special. I am far too busy to watch them as I’m having a whale of a time at the bar with my old pals R2 and Goldenrod 3PO. Elijah Wood, Macauley Culkin, Seth Green, that Lex Luthor guy from Smallville and a posse of other teen heart-throbs from The OC are present. Everyone is beaming to be here and desperate to see the movie. Chewie towers over 7-feet high, dwarfing me, and I’m 6-ft 2. He hasn’t seen me for a while so we have a friendly tussle and catch up with what we’ve been up to. Vader is also prancing around posing for pictures, basking in the glory as he’s all too aware this is ‘HIS’ film and he’s milking it for all he can get. Not soon enough we’re told to make our way to the theatre, and watching the VIP’s rush for good seats is hilarious. I’m straight in there too, and snagged the best seats in the room, bang centre in the middle and with a great view, behind someone short, oh, it’s Mr. Home Alone, perfect! The TRL kids arrive and the room is charged with excitement. Producer Rick McCallum says a few words followed by a standing ovation for George, then the 20th Century Fox fanfare begins and people are screaming in hysterics. The next 2 hours, 20 minutes roll by in what seems like a millisecond. It is an intense experience, so much information to absorb and process. All I want to do is watch it again straight away. It’s amazing! (see my review for details but those who are spoiler sensitive, don’t bother it’ll ruin it!) Afterwards, we return to the party area for dinner and more drinks. Guest gift bags are handed out. Score! I hung out with some of the Lucasfilm employees I’ve gotten to know. They are all lovely people who love their jobs. One day I can see myself working in their little family. Once the party starts winding down, they took us on a tour of the ranch. I know my way about and end up doing most of the talking (perhaps if this whole playing bass thing doesn’t work out, I can give guided tours.) A few hours later, after a delightful time, we said our goodbyes and returned to San Francisco, mentally exhausted knowing it was a day long to be remembered.

Thank you George. Thanks to my friends at LucasArts and Lucasfilm (you know who you are!) and thank God I didn’t miss my flight from London. I was partying with The Bravery the previous night and slept in, only making the plane by seconds. That would’ve been a tragedy worse than Anakin’s!

Source: Mark Hamilton (Ash bassist and dedicated geek)

My Skywalker Ranch Adventure, By Mark Hamilton Of Ash