At Skywalker Ranch We Were

A Photoshoot with George Lucas & Yoda

Tom Zimberoff


©1989–2024 Tom Zimberoff / Not for Reproduction or to be Otherwise Altered, Modified, or Copied in Any Medium / All Rights Reserved

The 1989 Mill Valley Film Festival, in association with the Hanson Gallery in neighboring Sausalito, installed an exhibition of my portraits, including movie directors, actors, and writers. I was billed as a “Featured Artist” along with director Tony Richardson and actor James Woods, who both made a public appearance with me on opening night. Those were heady days. I even met the woman who would become my ex-wife at that auspicious event.

A week or so earlier, I was in the gallery with the staff, putting our heads together about how to hang the installation, when it dawned on us that I’d never photographed either Woods or Richardson. Unfortunately, they weren’t available to sit for portraits before the festival kicked off. But it might seem downright negligent to gallery visitors, we thought, that I’d never photographed one of the most illustrious cinemagicians of them all, a practically home-grown hero who lived and worked not so far, far away: George Lucas. Skywalker Ranch, the Lucasfilm production facility, was a short drive from the gallery.

It usually takes the clout of a major magazine to get a famous face in front of a lens; none of that paparazzi stuff but a private, exclusive photo session. I had never been assigned to photograph Lucas. But I had photographed Francis Coppola, the godfather of Napa County, the county right next door. So it would be the right thing to do if I could round out the exhibition with a portrait of the biggest movie mogul in Marin County, too. But that put me in a bind because once the idea went up the flagpole, it was hard to miss an unspoken imperative; all eyes in the gallery were on me. Okay, okay. No way to talk them out of it. I grabbed a telephone and called Information: 411.

The operator answered, “What listing, please?”

“Skywalker Ranch,” I said.

I heard the rustle of pages turning. I half-hoped the number was unlisted. Oh! She found it. I thanked her, got a new dial tone, and tapped out the seven digits she gave me. I was still being stared at. A moment’s pause, silence on the line. Then, two rings. A receptionist picked up. “Skywalker Ranch,” she said.