Maybe you’ve pre-booked tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens multiple times over the holiday season. Or you're binge-watching the preceding six films in preparation.
But there’s more to loving Star Wars than just sitting in an audience. You can explore your love of the saga with a number of experiences around California—to see where the films were shot, where they are still celebrated in vivid detail, or where the spirit of intergalactic adventures extends beyond that galaxy far, far away. Here are nine ways to see California through a Jedi’s eyes.
Train as a Jedi Pilot: Sacramento or Anaheim
Think you could steer an X-Wing starfighter into the trench of the Death Star? You can test your skills—and your ability to channel the Force—using one of the F-16 simulators at the Aerospace Museum of California, outside Sacramento. Or, in Anaheim, FlightDeck Flight Simulation Center lets you choose between a fighter jet and a Boeing 737 experience; your companions, meanwhile, can watch your escapades from the LCD-screen-equipped “Officers Club.”
Put the Death Star in Perspective: LEGOLAND California, Carlsbad
Who says this theme park is just for kids? The Star Wars area of the theme park’s Miniland keeps expanding and diversifying its mini-Empire—like the scale model of the Death Star, a 861-kilogram masterpiece made with half a million plastic bricks. New additions to the seven LEGO-constructed landscapes include a Jawa sandcrawler on Tatooine and an underwater Opee sea killer on Naboo.
Behold a Sea of Action Figures: Rancho Obi-Wan, Petaluma
Some people come to Sonoma County for wine, but others come for this museum near Petaluma. It’s home to the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia and props—and even includes a few vintage pinball and arcade video games. This is no casual drive-by, though: You can tour by appointment only—but the guided tour lasts two to four hours, and adult-accompanied kids 12 and under get in free.
Spend a Weekend on Tatooine: Death Valley
Many of the desert planet scenes in Episode IV were filmed in Tunisia, but a few choice locales were shot in California. To see the rough-and-tumble spaceport Mos Eisley (minus the alien bar), go to Dante’s View in Death Valley National Park; located about 26 kilometres from Furnace Creek, this Black Mountain spot was where they filmed the view as seen by Luke and Obi-Wan.
Look for Ewoks Among the Redwoods: North Coast region
If you have a soft spot for Return of the Jedi and its cute-but-combative Ewoks, you can visit some of the locations that helped create the planet Endor. While some scenes were reportedly filmed on private land, you can see where some speeder-bike chase scenes took place in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (on its Avenue of the Giants), Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. And happily, it's unlikely that furry creatures will pelt you with sticks and rocks.
Commune with Yoda: San Francisco
Alas, there are no actual tours at the original Star Wars mothership studio, Skywalker Ranch of LucasFilm Ltd., just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. But you can spend some quality time outside its San Francisco HQ, in the Presidio; Lucasfilms' Letterman Digital Arts Center is guarded by a life size version of the pointy-eared Jedi Master. To be fair, “life-size” means just 66cm tall, but this Yoda is also a fountain, and sits in a nearly 7-hectare park (you would never judge him by his size, anyway).
Discover Distant Planets: Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles
Granted, it’s a long shot that you would spot Dagobah through one of the telescopes at this famed Los Angeles observatory, but you can certainly gain new appreciation for all that our home galaxy has to offer. On one Saturday of each month, you can attend the public parties here, where resident astronomers walk around and help you understand what you are seeing through the variety of sophisticated giant scopes.
Network with Real Droids: University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Every April, during National Robotics Week, the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center at USC holds an open house, where K-12 students as well as the general public can get hands-on time with the center’s more than 70 resident robots. Check out robots that know how to map water quality, help rehab patients, or even wash windows. If you can’t make it in April, you can book private tours for other times of the year.
Start the Next Countdown: Star Wars-themed Land at Disneyland Resort, Anaheim
In 2016, Disneyland Resort will broke ground for a 5.5-hectare Star Wars-themed land, where you can get involved in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance, or even take the wheel of the Millennium Falcon. Opening day may be a long way off, but in the meantime, you can build your own light saber at the Star Trader shop in Tomorrowland, and kids (ages 4-12) can try to get picked as Padawans at the nearby Jedi Training academy; they’ll boost their odds of being recruited as live participants if they carry a Star Wars-related fan sign or dress the part.
—Katrina Brown Hunt