George Lucas' Planned Filmmaking Megaplex Has Marin Residents Fearing The Dark Side

While the sleepy Marin County hamlet of Lucas Valley went by that name long before George Lucas moved in, the neighborhood has become synonymous with the iconic director/producer in the years since he built his Skywalker Ranch "filmmakers' retreat" there in the late 1970s.

Now, as Lucas looks to expand his presence in the valley with the construction of a massive production studio, area neighbors are increasingly seeing his plans as a phantom menace.

At issue is Lucas's intention to convert Grady Ranch into a state-of-the-art production complex housing everything from multiple indoor and outdoor sound stages, a daycare center, a restaurant, a gym, a bevvy of screening rooms, 20 overnight guest suites, parking for over 200 automobiles and a "wine cave" to store products from Lucas's vineyards.

Not only will the facilities at Grady Ranch be closed to the general public, but it will also be almost completely hidden from view by the construction of a man-made hill.

Lucas won unanimous approval for the project from the Marin County Board of Superiors in 1996; however, the designs have been significantly scaled back from what was initially allowed. The most recent plans include the preservation of over 3,000 acres of open space.

"Grady Ranch will be a cutting-edge digital media production facility for both movies and television. As we complete this final phase of the approved master plan, we remain committed to continuing our extensive history of preservation and of bringing long-term benefits to the Marin community," Lucasfilm publicist Emilie Nicks told the Marin independent Journal in a statement. "In addition to meeting all the requirements outlined in the approved master plan, we've also made significant, positive improvements to the Grady Ranch Precise Development Plan, above and beyond what was required."

Those concessions haven't been enough to pacify neighbors, who note the area is only zoned for house and agriculture. Local critics also claim that Lucas's widening footprint in the bucolic bedroom community would bring an excess amount of unwanted traffic.

"It may turn into a winery. They may have sort of an amusement park, it could morph into many different things," said neighbor Janice Warren.

"I think that they justified it because it was 'jobs, jobs, jobs,' which justifies almost anything these days," added Joy Dahlgren, who also lives nearby.

Even though Lucas is closely associated the nearby Skywalker Ranch, neither that nor the Grady Ranch facility will be the headquarters of his cinematic empire--Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic and LucasArts are all based at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco's Presidio.

At the same time Lucas is expanding his footprint around the Bay Area, he's simultaneously scaling back his own personal cinematic ambitions. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Lucas said, "I'm retiring. I'm moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of [big-budget Hollywood] stuff." Instead, Lucas pledged to return to the more personal, art films of his youth.

Granted, he did tell Times writer Bryan Curtis that his imminent retirement from epic, commercial fare doesn't preclude him from making just one more Indiana Jones flick.

The Grady Ranch project is slated to be vetted by the Marin County Planning Commission in late February.