Thursday, December 2, 2010

Explore the Redwoods the Star Wars Way: Welcome to Endor, Redwood National Park

"Han, in front of you!" "Gee. Thanks for the tip, Leia." 
 Looking for a way to spice up a family day outdoors? Simple as pie. Dress up as your favorite movie characters and hit the trails! Short of the soundtrack and a few special effects, you're finally living the life of your idols. What better way to bring to life the silver screen? Here's how we ended with a few home-brewed scenes of The Return of the Jedi.

"Princess, stay close. This forest smells like a trap."

First came the idea. A year ago, I read that the movie's Endor scenes had been filmed at Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. Almost in our backyard: it said "redwoods" and "California", it couldn't be that far. I had no idea where this park was but it jumped on my to-do list right away. Looking at the California map on my office walls, I realized Grizzly Creek was 300 miles and a solid 6 driving hours away. Gulp. I stored the idea and did some more websurfing on the Return of the Jedi locations, adding Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and a long-logged forest by the Smith River to my dream list.

A few weeks ago, my husband suggested we go up to Redwood National Park right after Thanksgiving. I was initially reluctant to go but then I thought "But of course! We can re-enact The Return of the Jedi!" I had these simply equations in my head that just made perfect sense. Redwoods = Endor. Our family of 4 = 1 Princess Leia + 1 rebel + 1 storm trooper + 1 Han Solo. Our teddy bears = Ewoks. The speeder bike pursuit, well.... that'd be hard with a kids' bike. It was just too geeky to pass.

"Arms up, hold it right there!"

Finally, we were going up north for sure, closer to the actual filming locations than I've been in many years. I didn't have time to call rangers or the Lucasfilm PR people to find out more but I decided I could do some research on site. I packed the costumes (see below for how-to guidelines) in the car and we set off, ready to fight the Dark Side in style.

We were staying outside the tiny town of Orik, a pocketsize coastal town that really looks like the kind of place where Twin Peaks could have been filmed. The dreary weather probably enhanced the sense of disorientation. By a strange coincidence, the Orik Market sells boxes of Snoqualmie Falls Lodge Old Fashioned Pancake Mix, Snoqualmie Falls being one of Twin Peaks's actual filming mountain towns. Weird, eh?

At the visitor center of the Redwood National Park, I asked where we could find the coveted redwoods. By the looks I got, I was neither the first nor the last to enquire. "Had they known that 20 years down the line people would still be asking about them, they may not have destroyed the Ewok village!" exclaimed the park ranger.

"Leia, your helmet's too shiny. Duck, will ya?"

No more ewok village. What was Lucas thinking? Hippies and Star Wars fans should have been consulted. It's like The Lord of the Rings mountain sets that were removed because they were built on national park land - they could have been used to spur tourism and encourage long-distance hiking!

Well then, that left the rest of the Endor scenes. Where to? Two main spots: as mentioned earlier, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park was a biggie (Tall Tree Grove, to be specific), as well as the Smith River old growth redwood grove that has since been logged. For the speed biker scenes, rumors go that the scenic route Avenue of the Giants was used.

"Told you it was too shiny."

Since the weather forecast for the day was rain and we were packing up the following day, that didn't leave us much time at all. Going to Jedediah Smith Redwoods fell through - time crunch. However I picked up a topo map of the area to find some old growth redwoods nearby. In the end, what really mattered was to find a redwood forest that would look like Endor. It didn't have to be the same exact one. Bingo! Just across from our vacation rental, there was a nice old-growth redwood grove with a bonus waterfall. Yoohoo!

As field practice, we all watched The Return of the Jedi that night and the girlsd rooted for the ewoks like there was no tomorrow. Then tomorrow came.When the sun showed up after 36 hours of rain, we all geared up and crossed the road to the Trillium Falls trail. The place was a fern paradise - slightly too slanted for our photo needs (the Jedi Endor scenes are mostly on flat terrain) but we made it work nonetheless. We didn't linger either. It wasn't warm in those outfits by 40F outside!

"Not so fast my friend. Han, still too shiny?"

The tricky part was finding tree branches sticking out so we could rest the camera and use the timer to take shots with the four of us - and the teddy bears which the girls called their "wookies." My husband carefully staged each scene and adjusted the settings on his camera because it's dark under the redwoods. Fortunately no one else was on the trail that morning but us. I say fortunately not because I care, but because our 7-year old told me this was embarassing. Good thing the little one got a kick just of walking with a teddy bear!

So there. The whole exercise took a couple hours, after which we hiked to the falls and they were a beautiful culminating point of a lovely trail. The guys at the parking lot thought we were weird-looking but we quickly explained and so we became the incarnation of awesomeness! Let's do that again, shall we?

"We got'em wookies. Let's go celebrate!"

Hollywood Trivia
If you too want to try to bring to life your favorite family movie, I fished some ideas on the internet, all within driving distance of San Francisco. In some instances, you'll have to drive the whole night but who cares when you can wear Jack Sparrow's head scarf and dreadlocks?
- Jurassic Park at Prairie Creek Redwoods State park (bring a truckload of plastic dinosaurs)
- The Princess Diaries in San Francisco
- Pirates of the Caribbean at Leo Carillo State Park and El Pescador State Beach
- Back To the Future at Jamestown and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
- Willow at Mount Tamalpais State Park
- The Lost Boys at Sycamore Cove State Beach
- Star Wars: A New Hope and Return of the Jedi at the Death Valley National Monument
- E.T. at Redwood National Park
- Dr. Dolittle in San Francisco and Dr. Dolittle 2 in the Marin Headlands
- George of the Jungle in Woodside
Now comes the uber-geeky part: how can you look like a dashing Star Wars character if you don't want to buy it ready-made? Here's my little secret: Goodwill, thrift stores, whatever you call them. That's where my husband's vest comes from, as well as my black boots and blue pants. For the rest I needed a little guidance and what better place than the Rebel Legion website? I printed out the official costume standards for The Return of the Jedi off their Costuming Standards Master List. Gulp, the camouflage tops! 

"Let's go kick some more Dark Side ass. Off we go wookies."

It may be easy to find Princess Leia's cinnamon bun style hair wig or gold bikini but good luck with the Endor camouflage outfit. It's way at the bottom of everybody's Star Wars list! I bought 4 yards of camouflage fleece at Joann Fabric and Crafts, spray painted it with brown for earthier tones, cut out a big rectangle (measuring it'd come thigh length on the front and calf length in the back) and sewed two hooded ponchos. After I stitched the wrong side up twice, I finally understood how to attach the hood!

The head gear was the best part if you ask my girls. We all went outside and they watched in awe as I spray painted silver my bike helmet after gluing on a tight circle of military belting (2" wide, simply stapled). My 5-year old's bike helmet didn't fit the format so I used a plastic fireman's hat instead. Spray painting was fun! And now, I've got a unique bike helmet. Ready to explore the redwoods whenever you are!


Beth said...

I LOVE that you did this - you have set the hiking bar very, very high!

Debi said...

Seriously? This is like the coolest thing EVER! We are huge Star Wars fans, so this one is now earmarked on my to-do list! From one geek to the next: you rock! :)

RKB said...

This is absolutely amazingly awesome.