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1 7th November 13:01
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Default For Star Wars fans, Calif's Yoda statue is a mecca

Aug 7, 6:30 PM EDT

For Star Wars fans, Calif's Yoda statue is a mecca

Associated Press
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AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge lies
another landmark cherished by a small but fervent group of travelers: a
full-size replica of Yoda, George Lucas' master of the Force.

Since the statue of the Jedi sage went up amid the Presidio's landscaped
lawns in 2005, Star Wars fans have made a pilgrimage to take pictures
with their beloved character and take in Lucasfilm Ltd.'s sleek

Given the franchise's huge impact not only on pop culture but on the
tourism industry, the diminutive Yoda fountain is just one of dozens of
location shoots and special sites visited by Star Wars acolytes. Others
include Luke Skywalker's desert home in Tunisia, Guatemalan pyramids and
a Tuscan lakefront villa.

For the Van Zweiten family of Oploo, Netherlands, a stop to see the
pointy-eared master was a key part of their summer holiday in the United

"The Dutch guidebook said `Love it, you will,' and we decided we had to
come," said Tom Van Zwieten, a tax attorney who has also visited another
shoot site in Tenerife, and who brought up his children watching the

In "The Empire Strikes Back," Yoda builds Luke's confidence to harness
the Force, an energy field that Jedis use to perform supernatural feats.
"You must unlearn what you have learned," he tells Luke. "Luminous
beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you."

Some visitors to this corner of the park, flanked by towering palms and
eucalyptus groves, hope to absorb such lessons through sheer proximity
to the statue, poised atop a rushing fountain.

"Yoda is the source of wisdom and gravitas for the whole trilogy," said
fan Dale Tolosa, 37, an underemployed actor who often dresses as a Star
Wars biker scout with his chapter of the 501st Legion, an international,
all-volunteer costuming group. "It's almost like he's a religious symbol
or the Statue of Liberty, or a representation of all the positive
fantasy that George Lucas has brought to the world since 1977."

Tolosa and his older brother, Matt, who dons the tunic of Luke's father
Anakin Skywalker, also have visited numerous other location shoots, and
are planning a trip to Death Valley, where R2D2 cruised the sand dunes.

Gus Lopez, a Star Wars collector in Seattle who runs an online
memorabilia museum, has already been there, as well as to the Yoda
fountain and to nearly every major Star Wars location shoot the world
over, including sites in Norway and the Arizona desert.

Lopez's favorite? A redwood grove near Crescent City, Calif. where Lucas
filmed the speeder bike chase scenes for "Return of the Jedi".

"It took friends and I a year to research and find the location because
the forest that got logged looks so different today," said Lopez. "For
all of these sites, it's about how you connect with the movies and how
you actually feel like you're closer to it by being in a place that was
involved in making them."

Some passionate fans choose to get directly involved at the locations
they visit.

Belgian fan Mark Dermul has been raising money to visit the Tunisian
salt lake Chott El-Jerid, which Lucas transformed into the desert planet
of Tatooine. So far, nearly 400 donors have contributed $10,994 to
repair the weather-worn plaster, wood and chicken wire holding together
the iconic "Lars Homestead" where Luke Skywalker was raised and fans
plan to do the restorations next summer, Dermul said.

Along with an entree into the fantasy world, other filming sites offer
tourists special services and accommodations.

On the sweeping grounds of Villa del Balbianello, visitors can get
married in the setting overlooking Italy's Lake Como where Queen Padme
Amidala married Anakin in "Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones".

The epic film series has spawned a franchise including collectables,
books, television series, video games, and comic books that Forbes
magazine estimated in 2007 had earned more than $22 billion.

Lucasfilm is among several businesses and nonprofits that have relocated
to the Presidio, the one-time military base turned national park
overlooking the bay and the Pacific. Run-of-the-mill fans, however,
aren't invited past the plush company lobby without invitation.

"The Yoda fountain is the public face of Lucasfilm, the one
picture-taking opportunity that they have with something from Star
Wars," says Steve Sansweet, a fan relations advisor to Lucasfilm who
houses a trove of collectables on his land in Northern California,
dubbed Rancho Obi-Wan.

Jay Shephard, a manager at an online testing company in Baltimore, went
a step further, calling the fountain a mecca for fans.

"Yoda's like what I would like to aspire to be in the way that I live my
life and the way I raise my kids," said Shephard, who founded a fan site
called "Here's this little guy who's really unassuming,
and you think `how could this little creature be a warrior'? But the
messages he shares with Luke in the movie really resonate with all of us."
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