Forty years ago in 1978 George Lucas became the creative myth of today’s Hollywood, at a time when the Ashridge Visitor Centre was run solely by the volunteers!
Star Wars the movie – a scrappy little underdog of a sci-fi picture made for a paltry $11 million became such a box-office smash changing the entire business at the stroke of a fizzing light-saber.
Since then like the National Trust , Star Wars has attracted a large fan base and income and expenditure have grown exponentially – costs run to well over $200 million and income regularly exceeds $1000 million.
The next episode of Star Wars arrived at Ashridge from a galaxy far far away, for a three week stay in August with a two day grass shoot on the hills. Arriving with a huge entourage and elaborate equipment, extensive areas were prepared for parking, footpaths and car parks closed to allow for uninterrupted filming and the location of the open air shoot kept under wraps to avoid a flood of public sightseers.
Episode IX features an all star cast of eighteen including Richard E Grant, a posthumous Carrie Fisher and Matt Smith from Doctor Who. The indoor sets will be filmed at Pinewood Studios and Cardington Airship Sheds, with the big-budget film planned for release in December 2019 by Lucas Films for Walt Disney Pictures. The cost of the shooting at Ashridge is said to be in the region of £2 million.
Ashridge is such a fortunate location for such an epic production being close to London, offering extensive parking for the vast array of equipment and vehicles – ten mobile homes for the actors, some one hundred cars, numerous goods vehicles, catering and security, with lighting, generators, and 4×4 off road vehicles, not to mention the “extras”.
Today’s film crews are a common sight at Ashridge, and the Executive Producer was not to know that King Richard III and his band of brothers used the very same pathway four years earlier for a BBC production! A far cry from those early days when Ashridge was a back water with the tea-room and shop run by Margaret Cleaver and her dedicated band of volunteers. As with any “brand”, Star Wars and the National Trust need to be constantly refreshed with new developments and events to satisfy the fan base , while characters come and go.
Here on Earth the Trust’s aim of quiet enjoyment and solitude on the Estate was returned at the end of August when the last vehicle departed the stage leaving the SSSI site without any permanent damage – in fact leaving an improvement to the Coombe entrance with a long awaited new chalk overlay filling to the deeply rutted track-way.
Despite every effort by the organisers to respect the pristine landscape and return it to its SSSI status, litter escapes and hangs around for the final end game – enter the volunteers.