Star Wars On Location: Mohave and Tatooine
On July 12, 2009, I went out to the Mohave Desert in southern California to look for some mysterious locations where some of the last pieces of footage for the original Star Wars may have been filmed in late 1976 and early 1977.
The photo below is of a crew who went out to the desert near Randsburg, California to film the Sandcrawler model for an establishing shot. This picture is taken from the Scuplting a Galaxy DVD.
Next here is a picture I took on the Koehn Dry Lake bed some miles West of Randsburg on July 12, 2009.
Seems like I might have a match. From looking at this and other photos, my guess is I was off my about 200-400 feet. The crew would have been positioned about that distance behind me, which may have meant they turned off on an earlier trail to come out to the dry lake bed.For the record - the shot that was apparently filmed at the old mine, however, is the following one:
To give a better sense of this, I had a look on Google maps and tried to pinpoint the two locations. Where I took the pictures corresponds to 35 degrees 17'23.88"N, 117 degrees 53'9.12"W Where I think the filming of the Sandcrawler model took place is at 35 degrees 17'23.75"N, 117degrees 53'26.10"W. That's about 1/3 of a mile.
Blink and you'll miss them..
There were really only a couple of shots were successfully filmed here, mostly notably the below shot (which as you may recall was replaced by CGI with the reinvorgated version of a New Hope in 1997).
Here's another view of the crew. Over the years there has been some confusion as to where these shots were taken. Some accounts such as in the book "The Making of Star Wars" reference Randburg, but don't specify the dry lake. Fans have speculated that the site could have been Koehn Dry Lake to the west, or El Mirage Lake some miles away, or even that these scenes were filmed as part of a different set of shots that George Lucas did in Death Valley.
Having been to each of these places, it seems to me this particular set of shots was taken at Koehn.
Below: Here's my best guess at what corresponds to the skyline of the above photo. This is again about 200 feet or so off from my reckoning, having scrutinized the photos when I got home.
Next we have a picture that is taken from the DVD of the 1977 version of Star Wars Episode IV. This is a shot that was filmed very late in the production, and took several attempts to get right. Some landspeeder shots were attempted by the same crew that did the Sandcrawler shots above.
Below I have a picture I took in July 2009 at the Koehn Dry Lake bed. The topography, even just comparing the quick shot from the movie itself, is very similar.
A few different attempts were made to get the landspeeder shots, and it seems there were attempts made both at Koehn Dry Lake Bed and up in Death Valley at different points. Below are some more photos taken from "behind the scenes."
In the picture I took below, you can see the unique features of the lake bed, which are apparent in the production shots.
So, if you wanted to get to this place, where is the location? Koehn Dry Lake bed is 25 miles northeast of the town of Mohave, California.
From Los Angeles, you take I-5 Freeway N to to the 14N. You follow that all the way to Rogers Road where you take a right - which is due East. From there turn right on Neuralia Road. Then left on Munsey Rd and proceed for 14 miles.
Munsey turns into a bumpy dirt road part way along but you need to keep going until you see some dirt turn offs far down near the southeast corner of the dry lake, what some refer to as the "backside" of Koehn. to Koehn Dry Lake.
Keep in mind you are not supposed to disturb the lake, so you aren't supposed to go out driving on it. Also, the western part of the lake is less dry, and so you can't really walk on it. Filming is only allowed in the south east corner - there's more info here at the Ridgecrest Film Commission page about Koehn.
Cantil, California is the closest town if you need something to aim for. Oh, and I should mention it's HOT so do not visit in the summer if you can avoid it, and use the usual precautions that one does when hiking about in the desert - lots of water and sunscreen and don't stay out in the sun too long
The crew did actually find it's way to the town of Randburg as well - again from the Sculpting DVD is this picture of the main drag in Randsburg taken around early 1977.
And here's the main street in 2009:
From accounts, it appears that some shooting was also done at the site of the old Gold Mine west of Randsburg, because the old tailings left behind from mining scaled nicely and looked like sand dunes relative to the Sandcrawler model. This filming location is essentially lost. Part of the old mine was revisited in the early 1990's by a strip mining operation that reduced the area to a crater and a huge tailing pile that was treated with acid to remove the gold. The remaining old mine site is contaminated with arsenic and the federal government has fenced it off. I may be committed to filming locations, but I'm not going to subject myself to chemical poisoning!
From what I could tell driving around there briefly, nothing that looks like where the shots were filmed remains.
Were these sites hard to find?
Yes! It took a lot of comparing photos and detective work. As to why this filming site has gone unfound for so long, there's a few reasons. The first is this set of shots was done in a rush at the very end of filming, long after the production wrapped in the UK, to fill in for establishing shots that were never completed due to inclement weather and a shortened shooting schedule in Tunisia. The few shots filmed here were done in late 1976 and early 1977, only a few months before Star Wars premiered.
In addition, this was a less famous of the California locations - the main set of California pick up shots was done in Death Valley by George Lucas, and were more significant segments.
Beyond that, the people who took these shots seem to have had conflicting memories of where they took the shots! You have to remember that no one thought that Star Wars would be a hit, and so notes of this harried period in the production were not a high priority. In fact, all of the filming that was done in Southern California, such as the second set of Cantina shots, have remained shrouded in a bit of mystery until very recently.
And finally, as explained in the book Making of Star Wars, it took the crew four trips to get the Mohave shots done, which adds to the confusion.
This page was last updated on Friday, 24, July, 2009 at 3:42:02 PM.
Click here to get to the Star Wars: Tunisia page
Click here for the Star Wars: Fun with Action Figures in Death Valley
GPS files from trip.