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The Death Star Theater

December 1, 2004 By Dennis Burger

When Lisa Stevens brought home a Boba Fett action figure from Return of the Jedi for her boyfriend Vic Wertz, neither of them imagined that the seemingly innocuous 3-inch-tall helmeted bounty hunter would be the inspiration for one of the most impressive private shrines ever erected in honor of George Lucas’ renowned epic fantasy film saga.

Passing through the theater’s mirror-paneled lobby, which replicates the bridge from the original trilogy’s Imperial Star Destroyers, is a hint of what’s hiding behind the spaceship-like automated theater doors. The theater itself not only transports guests into another galaxy, but it delivers a highly memorable acoustical experience—from the stellar sound system to the deliberate layout of the space. (Click image to enlarge)

In his formative years, Wertz, like many of the Star Wars junkies in his generation, was utterly devoted to the follow-up films and related memorabilia. However, after Return of the Jedi departed from the theater and teenage hormones kicked in, his interest in amassing the trilogy’s collectibles took a backseat.

Several years later in the early 1990s when a series of novels and comic books hit the market, all of which picked up where Return of the Jedi left off, Wertz, like many die-hard fans, became engrossed in the goings-on of a galaxy far, far away. “When Hasbro started producing new action figures in 1995, I managed to resist for a few months,” Wertz says, “but then Lisa brought home a new Boba Fett figure and inadvertently opened the floodgates.”Before long, the collection that filled one guest bedroom  started spilling into other areas of the house, thanks to eBay. Then Wertz and Stevens met Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm’s di-rector of content marketing and fan relations, who owns one of the largest private Star Wars collections in the world. “Rancho Obi-wan, the barn that houses Steve’s collection, inspired us to do more to display our collection,” says Wertz, who co-owns Seattle-based Paizo Publishing LLC with Stevens, who coincidentally is the president of the Official Star Wars Fan Club. “So we started making plans for a new house with a [series] of in-terconnected rooms to showcase our collection. I was a fan of home theater technology and subscribed to several different home theater-oriented publications, so when Lisa and I started designing our dream house, it was very obvious there would be a home theater.” (Click image to enlarge)

The black leather Valentino theater chairs, designed and manufactured by South Florida–based CinemaTech, were handpicked by the homeowners for comfort and style. While reclining space is limited on the back row, the special design of the Valentino chairs allows for a comfortable range of motion. (Click image to enlarge)

Needless to say, a pedestrian media room dotted with a few Star Wars posters was not what Wertz had in mind. But designing a stellar audiovisual room involv- ed much more than simply determining the room dimensions and building a rectangular frame. To alleviate some of the typical acoustical problems that plague most traditional home theater in- stallations, Wertz teamed up with Definitive Audio of Bellevue, Wash., to build a room that contains as few parallel surfaces as possible. The result is a wedge-shaped space that offers minimal sound reflection. After the room’s shell was finalized, the next phase of the design process was turned over to Doug Chiang, who was the lead designer for The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. “Who better to design a Star Wars- themed theater than the lead designer on multiple Star Wars films?” Wertz says, adding that Stevens had met Chiang at Skywalker Ranch while working as a brand manager for a Star Wars game.

The homeowners requested three designs for their theater: one based on the concept of a theater built within the Death Star (the deadly space station in Star Wars), another inspired by Queen Amidala’s starship from The Phantom Menace, and the third a concept of the artist’s own creation, which, in the end, resembled the bridge from the original trilology’s Imperial Star Destroyers. After agonizing over each of the ideas, Wertz asked Chiang to blend all three concepts together. It was then up to Dillon Works, a design and fabrication firm based in nearby Mukilteo, to turn Chiang’s otherworldly design into reality.As with many new home projects, the designers and custom installers were hired after construction already started, says Mike Dillon, president of Dillon Works. “They had their room size, so we had to fit all of our pieces into the room,” he says. Using the AutoCAD 2000 computerized design program, Dillon Works built a three-dimensional model of the room from which it extracted its working drawings.

While reclining space is limited on the back row, the special design of the Valentino chairs allows for a comfortable range of motion. (Click image to enlarge)

“And because Doug is a film production designer and an industrial designer, he understands how things are built, which is a key component in the successful execution of the design,” Dillon says. “The designs he provided perfectly mat-ched the look the client desired.” (Click image to enlarge)

Nonetheless, the conversion from page to reality was not without complication. Building the pieces offsite, based on a near-perfect computer model, involved some redesign of the acoustical panels, as well as some changes in the construction materials. “We had an acoustician come in and evaluate the room,” says Eric Ward, custom sales manager of Definitive Audio. After the consultation, Dillon Works made adjustments to some of the acoustic panels to create a perfect fit.

In addition to acoustics, Definitive Audio supplied and installed the room’s audiovisual gear, which includes a Run-co Reflection VX-5c DLP projector, a Studiotek 130 screen from Stewart Filmscreen, a Crestron touchscreen control system and a full complement of Meridian electronics and speakers. Wertz chose the Meridian gear not only for its superior sound, but also its stellar aesthetic qualities. “In this home theater, I balanced comfort, functionality and theming without doing anything that would detract from any of those three,” he says.The homeowners’ passion for Star Wars is, not surprisingly, ev

idenced throughout the boomerang-shaped house (the theater is situated at the bottom of the “v”). Each wing is affectionately named after the films’ most famous spaceships: The “X Wing” is the entertainment area, which in-cludes a video game arcade and the collection gallery, while the “Y Wing” houses the home’s main living spaces. The house even features a two-story book room that was inspired by George Lucas’ library at Skywalker Ranch.

Not surprisingly, the screening room is the showpiece of the home. “We designed the rest of the house around the home theater. It’s truly an expression of our love for Star Wars and elite technology,” Wertz says.


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