YUMA, Ariz. (AP) – It’s no mystery to Kelly Curtis what happened to the lumber used to build Jabba the Hutt’s sand barge filmed in the sand dunes for a segment in “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.”
A lot of it is in the roof of his house.
“What do you mean, you don’t know where the wood went?” Curtis recalled thinking when an article about the sand barge was published in a special section of the Yuma Sun commemorating the 30th anniversary of Yuma’s “Return of the Jedi” experience.
“It’s at 3182 W. Iron Drive.”
Curtis related how that came about.
After filming of the segment was completed in the spring of 1982, a local company was contracted to dismantle the set and dispose of the salvaged materials. One of the contractors was Austin Johnson, who was a friend of Curtis’ father. At the time, the Curtis family, including the four boys and their father, was building an adobe house.
“We needed long lengths of lumber to finish the roof and didn’t have much money at the time,” he recalled. “We ended up purchasing a couple trailers full of the beams and plywood, using it in our roof.”
Asked what they paid for the salvaged material, Curtis said he didn’t know – he was 10 years old at the time.
He does know, though, “With my dad, it had to be a smoking deal.”
The timing was perfect as the family was to the point where it needed roofing materials. The house is 4,300 square feet, so it took the large sections of plywood and other materials from the sand barge to cover the big space, Curtis said.
“I remember taking the wood off the trailers and putting it on the roof. It didn’t sit around.”
Today, Curtis owns the house, located behind Ironwood Golf Course, and is proud of it.
“I have the ‘Star Wars’ house,” he said. “As a kid, it was a big deal that I got the Jedi house. Needless to say my house was popular with my friends. Every time the movie came up, I could say the roof of my house was from it.”
Today, with the “Star Wars” resurgence, his children have the same bragging rights.
“It’s like having a famous uncle,” Curtis said.
He also recalled being in the audience when the movie opened at the Plaza Theatres. When the sand dunes scene came up, there was a big cheer.
“So many people in Yuma worked on it. It was a big deal.”
The Yuma Sun also received reports that plywood from the set went to several other houses, and many horse corrals in Yuma at the time were built with wood salvaged from the movie set.
Some of the large beams used to support the sand barge 20 feet in the air went to the construction of the restaurant at Martinez Lake, Johnson recalled.
“All the material was top of the line,” he said. “It was all first-class materials.”
He said he partnered with Frank Amavisca to remove the materials from the set. They were paid $20,000 in addition to whatever money they received for selling the salvaged materials.
It was a good deal for those who purchased the wood, as the contractors “knocked 50 to 80 percent off the new price.”
But Johnson lost money on the deal.
A lot of people wanted to get in and look around. So, because of liability concerns, the contractors had to have a guard at the site 24 hours a day, adding significantly to the cost, Johnson said.
And according to the seven-month lease LucasFilm had with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, “We had just a short time to get it out of the area,” Johnson said.
In all, he said, they probably removed 30 to 40 good-sized loads. Because of the tight time frame, they ended up using Tanner Construction Co. trucks to help haul the loads to Yuma, further adding to the cost.
Then there was the matter of the state of California impounding the trucks at the state border crossing that had to be dealt with.
“We worked 10- and 12-hour days,” Johnson recalled. “It took us about six weeks. We just got it done under the wire.”