Star Wars In Death Valley – Artoo’s Arroyo

Artist’s Palette

Several shots from STAR WARS - EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE can be found at Artist's Palette. The first one presented in the film, is when R2-D2 enters a canyon at sunset. The canyon he is in, is actually the arroyo that runs along the north side of the the parking lot at Artist's Palette. The shot in question looks northwest down the arroyo. It's also the easiest shot to find as you can see it right from the parking lot. It's actually looking the opposite direction of the actual Artist's Palette formation (and signage). This particular shot was slightly expanded & enhanced for the 1997 Special Edition release of the film.

Back in the mid to late 1990's when I was attempting to find all I could on the STAR WARS filming sites within Death Valley, the second verifiable location I encountered (after the Mos Eisely overlook / Dante's View), was an an image titled “Shadow Gulch” on Neal Gallagher's Photography Page. Unfortunately, while that page still exists, all of the links to the photos that were on it appear to be broken. Thankfully, we can go back in time. And what's more, we won't even need a Delorean to do it!

Additional confirmation, as well as information on several other shots to be found at Artist's Palette, came to me via an online friend in 2001. One of those shots was a view of Artoo rolling through the canyon at sunset. Again, this one is easy to get to. Simply, walk down into the arroyo from the north edge of the parking lot and you are within a few feet of the spot. If you take a screen capture from the film with you or a digital copy of the film itself on a phone, tablet, or laptop you can find the precise view. For the most accurate results, go an hour or so before sunset.

There are two other shots from this sequence in the film that I believe were filmed in this same location. One is a shot of R2 rolling along as seen from the vantage point of a Jawa watching on a ledge above. Another is a shot of R2 stopping and turning his head as he is startled by a small rock fall. I attempted to match up both of these shots on my first visit to Death Valley back in 2008. At the time, I was fairly confident that the second of those shots had been filmed there, but was unconvinced of the first. And actually, when I first posted this entry, I'd written that in the years since my initial visit, I'd come to suspect that both of these shots were filmed in another nearby canyon. However, after reviewing the images attached to this post, as well as the original film itself, I'm now back to my original thinking that both shots were completed here at Artist's Palette. I'll discuss that other canyon in a future post. For now, let's climb back up to the Artist's Palette parking lot and check out another nearby site.

The site in question can be found in the area immediately of Artist's Palette, on the south side of Artist's Drive. Because Artist's Drive a one-way road, you can't backtrack to it in your car from the Artist's Palette parking lot. You either have to stop on your way in, or better yet, simply walk south from the parking lot. This area was used to re-shoot a scene that was originally filmed just outside "Star Wars Canyon" in Tunisia. In the scene, half a dozen Jawas carry R2 to their sandcrawler.

In the Tunisian version, the lower half of the sandcrawler was reconstructed on site from it's original location at the Lars homestead. I have found nothing officially as to why the scene was re-shot in Death Valley. Perhaps, like the Mos Eisley overlook scene, it too had a jitter in it that meant a matte painting of the top portion of the sandcrawler couldn't be used. Whatever the reason, it was re-filmed here in Death Valley in early 1977. To portray the Jawas, the film crew sought out the Death Valley Unified Elementary School in the Park Village just north of Furnace Creek, where they found a number of enthusiastic children of the National Park Service employees. For this re-shoot, the sandcrawler was not built on site, but was instead entirely realized via a matte painting.

“The sandcrawler was done on the plate that they took in Death Valley, where the Jawas are carrying Artoo–Detoo. We took the Jawas right up to where their heads almost go behind the painting, but not quite. That was shot at a nice time of day, magic hour with a very light sky; it was supposed to be dusk and I thought it worked well, because it allowed us to glaze the sand color down and give it a real nice rusty glow.” - Harrison Ellenshaw (matte painter)

- Excerpt from The Making Of Star Wars, p. 260, by J.W. Rinzler

For the 1997 Special Edition version of the film, this shot was darkened and stars were added to better suggest dusk.

Getting There

Artist’s Palette is 14.5 miles from the Vistor Center at Furnace Creek.  From the Vistor center, head southeast on HWY 190. Just before you pass the Furnace Creek Inn, turn south on Badwater Road. Artist’s Palette Drive is a one-way road and you’ll pass the exit first. Keep going south on Badwater Road until you find entrance on your left, roughly 10 miles from the visitor’s center. See also wikimapia | googlemaps

As with all roads and attractions in the park, check with the Death Valley National Park website for road closures prior to your trip. When it rains, Artist's Drive is especially prone to wash-outs. This can often result in temporary closures until it can be cleared by the park service. 


Moving On

Artist's Palette was the first location that really presented the opportunity to hunt for shots. At Dante's View, the shot more or less presents itself. To a lesser extent, this is true at the Mesquite Flat Dunes as well. It's just a matter of hiking out to the dunes. But at Artist's Palette, if you have some reference photos, you can really take your time looking for, and then lining up the shots precisely. And it's a beautiful location as well!

Next up... The Sandpeople Attack!