Designing a Death Star Theater


This Grand Imperial theater features three seating levels, a stage screen, and a fiber-optic starfield.

Three separate rooms, one starfield, and a life-sized Han Solo are just a few of the things that help two super "Star Wars" fans get their geek on in this theater.

Sep. 18, 2007 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

A long time ago in a home theater far, far away — well, outside of Seattle anyway — began one of the greatest “Star Wars” spectacles to ever exist outside the doors of Comic-Con.

Super-fans Vic Wertz and Lisa Stevens used to run the Official Star Wars Fan Club and even the “Star Wars Insider” magazine. But even though they’re both out of that business now, they still pay homage to their dark lord and master each and every day — thanks to their incredibly impressive and geeky home theater.

Darth Vader wouldn’t call in an Ewok to do his dirty work, and neither did this couple. Instead they recruited Doug Chiang, the lead designer on “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.” Stevens met him during her days at another game company, Wizards of the Coast. “When we decided to do this project, I wanted to make sure I had the right designer, and he was at the top of the list,” says Wertz. Sure, but was he gettable? “He was pretty busy at the time, so it almost didn’t happen, but at the last minute, he was able to schedule a block of time for the designs.”

Three designs later, the couple brought in Mike Dillon and his custom design and fabrication company, Dillon Works, to do the icing on the cake. “We can design and fabricate just about anything,” he says. And he wasn’t kidding.

“It ended up being the control deck of the Death Star,” says Eric Ward, custom sales manager at Definitive Audio. The Bellevue, Wash.-based installation company was responsible for all of the audio and video for this 36-month project.

For one of its owners, however, it isn’t the Death Star theater that turns up all over the Internet. “I think it actually draws more inspiration from Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’,” Wertz says. “Either way, though, that Grand Imperial concept lends itself more to a theatrical feel.  The Millennium Falcon, after all, was, as Luke said, ‘a hunk of junk’. Cramped, run-down, and held together with baling wire and duct tape — not really characteristics I wanted for my space.”

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Wertz doesn’t have to worry about that. This space could fit Jabba the Hutt, and then some. Walk into the room and follow the backlit floor to either the left or the right. Both paths take you through automated sliding doors. On the left, there’s a secret door located — where else? — behind the carbonite Han Solo (which you might recall from the cliffhanger in “The Empire Strikes Back”). This is the media room for the couple’s extensive audio/video collection.

“If you can keep the equipment out of the theater so you don’t see it, it’s always great,” Ward says. Not a problem, considering this equipment has it’s own room, which is located across from the media room.

The main space in the theater is approximately 22 feet from the back wall to the screen. Features inside include three levels of seats, a stage for the screen, and Wertz’s favorite feature, a fiber-optic starfield. (“It’s kind of calming,” he says.) However, for most spectators, that might pale in comparison to the room’s special effects, which includes the Han Solo, a life-size C-3PO and Boba Fett.

Even though the project was completed years ago, Wertz and Stevens are still very in touch with their inner-geek as owners of Paizo Publishing LLC, which publishes and sells over 20,000 game products.

Their interest doesn’t end with their day jobs, or even what’s in their home theater. The couple also has a museum in the house that’s two stories high and about 3,000 square feet of all “Star Wars” memorabilia. “The most recognizable items would be a Millennium Falcon model used in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and a lightsaber used by Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in ‘Episode I’,” Wertz says.

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However, the theater is the real showpiece. “That room looks really cool, but what’s amazing about it is that it sounds really good,” Ward says. “A lot of these concept rooms… they just don’t sound very good.”

Wertz and Stevens don’t have to worry about the quality. And they should know, since they use this theater every day. It’s a good thing too; we wouldn’t want to have to destroy another Death Star. 

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Doug Chiang

Design & Fabrication
Dillon Works
Mukilteo, Wash.

System Design & Installation
Definitive Audio
Bellevue, Wash.

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