Star Wars maker in 'evil empire' row with neighbours

LOS ANGELES - "Star Wars" director George Lucas has dismissed claims he is waging "class warfare" by selling some of his land for low-income housing, after rich neighbours nixed plans for new studio space.

In the latest twist in a long-running battle, the legendary filmmaker lamented that some locals near his Skywalker Ranch complex outside San Francisco had misrepresented him as running an "evil empire."

Lucas claims the planned new addition to his studio based in a secluded valley in Marin County would have provided good jobs for local people, and not had any significant extra environmental impact on the well-to-do area.

But he withdrew the planning application last month after it appeared that neighbours' complaints would delay the project indefinitely - and decided instead to offer the land for development of affordable housing.

That triggered a new round of protest from some in the well-heeled community, including a reported comment from Carolyn Lenert, head of the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents, that he was "inciting class warfare."

Lucasfilm, the studio behind the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" movie franchises, rejected the charge.

"It's unfortunate if people think of affordable housing as a sort of class warfare, because affordable housing is for your firefighters, your police, your teachers," said Lucasfilm spokesman Miles Perkins.

"That's what's needed in Marin County, without a question," he told AFP.

The story began in 1978, when Lucas bought a 1,000-hectare plot in Lucas Valley - named after a 19th century rancher - to build Skywalker Ranch, the year his first "Star Wars" film won a stunning six Academy Awards.

In the years that followed, he gradually expanded the company, but was careful to ensure the growing studio complex remained discreetly nestled behind trees, maintaining a low profile - and keeping his valley neighbours happy.

But relations began to fray with plans for a new facility to be called Grady Ranch, that would include a large studio space, an outdoor sound stage and underground parking.

And tensions came to a head last month when, after the latest bureaucratic and legal delay, Lucas announced in an emotionally-worded letter than he was canceling the plans - and turning the land over to low-income housing.

"The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time ... we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbours.

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