With just days to go until the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, excitement is reaching fever pitch. Thousands are set to flock to cinemas to re-join the action, planet-hopping through the universe in one of the most successful franchises of all time.
Of course, one thing the series is acclaimed for is the way it uses real-world environments to portray far away planets. While we may use more digital trickery now than we did back in 1977 when the first film was released, director J.J. Abrams wants to keep the latest movies true to their principles. As a result, both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi make the most of some beautiful yet totally real settings. But where are they?
Skellig Michael, Ireland
Just take one look at Skellig Michael, and you can see why J.J. Abrams jumped at the chance to film on this other-worldly landmark. A steep cluster of rocks that climb 715 feet from the sea just off the coast of County Kerry, it’s home to a 1,200-year-old monastery. When scouting for a location like this, the production team were looking for ‘something from another time or place’ – and they certainly found it. Speaking of the natural wonder, Abrams maintains: ‘I still can’t believe we got to shoot there, it was so beautiful’. This spot made for perhaps the most spectacular backdrop in The Force Awakens, so you’ll be delighted to hear it’s returning for The Last Jedi.
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Krafla Volcano, Mývatn Lake and Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland
With its jaw-dropping and dramatic landscapes, Iceland is a filmmaker’s dream. No surprise, then, that the land of fire and ice makes an appearance in The Force Awakens. The 818 metre peak of the Krafla volcano last erupted in 1984, producing a barely-terrestrial landscape in the process.
A few kilometres downslope, the Mývatn Lake and its surrounding wetlands are simply bursting with life. Flora and fauna seem to sprout from everywhere, with an abundance of water birds and algae blooms which give the lake a space-like tint.
And finally, there are the snowy caps of the 1,651-metre Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Standing in as Starkiller Base, it’s here that we’re introduced to the First Order’s terrifying new weapon in The Force Awakens. This volcano is something of a weapon in its own right, with a huge eruption grounding planes across Europe for several days in 2010.
Rub’ al Khali Desert, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The Rub’ al Khali Desert is the largest contiguous sand desert in the world. And once again, the landscape here is so alien you could well be in a far away galaxy. We all remember the desert setting in A New Hope, with the sands of Tunisia standing in as the planet Tatooine. Occasionally, Death Valley in the USA took on the role – but this time the crew turned their attention to the UAE. With its endless red dunes, an area two hours’ drive out of Abu Dhabi was the perfect fit for the planet Jakku. Though remote, the region is popular with tourists, and hosts a number of luxury retreats.
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Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean & The Lake District, England
Believe it or not, several locations here at home played faraway worlds in The Force Awakens. Though the set pieces and green-screen trickery all took place over at Pinewood Studios, two English regions were used to realise the planet Takodana. When scouting for a location, director Abrams said he wanted to use ‘the most magical forest on Earth’, and they found it at Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean. Elsewhere, Derwentwater made for the lakeside setting of Maz Kanata’s castle thanks to a touch of CGI, while the nearby lake of Thirlmere hosted X-Wing flight sequences.
What locations can we expect to see in The Last Jedi?
With the release of The Last Jedi imminent, we’ll know for sure soon enough – but as it stands the film’s location list is a mixture of fact and rumour.
One thing we can be sure of is that we’re set to see the stunning Skellig Michael again. Filming began here back in September 2015, where the team battled harsh weather to get the shots they needed. This won’t be Ireland’s only appearance in The Last Jedi, however. In May 2016, Jedi Temple sets appeared on a mountain headland at Ceann Sibeal in County Kerry. Not long after, a space-age construction arrived on the rocks at Malin head in Donegal. The area went into lockdown and no-fly zones were implemented as top secret shooting took place.
In late 2015, producer Kathleen Kennedy seemed to let slip that shooting was to take place in Mexico, while we can be sure the city of Dubrovnik will make an appearance. The beautiful fortress town has become an incredibly popular filming location in recent years, with the Game of Thrones crew heading to the Adriatic Coast each series. The Star Wars crew landed in March 2016 and shot for a week, making good use of the city’s main street, Stradun.
Other possible locations include Salar de Uyuni, a vast salt flat in Bolivia, expected to stand in as the mineral planet of Crait. With just days to go until The Last Jedi’s release, we’ll get to see for ourselves very soon.
Chase the Star Wars trail and discover these other-worldly landscapes with flights from Manchester Airport.