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While it may seem that most of the scenes in the “Star Wars” films are in other worlds. The good news for hardcore fans, of course, is that the cast and crew often traveled to locations that you can visit right here on our very own planet, bringing the “galaxy far, far away” to life.
Redwood National and State Parks, located near Crescent City in Northern California, not only offers the chance to take a stroll through magnificent old-growth redwoods, some of the tallest trees on earth, but to walk in the footsteps of the Ewoks. Filmmakers of “Return of the Jedi” used the parks to portray the Forest Moon of Endor, the home of the Ewoks. While you’re here, you can also view wildlife like Roosevelt elk along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, visit wild, rugged beaches and explore tide pools with a myriad of fascinating creatures. If you’re here between late December and late March, watch for gray whales that pass by during migration.
As Ireland is a country that’s renowned for rugged, natural beauty, it’s no surprise that it was one of the scene-stealing destinations in the latest flick, “The Force Awakens.” The blockbuster final scene ends atop the breathtaking island known as Skellig Michael, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) extending a lightsaber to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The island sits about eight miles off the County Kerry coast near the small village of Portmagee. The largest of the two Skellig Islands, it not only offers incredibly breathtaking views, but it hosts the ruins of an ancient monastery built between the 6th and 8th centuries.
Public boat tours to the island are available between late spring and early fall. Trips aren’t guaranteed as calms seas are a necessity and they’re frequently rough in this region, but if your excursion is canceled, you can always hang out in Portmagee’s Bridge Bar where the cast and crew, including Hamill, enjoyed a few pints. Accommodation is available at The Moorings, which sits in the adjacent building.
Many of those desolate winter scenes in “The Force Awakens” were filmed in Iceland in the Myvatn region. This gem in the northeast was used for shots with Stormtroopers, and the Nordic country served as the setting for the planet Sullust for both the video game and the movie. Myvtan Lake and the surrounding area have an incredible, stark beauty as an otherworldly landscape of sputtering mud pots, bizarre lava formations, volcanic craters and steaming fumaroles. Krafla is a dormant volcano, having last erupted in 1984, though there are still lava fields throughout the region where jets of steam escape from the earth. The volcano also has a caldera, a six-mile crater that formed as a result of previous eruptions, which has since become a brilliant teal lake.
The lake, which was formed earlier than the caldera, covers a much larger area. One of its most popular attractions is the natural baths – you can relax in the warm waters that are heated using geothermal heat. It’s also an ideal spot for watching the northern lights if you happen to be here on a clear night between late September and mid-March.
Death Valley National Park was used by George Lucas for pickup shots after shooting in Tunisia for both “Return of the Jedi” and “A New Hope.” This area that sits between the Mojave Desert and the Sierra Nevada was used, along with Tunisia, as the desert planet of Tatooine. One of the most memorable scenes was when Obi-Wan Kenobi met Luke Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 for the very first time. If you visit, be sure to take the 18-mile drive south on Highway 178 from Furnace Creek to Badwater where you’ll view fantastic salt formations and colorful vistas in addition to encountering the lowest spot in the western hemisphere, Badwater, which sits at 292 feet below sea level. Stop at the “Devil’s Golf Course” to search for delicate salt structures and take Artist’s Drive, which leads to Artist’s Palette, a gorgeous landscape with pastel hues – especially colorful during the early morning hours.
Hardangerjøkulen glacier provided the setting for the ice planet Hoth in “The Empire Strikes Back,” filmed here in 1979. Harrison Ford apparently arrived on a snow-clearing train in the middle of a blizzard. The small railroad town of Finse, located between Oslo and Bergen, sits at the foot of the glacier. It was used as the Rebel Alliance’s Echo Base on Hot. While shooting, a big snowstorm hit the small town, allowing director Irvin Kershner to shoot two important scenes: Luke Skywalker’s escape from the Wampa cave, and the young hero’s interaction with the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi before he’s rescued by Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Both were shot just outside of the Finse 1222 Hotel, which also happens to be the accommodation of choice in the area.
Finse 1222 Hotel is the hub of Finse life as has been for decades, even welcoming the Prince of Wales just before the outbreak of the First World War. Cut off from the country’s highway network, with no roads leading here, it limits the number of people who stop. You’ll need to arrive by train, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular mountain beauty as well as the chance to enjoy amazing walks, including glacier treks, without encountering another person.
While the majority of “Revenge of the Sith” was shot at Fox Studios Australia using green screen technology, George Lucas did occasionally send crews out to capture scenery in a number of different locations around the world for the plate photography used in background shots. One of those places was the magnificent mountain range of Grindelwald, Switzerland, used as the backdrop for Princess Leia’s homeworld, the planet Alderaan. Located in the heart of the Bernese Alps, one of the three main Alpine centers, Grindelwald is a popular destination with mountain lovers, boasting the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger mountains. Grindelwald is a fabulous place for hiking, world-class skiing and enjoying outstanding cuisine as well as great accommodation and hospitality.
The desert scenes in “The Force Awakens were filmed in the Empty Quarter, or Rub’ al Khali Desert. The film set was just a couple of hours outside of Abu Dhabi. The Empty Quarter in the southeastern interior of the Arabian Peninsula is the largest continuous body of sand on earth. The dunes are popular with motorsports enthusiasts, especially driving over them in a four-by-four, as well as for activities like camel riding and campfire barbecues. The sand is soft, with multi-colored hues of orange and khaki, rolling in windswept hills rising hundreds of feet for as far as the eye can see – unbroken by shrub or tree. At night, the sky is bursting with sparkling stars as time seems to evaporate.
Qasr Al Sarab by Anantara is a resort here that offers an authentic desert experience, deep in the dunes, as well as offering a swimming pool, desert sailing, dune bashing and camel trekking.
A number of locations around Tunisia were used to film exteriors for the desert planet Tatooine, including the ferry port town of Ajim, located on the island of Djerba off Tunisia’s coast. An old mosque appeared as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s home. In Matmata, a small Berber speaking town in southern Tunisia, Hotel Sidi Driss, often referred to as the “Star Wars hotel,” was used as the Lars homestead, Luke Skywalker’s childhood home, in “A New Hope. The small town is a settlement where residents have long led a simple life, living in traditional underground “troglodyte” structures and producing olive oil as a means to get by. Hotel guests can dine in the Lars family dining room, which is the hotel’s restaurant. The set dressings were initially removed after filming in 1976, but returned about 25 years later to shoot scenes for “Attack of the Clones,” and have remained ever since.
Visitors can also walk around the town’s unique sub-surface homes, exploring traditional Berber ways of life.
Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, a tranquil, moss-carpeted woodland where JRR Tolkien is said to have found the inspiration for the forests of Middle Earth, is also reaping the benefits of the Star Wars phenomenon. This gorgeous landscape has long been a favorite with fans of TV shows like “Dr. Who” and “Merlin,” which had scenes shot among its dense foliage. In the “Force Awakens,” it served as the Forest Moon of Endor inhabited by Ewoks. As this Gloucestershire park has become such a popular destination, the local tourism board created a Film and TV trail, making it easy for visitors to find the key filming locations.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, a former working farm converted into a stylish boutique hotel, is set among the woodlands of the magical Forest of Dean.
Tikal is one of the largest Mayan cities ever uncovered, housing the most stunning ruins in Guatemala, similar to the pre-Columbian splendor of Chichen Itza in Mexico. In “A New Hope, the ancient ruins were used as the exterior of the Rebel Alliance’s Massassi outpost on the fourth moon of Yavin. George Lucas was said to have chosen the location after seeing it on a poster at a London travel agency. The ruins are set in the heart of a vast jungle through which visitors must hike from temple to temple. Along the way, the miles and miles of trails also provide the opportunity to see all sorts of wildlife, like howler monkeys, spider monkeys and deer as well as beautiful birds, such as parrots and toucans.
The Tikal Inn Hotel offers a variety of packages allowing visitors to spend the night right in Tikal and just a 10-minute walk from the main temples.
Rather than heading all the way back to Tunisia, filmmakers and producers chose the Buttercup Valley in the Yuma Desert to shoot the Sarlacc Pit sequence in “Return of the Jedi.” The building of Jabba’s Sarlacc Pit and Sail Barge was said to take over five months – and filming also brought some 5,500 cast and crew members to the region back in 1982. If you want to check it out, Yuma serves as the gateway to America’s largest mass of inland sand dunes. The dunes stretch for over 40 miles along the eastern edge of the Imperial Valley in California. They serve as a natural sand playground for off-road enthusiasts. Vehicle camping is also permitted throughout the areas that are open to vehicles, with sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. The main camping areas include Midway and Buttercup.
Caserta, located in southern Italy about 15 miles from Naples, is home to the 18th-century Palace of Caserta. It was used to film the interiors of the Theed Royal Palace on Naboo in “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” Originally built for Bourbon King Charles III, it’s is also the largest royal palace in Italy. The monumental complex rivals even Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid, bringing together a stunning palace with a fountain-filled park and beautiful gardens along with natural woodland, hunting lodges and a silk factory.
In addition to taking a guided tour of the palace, while in Caserta, visit the 19th-century Duomo, a lovely church which preserves numerous works of art as well as the Church of St Sebastiano, a single nave church with an atrium guarding a very interesting painting dated back to the second half of the 17th-century. The Modern Art Museum offers a good glimpse of the vibrant modern art of southern Italy.
The Lake District in England is renowned for its incredible scenic beauty, so not surprisingly, some of the most picturesque shots in “The Force Awakens” were filmed here. In the movie when Rey (Daisy Ridley), arrives into the area for the first time, she exclaims, “I didn’t know there was so much green in the whole galaxy.” That’s something that most visitors can definitely relate too. Home to some of Britain’s finest scenery, it features the greenest of green landscapes and the grandest views across an area of more than 885 square miles with dazzling lakes, valleys and woodlands. In the autumn, the lakes are surrounded by gold and ruby covered hills. The area draws water sports and hiking enthusiasts as well as artists.
Stay at Lodore Falls, a hotel overlooking Derwent Island and the lake with 40 acres of beautiful grounds as well as award-winning gardens.
Villa del Balbianello, located along the shores of Lake Como, is the lake retreat where Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala go into hiding in “Attack of the Clones.” Originally built in the 18th-century, it served as a monastery before being turned over to the National Trust of Italy in 1988. It also appears as the location for Anakin and Padme’s wedding at the end of the film. The villa, which is open to the public between mid-March and mid-November, features the décor of its last owner, explorer Guido Monzino, with a rich collection of African, Chinese and pre-Colombian art as well as 18th-centuryFrench and English furniture. A small museum contains documents and mementos of his expeditions. The highlight is the panoramic terraced garden, dominated by an elegant “loggia.”
There are numerous accommodation options throughout the Lake Como region, including the four-star Albergo Lenno, overlooking the lake just a 10-minute walk from the villa.
The breathtaking island backdrop of Phang Nga Bay, renowned for its sheer limestone karsts that rise vertically out of the emerald-hued waters, was used as plate photography for Chewbacca’s birthplace, planet Kashyyk, in “Revenge of the Sith.” In some cases, shots of the bay were combined with shots of Guilin, China. Famous James Bond Island, known for its starring role in the James Bond film “The Man With the Golden Gun,” is also found here, but it tends to draw huge crowds. To avoid hordes of tourists, you may want to take one of the boat excursions from the northern end of Phuket, where you’ll cruise through dramatic limestone islands, making the occasional stop to enjoy tranquil beaches.
The capital and largest city of Andalusia, Spain is home to the beautiful Plaza de Espana. It was used for the exterior of Theed on Naboo in “Attack of the Clones.” But it offers visitors a whole lot more than that, with magnificent architecture, gorgeous squares, a rich history and all sorts of cultural attractions – all with a warm atmosphere that’s typical of Spanish cities. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, or Seville Cathedral as it’s often called, is the third-largest church in the world and the largest Gothic cathedral on Earth. From its rooftop, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the city. The royal palace is known as the Alcazar of Seville, once a Moorish fort, is renowned as one of the most stunning in all of Spain as an excellent example of mudéjar architecture.
Mount Etna, located in southern Italy, is the largest and highest active volcano in Europe, soaring into the clouds at nearly 11,000 feet. Although Lucas didn’t shoot any scenes there, it was digitally scouted in order to capture plate photography to be used in backdrops in the Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker lightsaber battle on Mustafar at the end of “Revenge of the Sith.” Conveniently, it happened to erupt during filming, so Lucas did send a crew to film lava flows that were used as moving backgrounds. Eruptions are relatively frequent, resulting in an ever-changing landscape with lava that hardens, craters that collapse – and, in some cases, creating new ones. With black lava sand, volcanic gravel and rocks crunching underfoot, taking a trek here are a world apart from the classic hilltop Baroque towns and idyllic beaches found throughout Sicily. You can take a cable car up from the base that connects with a 4X4 bus taking visitors to a little over 9,000 feet. Once there, a guide meets the vehicle and leads a walk around the area.