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Film

Exploring Skellig Michael, Ireland: The home of Luke Skywalker

Star Wars is one of the most iconic movie franchises of all time. Since it first burst onto the scene in 1977 with A New Hope, it has given us many characters, storylines and orchestral scores that have endured in the common memory and have been favourites of four different generations. 

From the majestic theme tune to the diminutive green imp, Yoda, to the shocking revelation of “I am your father”, there are countless reasons why the space opera has managed to remain relevant all these years.

45 years since the beginning of the franchise, the Star Wars multiverse is still growing with a bit of help from the powerhouse that is Disney. The company, which has masterminded the ubiquity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have also done that for George Lucas’ story, creating films, series, video games and a plethora of other pieces of canon that have breathed life into the series, reminding fans of the resplendence of the galaxy far, far away. 

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The ascendance of Rey, The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda have shown that Star Wars isn’t going away anytime soon, and as the reaction to the upcoming series, Kenobi, has confirmed, there’s as much of an appetite for it in contemporary times as there has ever been.

Duly, for a franchise that is so gargantuan, it has had such a widespread effect on culture that it has also made a significant contribution to the global tourism sector. Given the almost mythological feel of many of the settings of Star Wars, legions of fans of the series flock to far-flung corners of the earth in a bid to be able to breathe in the Midi-chlorian filled air in the hope that force might possibly be real. 

Whether it be Bolivia, Tunisia or Italy, the Star Wars films have utilised some of the most breathtaking environments on the planet, helping to create the beautifully idiosyncratic galaxy that we all love so much. These locations are so remarkable that they transport us to a realm far from reality, giving Star Wars an authenticity that only Lord of the Rings can match. 

Without a doubt, one of the most astounding locations used in Star Wars is Skellig Michael, a twin-pinnacled crag situated 7.2 miles west of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. If one has always been enchanted by the mysterious essence of Ireland, look no further.

Smattered with vegetation and home to a diverse variety of fauna, including puffins, gannets, razorbills and grey seals, it is best known for the Augustinian monastic settlement, shaped like a beehive, near the top of the second summit, which can only be reached by a steep set of over 600 steps.

(Credit: Jerzy Strzelecki)

Containing the remains of a tower house, a megalithic stone row and a weather-worn, cross-inscribed slab known as The Wailing Woman, Skellig Michael is trapped in time, and when crossing the sea to visit, the mystery is palpable. As the Atlantic wind wraps around your skull, you can almost hear the pagan druids of Ireland’s ancient mythology beckoning you. 

Given that it is so connected to the past, and that there is an inextricable connection to religion, Skellig Michael was chosen by the cinematography team to be the Planet Ahch-To, home of the first Jedi Temple and the place master Jedi Luke Skywalker chose for his self-exile in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and it was perfect. Given the isolated, challenging nature of Skellig Michael, the location aesthetically paralleled the hermetic life that Luke had taken up after the tragic events at his Jedi School.

It may come as little surprise to find out that the island is one of the most sought after tourist spots in Ireland and that it is a UNESCO protected site due to its importance culturally, archaeologically and environmentally. Only 150 visitors are admitted each day, as authorities struggle to balance the booming tourism in the area with conserving its defining features. If ever in the area, attempting to visit is an absolute must, as I guarantee you will never have been anywhere quite as astounding in the British Isles. 

Asked why Skellig Michael was chosen, the production designer on the ‘Skywalker Saga’, Rick Carter, explained that the crew “wanted to make sure that wherever we went in this movie you always felt that you were really there”. He continued by heaping praise on the rugged pyramid, saying it is “just amazing, the scenery is amazing, the heritage is amazing, and the wildlife is amazing”.

Echoing this sentiment, whilst touching on the challenging environment of Skellig Michael, Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill told Moviefone“It’s unlike any other place I’ve been on this planet, so it’s easy to imagine that you’re in a galaxy far, far away… it’s brutal to get to the top. I mean, it looks nice from a distance, and then you get there, and you know, there’s over 600 steps that are this high (gestures), so it took everything I had to get to the top, but once you get there, you realise how worth it it is.” Hamill appended, “the beauty of this country is just indescribable.”

An incredible piece of history that is directly connected to Ireland’s earliest days, Skellig Michael is somewhere everyone should visit, even if you’re not a fan of Star Wars. Ireland’s very own version of Tintagel, it’s quite astounding that this ancient island isn’t more well-known in the mainstream, as it’s every bit as magical as Giant’s Causeway.

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