Ireland: Star Wars - Episodes VII and VIIISkellig Michael: Home of Luke Skywalker
Skellig Michael is one of those places that seems to have been pulled straight out of a foreign galaxy, which is exactly how the team behind The Force Awakens experienced filming on the island back in 2014. As supervising location manager Martin Joy put it: "We were just blown away by it. It’s an extraordinary place. It certainly fed into our Star Wars universe." And director J.J. Abrams remarked: "I can’t believe they let us shoot there, it was so beautiful. I felt the standard had to be authenticity, the standard had to be reality."
In September 2015, the cast and crew of the The Last Jedi returned to Skellig Michael, this time under the helm of a new director - Rian Johnson. While the island only features in the final scenes of the previous movie, it has a pivotal role in The Last Jedi and features throughout the entire story.
The biggest challenge for both crews was simply to get to the island in the first place: It's only accessible in a small boat and the 45 minute ride can be very rough.
For the rest of us, the opportunity to visit Skellig Michael has a very limited season - lasting from May to October. Only fifteen boats have the concessions to take tourists out to the island. Even if you're lucky enough to secure a place on one of the boats, the weather conditions might not play along. Most of the boats depart from the town of Portmagee, with additional tours leaving from Valentia and Ballinskelligs.
On the way to Skellig Michael, boats pass the smaller island of Little Skellig, which hosts one of the world's larget gannet populations.
Landing on Skellig Michael is an experience in itself, in particular if there is a swell. But once you're on the island, the adventure really starts. In order to reach the famous beehive huts left behind by the monks, visitors need to scale more than 600 steps, most of which are roughly hewn. It's a steep climb and there are no handrails. People have actually died from falling over the edge!
Needless to say that all the hard work pays off when you reach the monastery - and not just for the spectacular views. This is a very special place, imbued with history and deep spiritual meaning.
Trip times allow for about 2.5 hours spent on the island. It takes about 45 minutes for the hike up to the monastery (and the same back down), so visitors usually spend about 60 minutes at the top of the island. This is plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, have a picnic and do some puffin-watching.
The water planet of Ahch-To consists of an endless ocean dotted with small rocky archipelagos. The planet would be a fairly insignificant dot in the Star Wars universe, were it not for the fact that it's widely considered the birthplace of the Order of the Jedi.
Long before the events in The Force Awakens unfold, Luke Skywalker has exiled himself to Ahch-To. His whereabouts are unknown, even amongst his best friends.
Finn: "Do you know what happened to him?"
Han Solo: "There're a lot of rumors. Stories. The people who knew him the best think he went looking for the first Jedi temple."
Indeed, Luke now lives on one of the rocky islands on Ahch-To, on a quest to find the aforementioned temple. When the Resistance identifies two fragments of a hidden map pointing towards the planet, Rey, Chewbacca and R2-D2 travel to Ahch-To. Rey scales the steps to the top of the island alone, where she encounters a cloaked figure standing on the edge of a cliff.
CUT TO: The Last Jedi
Luke repeatedly refuses to train Rey to control the Force.
In the official trailer for The Last Jedi, Skellig Michael features from minute 0:24 to 0:52.
The boats depart from Portmagee (12 boats), Valentia Island (1 boat: the departure point is opposite Portmagee - just across the bridge to the island), Ballinskelligs (1 boat) and Caherdaniel (1 boat).
General tips when planning a trip to Skellig Michael
- Book as far in advance as you can.
- Bring food and drink - there are no shops on Skellig Michael.
- If you're prone to sea sickness, take the necessary precautions.
- The island does not have any toilets, so it probably pays to do your business on the boat before embarking.
- Take a raincoat - the weather out there can be unpredictable.
- Boat departures are staggered between 8.30am and 10am. All visitors are encouraged to be at the marina at least a half an hour before sailing time.
- For the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on boat trips to the island, head over to SkelligMichael.com.
Accommodation: The Moorings, Portmagee
A great place to stay is the guesthouse The Moorings in Portmagee: It was used as the main office by the crews of both movies and owners Patricia and Gerard have plenty of Star Wars stories to tell. They even offer a 2-night Star Wars package, which includes a pint pulling challenge where you pull your own pint of Guinness in the same bar that Mark Hamill did.
The Skellig Experience
A good place to while away some time when the sun is not laughing. The exhibition is focused on Skellig Michael, and split into four themes: The history and archaeology of Skellig Michael, sea birds and their habitat, the lighthouses on the island and the fascinating underwater world around Skellig. The building also houses a movie theatre that regularly screens a short documentary about the island.
Due to the fact that any commercial tour boat operator has to reapply for a concession every year, we can't include any contact details or recommendations for specific boat tours.