Even the galaxy's most famous Jedi Master was drawn to the raw natural powers that have shaped Ireland's Western coastline.
The Last Jedi: Looking for Luke
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... The FIRST ORDER reigns. The evil Supreme Leader Snoke has taken control of the galaxy, and Jedi Master Luke Skywalker is in hiding - on a small green island on the edge of the universe.
Being a Star Wars fan myself, you can imagine my excitement when I received an invitation from Failte Ireland to find out why Luke had chosen this particular island as his final hiding place.
After touching down at Kerry Airport, my two hosts Jo and Joan from Failte Ireland took me on a three-day rollercoaster trip along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Sybil Head - Location of the Beehive Set
We made our way along the narrow Slea Head Drive around the westernmost point of the Dingle peninsula, where the views opened up towards Ceann Sibéal (= Sybil Head).
On the slopes of Sybil Head, a big set was constructed for The Last Jedi. A patch of bad weather during filming prevented cast and crew from accessing the island of Skellig Michael with its distinctive beehive huts which features as Luke's home in The Force Awakens. The producers then decided to recreate the huts on the mainland.
The area was also used to portray the entrance to the underwater cave that Rey swims into before she confronts her inner self.
The Moorings in Portmagee - Luke's Drinking Hole
It was getting dark fast, so we headed off on the 1.5 hour drive to Portmagee on the Ring of Kerry, where we had booked in at The Moorings guesthouse.
Whilst eating a delicious seafood platter, we were joined by Patricia and Gerard Kennedy who have been successfully running (and expanding) the guesthouse since 1988. They both have plenty of stories to tell but the one I was most interested in was their involvement with Star Wars.
As it happened, for three days in August 2014, the crew of The Force Awakens used the guesthouse as their production base while filming scenes on the nearby island of Skellig Michael. And as luck had it, one year later Star Wars returned to Portmagee for The Last Jedi. Again, the crew stayed for three days, leaving for Skellig Michael early in the morning and returning in the evening.
The restaurant's bar was a popular hangout for both cast and crew and during the wrap party of The Last Jedi, Mark Hamill decided to test his skills at pulling a pint of Guinness behind the bar. Business-savy Patricia and Gerard grabbed the opportunity and fans can now partake in the 'Force Pulling Pint Challenge'.
Dreaming of Skellig Michael - Home of Luke Skywalker
The next morning, Jo and Joan insisted on leaving early. As the season for visiting Skellig Michael was over (it only runs from April to October), their idea was to take me on a morning walk up to Bray Head and get a glimpse of Luke Skywalker's island from afar.
We then visited the Skellig Experience, an exhibition space dedicated to the history, fauna and underwater world of the Skelligs. It was interesting to stroll through the exhibition, but the highlight was the documentary about Skellig Michael which is shown at regular intervals in a purpose-built screening space.
Malin Head - Landing Site of the Millennium Falcon
For my last location visit, we had to travel all the way north to the moors of the Inishowen peninsula and Ireland's most northerly point - Malin Head.
Here we met Bren Whelan from Donegal Climbing for our walking tour to the nearby Star Wars - The Last Jedi location. Not only is Bren a very experienced climber and outdoor specialist - he also worked on set as a safety instructor. Plus, the location is on private land and Bren is the only outsider who is permitted to access it.
The main reason the filmmakers selected this site was its close resemblance to the geological features of Skellig Michael, as not all of the necessary Achh-To scenes could be done on the island. The Malin Head location proved an ideal stand is as the landing site of the Millennium Falcon, and local builders were employed to build a life-size model of the spaceship.
Filming at the Malin Head location took place over three days in May 2016. While the main focus was on the constructed set of the Millennium Falcon, a significant number of fighting scenes between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren were shot here (though they didn't make it into the finished version of the movie).
The raw natural power of the place is simply spectacular and you feel very much like you're on the water planet of Achh-To.
Farren's Bar and McGrory's - Popular Hang-outs of Cast and Crew
Back in civilisation, we needed a hot cuppa at nearby Farren's Bar. No Irish mainlaind pub is further north, an obvious reason for the Star Wars cast and crew to drop by for the odd drink.
On the last day of filming, Mark Hamill stopped by, posed for some photos with owner Hugh Farren and signed a Stormtrooper boot which is now proudly displayed in the cabinet behind the bar. Hugh recalls how Donegal and the Inishowen Peninsula felt like the centre of the world for the two weeks the Star Wars crew were in town.
After a lovely chat with Hugh, we were ready for lunch - and what better place to go to than McGrory's, a family-run hotel, popular restaurant and legendary music venue.
On our way back to Dublin Airport, I finally had some time to reflect. Obviously, I didn't find Luke but his legacy amongst the locals is strong - wherever I went, people have capiltalised on the opportunities that Star Wars has brought to rural communities along the Wild Atlantic Way. I'm convinced that the fans will flock to these amazing locations for many years to come.
Go mbeidh an fórsa leat! (May the force be with you!)
Useful sources of information and additional tips for planning your visit:
- The best online resource for pre-trip research is the official website of the Wild Atlantic Way.
- Get a first impression of Skellig Michael and its role in Star Wars episodes VII and VIII.
- Test your pint pulling skills at The Moorings Bar and Restaurant.
- Visit the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre for their fantastic documentary screenings on Skellig Michael.
- Take a walk to the Millennium Falcon site with former Star Wars crew member Bren Whelan.
- Talk to Hugh at Farren's Bar about his personal encounter with Mark Hamill. If you're nice, Hugh might even show you the Stormtrooper boot signed by the Jedi Master himself.
- Attend one of the legendary music gigs at McGrory's (as did the cast and crew of The Last Jedi).
- Local fan Denise Henry currently runs two sites relating to Star Wars in Ireland: the Ahch-To Way which details the film locations in Ireland, and Ahch-To Stories - a platform for sharing stories related to and inspired by Ireland's role in the Star Wars Universe as Ahch-To.
The Last Jedi: Looking for Luke
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