Star Wars tourism has been a big industry ever since George Lucas first transported audiences to a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Like many modern blockbusters, the original sci-fi trilogy utilized shooting locations all over the globe to create otherworldly landscapes, cities and planets, and a lasting effect has been fans traveling thousands of miles from their homes to visit the specific spots themselves. For years the concept has brought people to places like Tunisian desert (where Tatooine was first created), Finse, Norway (Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back), and Tikal National Park in Guatemala (Yavin 4 in A New Hope), but now Ireland is ready to become the next big hot spot.
For the creation of the planet Ahch-To in both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson brought their respective productions to the island nation, and utilized the breathtaking sites to create the stunning, isolated home of the legendary Luke Skywalker. It was an incredible choice, as locations like Skellig Michael and the Dingle Peninsula offer up an endless bounty of awe and amazement -- and I can say that with real authority because I had the chance to experience them first-hand last month.
In celebration of Star Wars: The Last Jedi's arrival on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital HD, I joined a small group of other reporters traveling to Ireland back in mid-March, and during a week-long trip dove headfirst into the world of Star Wars. From celebrating St. Patrick's Day with Mark Hamill, to visiting the site of the green milk-spewing Sea Cow, it was an unforgettable experience, and - thanks to lasting memories and a 360 degree camera - one that I will take you back to below and across the next few pages.
St. Patrick's Day In Dublin
There admittedly isn't inherently anything that directly links the histories of Star Wars and St. Patrick's Day, but it does make for a wonderfully splashy start for this story. With the home video release of The Last Jedi scheduled for March, the timing for the trip happened to line up perfectly with the famous Irish holiday, allowing the press group to spend our first full day in the city of Dublin enjoying the raucous festivities. Of course, it should also be noted that the celebration did have an important link this year to the beloved sci-fi saga, as Mark Hamill was honored as the Grand Marshal of the annual parade.
Sitting in the media tent on O'Connell Street Lower (straight-up freezing - admittedly due to personal failure to properly pack for the trip), I had the exceptional experience of actually watching Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Parade, and captured a great deal of it using our 360 camera. At the start of the video above you can watch Mark Hamill's arrival to the event, sitting in the backseat of an old fashioned car and getting the crowd riled up, but stick around for some of the weird, wild and fun floats and performances that proved equally entertaining.
And as if those proceedings weren't exciting enough, later in the afternoon I had the chance to sit down one-one-one with Mark Hamill -- discussing his performance capture role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, his perspective on the future of the franchise, and why Rian Johnson's subversion of fans' expectations was so important.
A Boat Trip To Skellig Michael
Escorted by the company Vagabond Tours, the Sunday after St. Patrick's Day was dedicated to travel, as a five hour drive was required to get from Dublin to County Kerry on the other side of the country. While the length of the journey inspired trepidation when first getting into the van, fun conversation as well as striking vistas helped it pass -- with the bonus of an incredibly rare snowfall making things extra beautiful. There was also our intense collective excitement for what would be our first destination in the region: a trip to the village of Portmagee for a boat ride to Skellig Michael.
In the making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams chose the island Skellig Michael as the shooting location for Ahch-To -- the remote planet where Luke Skywalker lives after going into self-imposed isolation. After traveling there, it's incredibly easy to see why. Not only does it have a rich natural history with similar themes, as monks retreated from society there in between the 6th-8th centuries, but the sites are absolutely stunning. You truly feel a million lightyears away from everything, and the natural rock formations are incredible.
Because landing tours only go out between mid-May and early October due to weather and hiking conditions, we sadly didn't actually get to land on Skellig Michael -- but the trip was no less satisfying. As you can see in the video above, it is remarkable just sailing around the island and its smaller sibling, Little Skellig, witnessing the majesty of the nature as well as the various birds and animals that call it home.
Touring The Beehive Huts
Our boat couldn't land on Skellig Michael, but one of the nice bonuses of the trip is that we still had the chance to have a first-hand experience with one of the location's many aesthetic wonders: the Beehive Huts. The day after the boat ride, Vagabond Tours took us up to the Dingle Peninsula to a location called Hold a Baby Lamb And Beehive Huts -- and you can probably take a pretty accurate guess at what we did there.
After first playing around and feeding a herd of incredibly cute baby lambs, I brought the 360 camera out for an investigation of the many Beehive Huts scattered all over the property. As you can see, a few of them were incomplete -- specifically missing roofs -- but it didn't make their construction any less impressive. They were built in various sizes, some with multiple rooms, and it was amazing to see the intricacy of the stone stacking up close.
All that said, I walked away not exactly envying Luke Skywalker's living conditions on Ahch-To. As cool as they are, they aren't exactly spacious, and certainly not built for the comforts of modern living. And while we happened to visit the location on a particularly beautiful day (very different from the snowy conditions a few days earlier), it's hard to imagine the huts being warm during the coldest days of the year.
Visiting The Sea Cow
Located on the Dingle Peninsula, the Beehive Huts were just a short drive away from our next stop: Dunmore Head off Slea Head Drive, the westernmost tip of mainland Ireland. It took a small hike to get there, parking next to Slea Head Beach and traversing a bit of hilly grassland, but it was worth it to get to two fantastic Star Wars: The Last Jedi shooting locations. It was here where the production filmed the sequence with the giant Sea Cow that Luke Skywalker used to get milk, as well as the shot of his crashed X-Wing below the waves.
The location was instantly recognizable - as I had just re- watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi before my flight to Ireland -- but the trip there was enhanced by the presence of Mike O'Shea, the man who oversaw all safety and logistics for the production during shooting on the Dingle Peninsula and the Skellig Islands. As you can see in the video above, I had the chance to talk with him one-on-one on camera, and he had some fantastic stories about his experience with the production.
It was a stunning final shooting location visit during my trip to Ireland, and a wonderful cap to an extraordinary trip. I'm far from the first to make the journey, as many Star Wars fans from all around the world have already made similar pilgrimages -- but it's just the start of what will surely become a fantastic tradition. It's a place that will now forever be cemented in the great lore of the legendary sci-fi saga, and I personally already can't wait to go back.