Luke Skywalker’s peaceful and solitary existence on Skellig Michael gets upended when he meets Rey, a young woman who shows strong signs of the Force. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, follows on from where its 2015 predecessor, The Force Awakens, left off. But where Skellig Michael got its Hollywood close-up in the previous film for just the closing, but spectacular, few minutes, this time around the prehistoric monastic island dominates a large chunk of the new movie. Indeed, the stunning standard of cinematography is such that the island is the biggest star in the movie, with some industry insiders labelling it “the best advert for Ireland ever made.”
With a high-powered cast starring the late Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Benecio del Toro and our own Domhnall Gleeson, this will be the longest ever Star Wars film at two and a half hours. Much of the film, and particularly in those early scenes on Scellig Michael, revolve around Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill, and who set in motion the plot’s forward momentum. The hero of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker, has spent years hidden away on this windswept isle — a once proud Jedi knight now turned broken and bitter at the cards life has dealt him. Rey has finally tracked the former galactic hero down to his lair, and hands him his trusty lightsabre — an offering she hopes will convince him to train her in the ways of the Jedi, and fashion her fighting skills as the next generation to fight the Evil Empire.
— @HamillHimself (@HamillHimself) May 25, 2016
Mark Hamill said of his time filming in Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way:
“I remember, I had this feeling that rushed over me when I was at the top of Skellig Michael, because the first thing we did on the original Star Wars, before Carrie came over or Harrison came over. I went with Sir Alec and Anthony and Kenny Baker – the two droids – and we went and we did the desert scenes in Tunisia,” he revealed.
We were out on the salt flats, which was 360 degrees of horizon, because it was built over- nothing grows there, because there was salt water underneath. And in between shots if I turned away and had the crew to my back, you could look out and in this unearthly terrain and the robots by your side and the floating car and the stand, and you’re in this outfit…
“It was very easy to just be transported and really feel like you were in a galaxy far, far away. It was just – y’know, I got the chills. And I never had that feeling again, until – not in Empire, when we went to Norway, it was brutally cold, but snow is snow, I’ve seen it before. In Jedi, we went to the Redwood forest, and again, gorgeous, but again, it was something that I was familiar with.
Skellig, you’re up at the top, and I didn’t expect this to happen but I was sort of off to myself, and it was just at sunset, and there was the craggy rocks coming up, and I had that same feeling: ‘Oh my gosh, this is like being in another world.’ And as much as I joked and complained about having to climb that endless… Y’know, also, it was built in the 1100’s, and you go ‘How did they get these stones out the island in the first place?’, y’know? These monks must have built canoes or who knows, but it is a really extraordinary place.”
When the cast and crew of Star Wars: The Last Jedi returned to Ireland, they headed straight to Skellig Michael in County Kerry, where Rey finally discovered Luke. But this didn’t signal the end of the Irish Star Wars journey. The location scouts were so taken with the Wild Atlantic Way, locations from Cork and Kerry to Clare and Donegal were also handpicked to appear in the movie. And so, cast and crew made the western edge of Ireland their home during filming. And the locals? Well, they were delighted the Jedi were coming to town!
When filming at Skellig Michael wrapped, the crew headed to Malin Head in Donegal – Ireland’s most northerly point, on the Inishowen Peninsula. Hugh Farren, proprietor of Farren’s Bar, recalls the visit well: “It was unbelievable that Star Wars was filming a mile and a half away from us. The buzz that we had for the month was surreal”. Naturally, Hugh wanted to mark the occasion, so he painted a mural of Yoda on the side of his pub.
Yoda didn’t go unnoticed. During his downtime, Mark Hamill (AKA Luke Skywalker) popped into Farren’s Bar for a pint and some inter-galactic banter! And, despite heavy security, Hugh recalls that fans also flocked to Malin Head to catch a glimpse of their heroes. As one of the few pubs past the first line of security, Farren’s was often full of fans. “It was out of this world,” said Hugh. For a few weeks, Malin Head felt like a galaxy far, far away.
The Star Wars folks obviously enjoyed their time here. In fact, when the entire shoot wrapped, LucasFilm took out no less than eight thank you ads in local newspapers up and down the Wild Atlantic Way, as well as an ad in national newspaper the Irish Examiner! To paraphrase their stay here, the cast and crew were “captivated by the Wild Atlantic Way and their journey to Ireland”.
For more on the locations in the Southern Peninsulas of West Cork and Kerry see:
“Go mbeidh an fórsa leat! — May the force be with you!”