Make a pilgrimage of a lifetime to these Star Wars film locales that are not a galaxy far, far away
With the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens just around the corner and anticipation for it at fever pitch, the film’s success can be attributed to its enrapturing storyline, dramatic costumes, bizarre characters, among others… but none of these have quite the effect if it were not for the very real film locations that set each scene. Believe it or not, a large part of the landscape is not filmed with a CGI green screen but take place in some of the most poignantly beautiful parts of the world! From Tunisia to Italy, from California to Norway, these sites form the not-quite-fictional Star Wars world.
Sidi Driss Hotel, Tunisia
Scene: Luke Skywalker’s home on the Planet Tatooine
Tunisia was the most popular shooting locations for the first set of the films but perhaps the most famous Star Wars trademark would be the home of Luke Skywalker shot at the Hotel Sidi Driss, Matmara. The centuries old Berber homes were borrowed as the interiors of young Luke’s childhood home on the Planet Tatooine. Today, tourists can experience traditional troglodyte lodgings as well as admire the set decorations that still remain from 2000.
Tikal National Park, Guatemala
Scene: Rebel Alliance of Yavin
The backdrop for the Rebel Alliance’s Massassi outpost on the fourth moon of Yavin was no CGI scene in A New Hope – it was a Guatemalan rainforest with thousand-year-old Mayan ruins and temples. Yes, This awe-inspiring spot on earth is known as Tik’al, and is one of the largest complexes of Mayan civilisation. Tikal National park is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas and houses some of the most stunning archaeological remains of the ancient civilisation.
Palace of Caserta, Italy
Scene: Royal Palace for Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace and Queen Jamilla’s palace in Attack of the Clones
In the real world, Queen Amidala’s palace served as homes for the kings of Naples in the 18th century, and is one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world. Some of the scenes shot in Episode I, II and III such as the flight of Padme and the battle for Naboo were filmed here as the Theed Royal Palace. Besides Star Wars, the Palace of Caserta has been used to shoot a number of Hollywood blockbusters, and is comparable to the Palace of Versailles in France, and even used as a substitute for the Vatican, in some films.
Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como
Scene: Marriage location of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala in Attack of the Clones
Should you endeavour to tick off more Star Wars film sets after visiting the Palace of Caserta, head to the North of Italy and book yourself into the Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como. This locale is said to be one of the most sumptuous scenery throughout the Star Wars series, used as the hiding place and wedding scene for Anakin and Padme, that today, attracts honeymooners and lovebirds from all over the world. Although part of the villa’s exteriors was altered digitally in the film, you’ll easily recognise the balcony where the pair shared a kiss.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California
Scene: Endor, home of the Ewoks and second Death Star’s shield generator
Step into Redwoods State Park, California, and you might just encounter a furry Ewok. The park set the scene for the memorable Endor, the lush forest that Ewoks call home, and where the destruction of the second Death Star began. If you’re also an outdoorsy type, the forest provides 20 miles of nature trails and hikes through the giant redwoods, and along the way, keep your eyes peeled for a variety of wildlife, namely squirrels, skunks, mountain lions and black bears. They may not be as exciting as Ewoks, but they sure inject great fun into the forest exploration adventure that still gives an unmistakable feel of the movie’s chase scenes.
Plaza de España, Seville
Scene: City of Naboo and the Exterior of Queen Amidala’s palace
Venture outdoors from the Royal Palace with a location we know as Italy, and you’ll find yourself in the Plaza de España of Seville, Spain. The city of Theed is actually the very real square built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, and the breathtaking site features a half-circle of a moat with four bridges, tiled fountains, walls, pavilions, ponds and trees stretching half a mile. Pavilions are now museums that hold the archaeological collections of the city. To set the backdrop for scenes from Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace, the plaza was stretched to a full circle, and towers and green Domes of Naboo were erected.
Scene: Alderaan, home to Princess Leia
Although Grindelwald only appeared briefly throughout the Star Wars mythology, the mountain range played an important role of Alderaan, home to Princess Leia. Although Alderaan went on to being blown up by a Death Star in Episode IV, Gindelwald is still very much real and accessible year round, and is notably known for its snow-capped mountains, quaint alpine villages 1000m above sea level, skiing resorts and hiking expeditions. Ticking off a true-blue winter holiday and Star Wars set location visit has never been more enticing.
Whippendale Woods, UK
Scene: Forest of Naboo and home of Jar Jar Binks
The home of Jar Jar Binks was actually right in the backyard of the Star Wars studio, Leavesden Film Studios in Watford England. Whippendale Woods played the part as Forest of Naboo, where Jar Jar encountered Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace. A walk through the footpaths will take you through trees that go back since the 1600s. To visit the famous locations, make your way into the woods from the studio and you’ll be there in no time. Fun fact: although Gungans like Jar Jar reside underwater, all shots with water were digitally manipulated as the forest had no ponds or lakes.
Scene: Epic battle in Empire Strikes Back
The snowy village of Finse received notable screen time in The Empire Strikes Back, where epic battle scenes were shot. Finse played the icy planet of Hoth, but the desolate, freezing landscape is actually a tourist magnet for skiers, outdoorsy types and history buffs. It is also during winter that the glacier is the easiest to tour and you can access it through the village – you’d want to marvel at an impressive 16-kilometre ice sheet and thrill at the sandstorms which were also featured in the movie!