Every little kid growing up watching the Star Wars movies wishes he or she could visit the exotic locations that Luke, Han, Anakin, Leia, and Padme get to experience. Flying through space in the Millenium Falcon would be a dream come true for Star Wars fans by itself, but then arriving at a spaceport on Tatooine or setting down on a landing platform on Cloud City would be the perfect beginning to any fantastic adventure. Of course, we can’t visit these places or even fly through space like Han Solo does because the Star Wars movies, despite how much CGI creator George Lucas threw at them, are still just fiction.
The good news is, while we can’t visit the Star Wars galaxy, there are plenty of places on Earth with real connections to Star Wars that can be visited. The classic Star Wars trilogy was filmed in locations all over the world, and while Lucas became a little obsessed with computer generated scenery in the prequel trilogy, that set of movies also featured a few real, terrestrial locations. Beside filming locations, Star Wars fans may be interested in other places associated with the making of the Star Wars Universe. Some of the places on this list are open to the public while others are not; some places require a passport while others may not, but for a Star Wars fan, all of these places would certainly be worth a visit to feel a little closer to the galaxy we love.
10. Elstree Studios – Borehamwood, England
The small town of Borehamwood, just north of London, England, is the home of one of the most important movie studios in Europe. Elstree Studios went into business in 1926, pioneering European silent cinema, and later the first “Talkie” films. The studio had converted to mostly television production in the 1970s when George Lucas decided to use the space for the original Star Wars filming. Star Wars production utilized the entire studio, bringing much needed capital to the country and reinvigorating the British film industry.
Lucas enjoyed the studio so much, he shot Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and a few pick up shots for Attack of the Clones there. He also utilized the space for Willow and Labyrinth and had his buddy Steven Spielberg use the space for the Indiana Jones trilogy and Saving Private Ryan. The association between Elstree Studios and Lucas is so strong, in 1999 they officially christened Sound Stage 1 the George Lucas Stage. If you visit or live in England, this is a can’t miss destination.
9. “Endor” – Crescent City, California
While the Ewok village that appears in Return of the Jedi was a huge sound stage built at Elstree Studios, the outside locations, including the massive ground battle of Endor were filmed in a Redwood forest outside of Crescent City, in Northern California. The Return of the Jedi production team needed a dense forest that would represent Endor but could also have the hell blown out of it in the action scenes, which ruled out any kind of state or national park, as these are protected by the United States government. The production manager for Return of the Jedi, Miki Herman, found the perfect part of forest, which was private property owned by Rellim Redwood Co.
The forest was slated to be logged, so Rellim didn’t mind if Lucas destroyed trees which were already scheduled for destruction. The actual location looks much different now, but if you travel through Northern California, you can take heart knowing the trees you see are the same as those on Endor.
8. “Theed, The Capital Of The Naboo” – Seville, Spain
Naboo is maybe the most beautiful planet seen in the Star Wars movies, with majestic waterfalls, verdant foliage, and gorgeous skylines. The planet is also hollow (hey, who needs a realistic understanding of geology anyway?) and almost entirely created through the wonder of computer animation. However, several scenes on Naboo actually used real sets, which can be found in some of the most beautiful places on our planet. First, the Plaza de Espana in Seville, Spain. The Plaza de Espana is a real piece of art, built in 1929 to serve as the centerpiece of that year’s Ibero-American Expo.
The Spanish government uses the interior as office space, while the exterior is promoted to tourists traveling through Spain. Lucas used sections of the Plaza as Theed Palace in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
7. “Naboo Lake Retreat” – Lenno, Italy
In Italy, on the coast of Lake Como, lies one of Lenno, Italy’s most famous buildings: the Villa Del Balbianello. The villa was originally built as a monastery in the late 1700s, and converted into a private mansion many years later. Currently, it is owned by the Italian government and used as a destination for tourists. The Villa appeared prominently in Attack of the Clones as Padme’s lakeside hiding place, equipped with breathtaking views and computer animated fruit. Lucas took this most beautiful building and heavily modified it with more computer animation for some reason, but the natural appeal of Lake Como is still obvious. The Villa Del Balbianello was also used as the convalescence home for James Bond at the end of Casino Royale. In this movie you can see the building in a more natural state.
6. Legoland Theme Parks – California, Germany, And Denmark
Lego began making Star Wars sets in 1999, and they were amazing. At the time, being able to play with Lego versions of X-wing starfighters and Imperial TIE fighters was mind blowing. Since 1999, the Lego sets have gotten more and more elaborate, and Lego has expanded its brand into the theme park world. Legoland parks in Carlsbad, California, Billund, Denmark, and Gunzberg, Germany have made Star Wars a “big” presence in their parks by added iconic scenes from the movies to their Miniland park area. Miniland, in each park, is an astonishing feat of Lego engineering, where real life and artificial scenery are reproduced in Lego brick format on a 1:20 scale.
The Star Wars section of Miniland features seven different Star Wars scenes, which include Naboo, Geonosis, Kashyyyk, Tatooine, Hoth, Endor, and Christophsis. Go to your nearest Legoland and see this amazing display for your self.
5. “Hoth” – Finse, Norway
You may want to put on a winter jacket when traveling to Finse, Norway. Now put on another one, because just outside of Finse is the filming location for Hoth, from the Empire Strikes Back. Lucas needed a spot on Earth that could stand in for the icy, frozen wasteland of Hoth, and the icy, frozen wasteland of Norway’s many glaciers were perfect for the film. Finse could house the film crews and actors, while going to someplace like Antartica would have been impractical and dangerous. Lucas, and the people of Finse for that matter, got a little more than they bargained for while the movie was filming though. Norway was hammered by furious storms that spring, which plunged the temperature many degrees below freezing and dropped many feet of snow. Hoth wound up looking a lot worst than Finse normally does.
4. “Tatooine” – Yuma, Arizona And Death Valley, California
Mostly, we know of Tatooine filming being associated with Tunisia, but a few spots in the United States also played host to everyone’s favorite desert planet. In the original Star Wars, George Lucas and his team traveled to Death Valley in California for several pick up shots, including the shots featuring Banthas. However, the desert outside of Yuma, Arizona was featured much more prominently as Tatooine in Return of the Jedi. The people of Yuma are no strangers to film crews using their sand dunes (the planet Abydos from Stargate for example), but Return of the Jedi filming in their backyard was a big deal at the time.
The scenes with Jabba’s sail barge at the Sarlaac pit were all filmed outside of Yuma. The temperature can get a little uncomfortable sometimes in Arizona, but Yuma’s famous dunes are still worth the visit.
3. Disney Theme Parks – Worldwide
For a Star Wars fan, Disney Parks’ Star Tours is a must-do experience. Even before they purchased Lucasfilm, Disney had a Star Wars presence in their parks, with a Star Wars festival held every year at Disney World in Florida, a Tomorrowland Star Wars overlay planned for Disneyland California, and an actual Star Wars park being planned out for the theme parks in America, Paris, Tokyo, and China. Star Tours has been part of Disney for so long it seems like there couldn’t be a fan who hasn’t ridden it yet, but if any of you haven’t, you absolutely must.
Opened in 1987, as part of Disneyland California’s Tomorrowland, Star Tours presented itself as a vacation trip to the planet Endor, a trip that goes horribly wrong when the incompetent pilot Rex continues to mess up. The ride was so popular, Tomorrowland in Tokyo Disneyland, Hollywood Studios in Disney World, and Discoveryland in Paris Disneyland opened their own version several years later. While Paris still runs the original, the other three Star Tours were completely updated in 2011, so now C-3P0 pilots the ship to two of six locations chosen randomly: Hoth, Kashyyyk, Tatooine, Naboo, Geonosis, or Coruscant.
2. Skywalker Ranch And The Letterman Digital Arts Center – San Fransciso, California
Actually seeing where the “magic” happens is on the wish list of any Star Wars fan. George Lucas built his amazing Skywalker Ranch, just outside of San Francisco in Marin County, to be the home base for his empire. Lucasfilm, ILM, Skywalker Sound, and Lucas Licensing all used to work here, producing out of the multi-million dollar structure that serves as basically a movie studio without the actual studio space.
The property is private, but to see the actual writing, story boarding, and special effects work being performed must have been amazing. In 2004, Lucas built the Letterman Digital Arts Center on the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco. The Presidio had been abandoned by the US military, and Lucas saw a chance to expand his facilities. While Skywalker Sound still works out of the Ranch, the actual Lucasfilm and ILM divisions now operate on the base, putting the Letterman DAC to good use.
1. “Tatooine” – Tunisia
Tunisia has been a kind of Holy Grail for Star Wars fans because most of the Tatooine scenes for the original Star Wars and Phantom Menace were shot here. Also, because after filming A New Hope in the 1970s, the production left behind several props which the Tunisians simply left alone. Things like the Krayt Dragon skeleton C-3PO walks past in the movie were still in Tunisia, and Star Wars fans did a pretty good job of leaving them there for other fans to discover. The town of Mos Eisley was filmed in Jerba, with the unique looking buildings barely altered for the movie. More famous, the town Matmata is the home to the Sidi Driss Hotel, which was used as the Lars family homestead.
It’s amazing to realize that the home Luke Skywalker grew up in was not a sound stage, but an actual building open to the public! The Sidi Driss decor still appears almost identical to the decor of the 1970s, so taking a vacation there really feels like you are part of the Star Wars Universe.
Reynolds, David West. Return to Tatooine. Star Wars Insider issue 27. 1995. Print.
Newborn, Alex. Taking off on a Star Tour. Star Wars Insider issue 104. November 2008. Print.
Reynolds, David West. Star Wars Road Trip. Star Wars Insider Issue 48. March 2000. Print.
Kaiser, David. Elstree Studios. Star Wars Insider Issue 63. November 2002. Print.
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