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Before Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tour Its Real-Life Film Locations

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The Star Wars franchise has an active global following, which became increasingly apparent during filming for J.J. Abrams's anticipated addition to the series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, last year. Despite setting up in exotic locales, including a remote Irish island and the center of an empty Arabian deserts, and attempting to stay off the media radar, the crew still became an object of fascination across the globe. One Irish designer, excited the crew was shooting on a picturesque island off of Ireland's west coast, even created a T-shirt to commemorate the isle's cinematic cameo. While the plot of the film, and the significance of these filming locations, has been kept relatively secret in anticipation of the premier next weekend, between trailers and early reports, it's possible to put together a tour of some of the new sites in the Star Wars universe.

Krafla Volcano and My'vatn Lake, Iceland
A remote wilderness in the northeast corner of Iceland, these two natural wonders formed the backdrop of a wintery battle scene in the forthcoming film. Craters, lava fields and caldera, a type of volcanic chamber, dot the surrounding landscape, known by tourists for its exotic terrain (including the Dimmuborgir rock formations and the massive Dettifoss waterfall), natural baths and great seats to take in the Northern Lights. It's also known by Game of Thrones, as it served as territory north of The Wall. The lake and surrounding wetlands are part of a massive natural preserve renowned as a home for birds, though its Icelandic name, which means "lake of midges," a type of fly, suggests other creatures may be more prevalent during any future visit.

Desert in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
While trailers for the film appear to show a return to Tatooine, the filmmakers didn't return to the real-life sites previously used to depict the desert planet. Abrams and the crew filmed many scenes in the Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter) desert, where previous Star Wars productions filmed in Tunisia and Death Valley. A crew of more than 500 supposedly built a small city in the remote reaches of the desert and filmed for months, capturing footage that depicts life on a remote desert planet called Jakku. The 30% rebates provided by the government to incentivize film production certainly helped convince the producers to entertain the idea of shooting in the Emirate. Some crew stayed at the nearby Qasr al Sarab resort to escape the extreme heat.

Greenham Common in Berkshire, England
Film fans were thrilled when a photographer discovered the familiar silhouette of the Millennium Falcon on a unused runway at this former English Royal Air Force base last fall while flying a drone overhead. It's fitting the old space fighter would be spotted at a site known for classic aircraft. Built in 1942, the air base was used by British and American planes during WWII and the Cold War, and midcentury relics, such as bunkers and an old control tower from the '50s, can be found on site. In the news during the '80s and '90s when protesters camped out to try and force the government to remove cruise missiles from the site, it's since been dedicated a public park.

Skellig Michael in County Kerry, Ireland
A remote island 13 miles off Ireland's picturesque southwest coast, this small crag of rocks poking out through the Atlantic has traditionally been known for its mystical setting and lack of nearby neighbors. In the 7th century, a group of monks erected a humble stone monastery above the island's cliffs, literally carving 618 steps in the rough landscape leading to the terrace upon which their homes now sit. With no handrail or guards, it makes for a perilous climb. While the site (Sceilg Mhichíl in Gaelic) has been a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1996, the arrival of Mark Hamill and the Star Wars film crew arrived last fall and took over the village of Portmagee, which provides ferries to the island.


Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England
A forested landscape that seems straight out of fiction, Puzzlewood and its maze of winding paths and hills that supposedly inspired J.R.R. Tolkien when he was creating the fantasy landscape of The Lord of the Rings. The unique scenery found within this 14-acre site was shaped by scowles (shallow depression formed by the erosion of caves) and open cast iron ore mining dating back to Roman times, where deposits near the surface were removed via shallow digging.

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