Star Wars was once considered just for science fiction fans and nerds, but the franchise and its memorable characters have become a permanent part of our broader culture. Everyone knows Darth Vader, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Yoda. Star Wars fans were gifted with the start of a whole new story arc in the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and the new standalone film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story offers a fresh, exciting perspective. While creating a galaxy far, far away requires a lot of CGI and green screen magic, many of the scenes were filmed at real locations right here on earth. You can actually visit these stunning film locations from the movie franchise.
1 Mount Etna
Mount Etna, located in Sicily, Italy is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. No scenes were shot here but plate photography was captured to serve as a backdrop for the light saber battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader on the planet of Mustaf. Serendipity struck when the volcano erupted while the photography was taking place. George Lucas had the crews film the live eruptions and lava flows which were than worked into the film with CGI. It’s not unusual for Star Wars fans to bring their light sabers when they travel to Mt. Etna for epic vacation photos.
2 Chott El Djerid
Chott El Djeris in Tunisia is the largest salt pan in the Sahara desert, a salt lake that remains dry through the hot season. It served for the exterior shots of the Lars family homestead where Luke Skywalker was raised on Tatooine. If you travel to this amazing location, you can cross the dry lake bed by car. If you’re lucky, you may see a fata morgana, a rare and complex form of mirage.
3 Hotel Sidi Driss
Hôtel Sidi Driss, a traditional Berber home that is hundreds of years old, was the real life location used for the interior of the Lars home. The sets were removed after filming for the original movie, A New Hope, but were replicated exactly using the original plans for filming of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Man made pits are still there; the one used for Star Wars is now the restaurant. The hotel is open to visitors all year.
4 Death Valley
Filming in Death Valley, California wasn’t in the original plan, but money issues forced the crew to substitute domestic desert for the desired Tunisia locations when A New Hope ran over budget. The location was also used for Return of the Jedi. Scenes filmed in Death Valley include R2D2 racing off to search for Ben Kenobi’s hut. Anyone can grab a free map to the filming locations at the luxury Furnace Creek Resort, located inside the Death Valley National Park.
5 Port of Ajim
The desert dunes of Tunisia were used as a film location as far back as the original trilogy. Their otherworldly look was the site of Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine. The port city of Ajim on the island of Djerba fills in for the exterior shots of the Spaceport Cantina. In real life, it’s an abandoned Berber bakery. An old fisherman’s hut was used for Ben Kenobi’s home on Tatooine. Guess what? It’s still used as a fisherman’s storage building.
6 Plaza de España
Seville’s Plaza de España in the Parque de María Luisa appears for less than a full minute in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, although a longer sequence appears in the extended versions. Depicting the arrival of Anakin and Padmé on Naboo, this scene included a digitally-generated R2D2 accompanying them across a footbridge that is easily identified in the real plaza. Other aspects are different, though. The square is actually a semi-circle rather than a full circle as it appears in the movie and low domed building in the movie don’t really exist. The plaza itself was built as an exhibition for the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair in 1928 and now comprises government buildings.
Revenge of the Sith was filmed almost completely in the studio, but numerous locations were scouted for plate photography to make the backdrops of the characters’ exotic home planets. Guilin is a popular tourist destination in southern China known for its extraordinarily beautiful scenery. Its karst landscape includes sinkholes and caves but it is the distinctive limestone towers that George Lucas featured in the backdrop for the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk.
This small Swiss mountain village at the foot of the formidable Eiger glacier is famous for winter sports including extreme sports. It was not a filming location but was photographed to create backdrops for Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Its rugged, icy terrain provided the perfect background view of Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan.
9 Caserta Palace
Sometimes it’s easier to rent a real palace instead of building one on set. The Theed Royal Palace from episodes I and II is actually the Royal Palace of Caserta in Italy. Located in a town near Napoli, this is the largest royal palace in the world and dates to the the Naples kingdom of the 18th century. The Bourbon king Charles III built this palace to match the magnificence of Versailles and Madrid’s Royal Palace. With over 1000 rooms, this gem is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open for tours.
10 Hardangerjøkulen Glacier
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back filmed its scenes of the snow planet Hoth at the foot of the enormous Hardangerjøkulen Glacier in Finse, Norway. Filming at this remote location was tough. It is only accessible by rail or on skis. The production crew was caught in the worst winter storm to hit the area in 50 years. Not to waste any location time, Mark Hamill was sent out into the storm to create the scene where Luke Skywalker escapes from an ice monster’s cave. Visiting Finse, which is located in a national park, requires both a permit and a guide because of the treacherous crevasses in the area.
Star Wars fans travel the world over to see the real life locations that make up some of the iconic Star Wars universe. It’s amazing to be able to match specific scenes and even shots to views in these cool locations.