Why This Sacred Irish Island Was The Perfect Setting For 'Star Wars'

People have been seeking solitude and refuge at Skellig Michael for centuries.

19/01/2016 10:10 AM AEDT | Updated 20/01/2016 6:54 AM AEDT

Spoiler Warning: Proceed with caution if you haven't seen "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

During a crucial scene in "The Force Awakens" the audience is taken to a remote, otherworldly mountaintop that rises majestically from a startling blue sea.  

But this mystical island isn't in a galaxy far, far away. And Luke Skywalker wasn't the only person to seek isolation and solitude in its craggy nooks. The site is Skellig Michael, an island about seven miles off the coast of southwest Ireland.

DEA / S. VANNINI via Getty Images
The Skellig Islands are part of County Kerry, Ireland.

In the movie, Skywalker's hideout is the spot where the Jedis built their one of their first temples. The film's crew wanted to find an earthly spot that could capture a feeling of ancient mysticism -- the kind of place where Skywalker would go to meditate.

"In 'Star Wars,' what's so great is that the places matter," said Rick Carter, the film's production designer, in a promotional video for Tourism Ireland. "They actually are really related to who the characters are."

Martin Joy, the film's supervising location manager, said that the team was looking for a spot for Skywalker that was "completely from another time and place."

They found that mystical place at Skellig Michael. The site has long been a refuge where people retreated to connect with the divine. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage site that holds the remains of a sixth century Christian monastery. 

Some time before 1044, the monastery on the island was dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, an angel who appears in the Bible and has remarkably Jedi-like characteristics. In some Christian traditions, Michael is seen as both a healer and a soldier, protecting the sick and suffering but being destined to one day lead the heavenly armies of God against the forces of evil.  

Because of his tendency to appear to people on mountain tops and other high places, Michael become associated with a number of lofty Christian sacred sites, like the Saint Michel D'Aiguilhe chapel and Mont-Saint-Michel, both in France.

Charles McQuillan via Getty Images
The rugged landscape of Skellig Michael.

Skellig Michael is actually the top of a 400-million-year-old sandstone mountain. It hasn't gotten much tourist traffic over the centuries because it's hard to reach from the mainland -- but that may change because of the Star Wars connection.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakensrecently became the highest-grossing North American film of all time. Tourism Ireland is hoping that the movie attracts a whole new set of travelers to the island. Scenes from Star Wars Episode 8, scheduled to be released in May 2017, have already been shot on Skellig Michael. 

DEA / S. VANNINI via Getty Images
The small island of Skellig Michael, part of County Kerry, Ireland.

Ireland's Tourism Minister Paschal Donohoe told that he believes the movie exposes the island and the wild beauty of the country's western coast to "potentially hundreds of millions of people."

"By the end of November 2015, we had surpassed our best ever year on record for the number of overseas visitors. We are determined to build on that," he said.


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