Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Reel Journey: Skellig Michael and the Search for Luke Skywalker

For long-time fans of STAR WARS, visiting a filming location for any one of the movies can be a lifetime dream. From feeling the heat of the desert planet Tatooine, the chill of the ice planet Hoth, or the leafy air of Endor…visiting such locations can make that far, far away galaxy feel all the more real. This is a task easier said than done, as STAR WARS has utilized remote and hard-to-get-to places in Tunisia, Norway, and carefully guarded preservations. Recently, I, this Blogger, accompanied by his fiancée and three companions, were humbled to visit one of the most recent, yet popular STAR WARS locations of all; the island of Skellig Michael. 

The island of Skellig Michael is a World Heritage Site which lies just over seven miles off the southwestern coast of Ireland. Remote, beautiful, and dangerous…the island was set on the planet Ahch-To in THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), and THE LAST JEDI (2017). It was the home of a Jedi Temple, which our legendary hero Luke Skywalker vanished looking for, and never returned. In the island’s magnificent debut in THE FORCE AWAKENS, our next-generation hero Rey arrives on Ahch-To in search of Luke, and backed by John Williams’ score The Jedi Steps, she climbs those Jedi Steps in search of a hero, for hope, and for her own destiny. As a lifelong STAR WARS fan, this was my journey; to climb the Jedi Steps and to find a piece of my life that had been missing by finally visiting a STAR WARS location. 
The journey to Skellig Michael is not an easy one. The island is only accessible for tourists by boat, and with over seven miles of choppy ocean, many lunches were lost. Upon arrival, the seas still don’t cooperate, and getting off the boat means one wrong step is the difference between rock and cold water. Once on land, the real climb begins. Extremely steep rock “stairs”, which are uneven and barely qualify as steps, are the path to go up. With over 600 of them with a stiff wind, the climb is exhausting. 

But exhaustion was a battle I was not going to lose. This was something I had been dreaming about since I was four years old; to walk where Jedi have walked, to see what my heroes have seen, and to feel what they had felt. Despite rubbery legs, empty lungs, and a lunch lost at sea…I found myself moving upwards with The Jedi Steps on repeat in my head. That score has a tremendous sense of ascension, and ascension was all I could think about. The reality of the climb burned and hurt, but it was reality that kept me climbing. This was not a film-set built out of wood or digital pixels. It was real; with every crunch of rock heard and every gust of cold wind felt. I was walking with one foot in reality and the other in that far, far away galaxy. 

Breaks were taken to catch my breath. At or near the top, the scenery was breathtaking. To see the magnificent blue water and the surrounding islands, the nests of the native Puffin birds (a direct inspiration for the Porgs), and the endless horizon. It became clear to me why Luke would choose this location for his exile and final days; it was teeming with life, and life is how the Force works. Every break I took involved a quiver of the lip and wiping of tears. It was surreal. I was there. I was where Luke lived.

At the top, the ancient monastery still stands after centuries of weather. Simple yet sophisticated, they were amazing to take in. In THE LAST JEDI we are introduced to the caretakers of the island, and by seeing the real-life huts, crosses, and cemetery which were built by monks a long, long time ago…one could really appreciate how the filmmakers were inspired by reality to bring this STAR WARS world to life. 

There was something familiar about this place, which this Blogger's fiancée was happy to demonstrate: 

The trip back down was equally treacherous, as each step was a battle against gravity which wanted to pull my weakened legs down faster than I needed to. At the bottom waiting for our ride home, all we could do is gaze back up the mountain that we had just climbed. Somewhere up there, I really did find Luke Skywalker. Luke was drawn here by the Force, and as THE LAST JEDI taught us, the Force is composed of life, death, new life, warmth, cold, peace, violence…and between it all a balance of energy. All that is there and real on Skellig Michael. That is what I, this Blogger found by climbing the Jedi Steps. To search for our heroes is to search within ourselves, and a lifetime void has been filled. No one leaves this place unchanged, and it was a day to be long remembered. 

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