I grasped the boat’s railing so tight I knew my knuckles were white under my gloves. I looked across the rolling ocean and tried to remember all the things you’re supposed to do when you feel seasick.
Focus on the horizon. Check. Make sure you have air on your face. Check. Something else about squeezing a pressure point, but I had no idea really, so I just rested my cheek on the cold metal rail and looked ahead of the boat to my destination: Skellig Michael, a.k.a. Ahch-To in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
If you’ve watched The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi more than once, you know the topography of Ahch-To, the home of the first Jedi Temple and the place where Luke Skywalker has shut himself away from the galaxy. I spotted the familiar crags of the island from a distance off the Irish coast. It’s eight nautical miles from land, sailing from the town Portmagee (or as the group of reporters I was with decided to call it, Porgmagee). I comprehended the distance; I understood it would take 45 minutes on a boat to reach Skellig Michael. But knowing the numbers didn’t prepare me for how remote the island is and how hard it is to access—almost like Ahch-To is on the edge of the Unknown Regions.
I say “hard” but for the traveler, it’s actually rather simple. You can go through SkelligMichael.com to book either a trip around the island or a landing tour (landing season on Skellig is from mid-May to October), and then may the Force be with the weather on the day of your trip, because the sailings are dependent upon favorable skies and sea. For the monks who made the island home somewhere between the sixth and eight centurie,s and the cast and crew who made Star Wars on Skellig, the process was anything but simple.
After a more calm journey than I anticipated, the boat approached Skellig Michael. The rocking got a little more intense, but I didn’t care. I was looking at another world. It had to be. How could this place so verdant and raw belong in the same universe I wake up in every day? As we slowly circled the rocky outcrops of the island, the captain pointing out the hundreds of steps hand-carved by monks, and the place where Luke casually tossed aside his lightsaber, I could hardly process how a.) anyone chose to make a life here, and b.) for the few days of filming completed on the island for Episodes VII and VIII, the crew hauled literal tons of equipment via boats to the shore and then up the dizzying, steep, and uneven stone steps.
Knowing, at least on paper, the effort that went into filming the shots of Rey trying to return Luke’s lightsaber to him adds a resonance to those scenes and emotion I didn’t previously experience. A green screen couldn’t have had the same weight as Skellig Michael’s craggy cliffs and the mysticism practically radiating from the surface. I didn’t need the Force to brush against the facets of the island Rey felt when she reached out. “Life. Death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth, cold. Peace, violence.”
I shared the above photo of Skellig Michael on Twitter, resplendent and ominous. Someone manipulated the image to make the island look brighter and sent it to me; she said the island appeared too foreboding. But it’s the nature of the island—and that’s okay. It looms over you with centuries of secrets and history. Awe-inspiring and magnificent are apt descriptors, but the word intimidating works, too. It’s all too easy to imagine Jedi finding this out of the way place, so connected with nature and the cycle of life, and creating the texts and tenets that would become the Jedi Order.
Stay tuned for more from my trip to The Last Jedi‘s filming locations coming soon.