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Star Wars Returns To The Ancient Ruins Of Skellig Michael

More than a century ago, George Bernard Shaw visited the island monastery that now forms the iconic backdrop for the forthcoming Star Wars film.


The cover story for the new issue of Vanity Fair features a lengthy feature on the next Star Wars film, “The Last Jedi,” with accompanying photos by the famed Annie Leibovitz. The piece opens with an anecdote about the cast and crew returning to Skellig Michael, the location of Luke and Rey’s iconic meeting in the final scene of “The Force Awakens,” and Mark Hamill good-naturedly complaining about having to make another trek out to the remote island.

It seems the new film will open exactly where “The Force Awakens” left off, with Luke and Rey standing in the same spot atop Skellig Michael, staring at each other as only Jedi can. The stark island, seven miles off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula in southwestern Ireland, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, covered in the stunning ruins of a Gaelic monastery founded sometime between the sixth and eighth century and abandoned sometime in the twelfth. It is only accessible by boat, in the summer, when the weather holds.

It is, in other words, a real place; there were no CGI gimmicks in the final sequence of “The Force Awakens.” They were really there, in that otherworldly place.

In 1910, George Bernard Shaw also visited Skellig Michael, and it had a profound effect on him. Shaw, by no means a Christian, was deeply moved by his visit and later wrote about it to a friend:

Yesterday I left the Kerry coast in an open boat, 33 feet long, propelled by ten men on five oars. These men started on 49 strokes a minute, a rate which I did not believe they could keep up for five minutes. They kept it without slackening half a second for two hours, at the end of which they landed me on the most fantastic and impossible rock in the world: Skellig Michael, or the Great Skellig, where in south west gales the spray knocks stones out of the lighthouse keeper’s house, 160 feet above calm sea level. There is a little Skellig covered with gannets — white with them (and their guano)—covered with screaming crowds of them. The Bass rock is a mere lump in comparison: both the Skelligs are pinnacled, crocketed, spired, arched, caverned, minaretted; and these gothic extravagances are not curiosities of the islands: they are the islands: there is nothing else.

​The rest of the cathedral may be under the sea for all I know: there are 90 fathoms by the chart, out of which the Great Skellig rushes up 700 feet so suddenly that you have to go straight up stairs to the top—over 600 steps. And at the top amazing beehives of flat rubble stones, each overlapping the one below until the circle meets in a dome—cells, oratories, churches, and outside them cemeteries, wells, crosses, all clustering like shells on a prodigious rock pinnacle, with precipices sheer down on every hand, and lodged on the projecting stones overhanging the deep huge stone coffins made apparently by giants, and dropped there God knows how.

​An incredible, impossible, mad place, which still tempts devotees to make ‘stations’ of every stair landing, and to creep through ‘Needle’s eyes’ at impossible altitudes, and kiss ‘stones of pain jutting out 700 feet above the Atlantic.

​[…] ​I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world… I hardly ​feel real again.

No wonder that final scene of “The Force Awakens” was so memorable. The power of the scene is the setting; it really has nothing to do with Star Wars.