Before we get started you should know that on this Star Wars tour you very well might find yourself smuggled in a secret compartment, meet a wise old hermit in the desert, end up with a price on your head, fight an Imperial force, even fall in love with a princess (who may or may not turn out to be your sister), you might even destroy a space station, it’s hard to know.
You will see the real-life counterpart to pretty much everything in the Star Wars universe and you could even see some of the actors, but lets just be crystal clear before we begin: if you meet an Ewok you are not allowed to take it home.
Standing in for Tatooine in the first film (for the duration of this article we will pretend that the original trilogy are the only Star Wars movies that ever were) Tunisia’s deserts provide the backdrop for the famous C-3PO/R2D2 spat that begins the movie as well as most of Luke’s pre Death Star shenanigans.
Many fans are surprised to learn that the sci-fi looking caves where Skywalker grew up (the Lars household) are real. Filmed in the town of Matmata, the homes are built into the sides of giant holes in the ground, dug out of sandstone and completely tourable.
Nearby, you’ll find La Grande Dune, (six miles north) where the droids escape pod lands and the rocky canyon (now known locally as Star Wars Canyon) where the Jawas take R2.
Yuma Desert, Arizona
Arizona’s Yuma Desert plays Tatooine in the third film during the scenes where the Pit of Sarlacc eats a few of Jabba’s minions and nearly gets Lando’s leg for lunch. With a complicated mechanical system powering the tentacles, at the time it was the largest and most expensive movie-set ever constructed.
Unfortunately, sand seized the hydraulics system and technicians had to turn to wires and poles to animate the sandy pit of torture and despair. George Lucas was not pleased, but the Sarlacc still became a fixture in popular culture and I guess you could say that the movie did OK too.
Nearby (relatively) Death Valley National Park provided many of the B-roll shots that set the scene for Tatooine after someone decided that the hovercraft just didn’t quite look like it was hovering. The shots were put together on a shoestring budget just a few months before the movie’s release.
You know that scene where Luke staggers around in the snow after escaping from the ice monster on Hoth? He’s walking down a snowbank in the crew’s hotel parking lot during a storm. The rest of Hoth? That’s Finse, Norway.
To call Finse a remote locale is to call Jabba the Hutt a little heavy. Tourists come here to sail ski in the winter because of the abundance of empty, flat ice and when George Lucas decided to add Harrison Ford to a couple of outdoor shots at the last minute, the actor had to ride in the engine compartment of a snow-cat in order to reach Finse.
Accommodations are limited to one hotel and a hostel but if you can find the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier, you can recreate both the battle with the AT-AT walkers and the search pattern Rogue Squadron flew to find Luke and Han. Here’s a hint, it’s the biggest chunk of ice around.
Redwoods National Park
If you’ve ever daydreamed about speeder-bikes while on a slow hike through a thick forest, this place is for you. Redwoods National Park, aka, the forest moon of Endor still boasts the same trees and sets that Lucas and co. used to film the Ewoks, the speeder-bike chase and the battle to destroy the Death Star shield generator.
The speeder bike chase flits around to different locations, but some of the major landmarks can be found at Grizzly Creek and along the Avenue of the Giants highway. Set designers didn’t alter the forest much, and the trees are still standing, so it’s possible to find and photograph famous trees, such as the spot where Luke slashes the nose off a speeder bike or where Leia ducks under a tree during the high-speed chase.
Unfortunately, if you set out to find the Ewok village, you’ll have to use a bit of imagination, I’m told the Ewoks took it down during a dispute over the use of animation or live action in their TV series.
It’s a quick bit of video in the movie, but every year, thousands of tourists inadvertently visit a Star Wars filming location while trying to see the ancient Mayan pyramids at Tikal. Standing in for the Rebel base on Yavin 4, the ancient temples are seen as the X-Wings and Y-Wings ascend toward space to exploit a weakness in the Death Star’s exhaust design.
The view in the movie is from the top of Pyramid 4, out over the canopy of trees. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t recreate the shot exactly, consumer cameras and movie cameras have different lenses and translate onto film differently and it’s hard to find a good X-Wing pilot these days.
Star Wars Days @ Legoland
It’s not a filming location, but if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably interested in the annual Star Wars Day at Legoland in Carlsbad, CA. Every year, Star Wars fans gather together in costume for a day of fully embracing the fan community.
The amusement park hires actors and puts them in costume, the designers unveil a new piece of Lego-art they’ve been working on, and the nearly 5,000 members of the 501st Legion (Vader’s Fist) patrol the park dressed in Imperial garb.
The event skips around each year, (possibly to keep Imperial spies off-guard) sometimes it’s in the Spring sometimes the Fall, but with the convergence of roller coasters, Legos and Star Wars means that it is always well-attended.