If you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens (and if you haven’t, for the love of Chewie, stop reading!), you may have wondered where director J.J. Abrams found the location for the film’s cliffhanger of a final scene. The isolated island (now known to be called Ahch-To) that a certain Jedi master calls home, with its ancient stone stairways and outcroppings, seems too picture-perfect to be real. But as this video illustrates above, it is indeed a real place: an island in Ireland called Skellig Michael. Watch the Abrams and his crew discuss the rare location in the video above.
The larger of two Skelling Islands off Ireland’s southwest coast, Skellig Michael was home to ancient monasteries for hundreds of years (hence all the manmade stone structures) before being abandoned during the Middle Ages. The remote site still retains an air of otherworldliness, according to Force Awakens star Mark Hamill. “It reminded me of when I was in Tunisia on the salt flats. If you could get into your own mind and shut out the crew and look at the horizon, you really felt like you were in a galaxy far, far away,” Hamill said in November. “I had that same wave of emotion happen to me when I was on Skellig Michael in Ireland. I wasn’t anticipating it.”
The Luke Skywalker actor returned to Ireland in September, where he poured drinks for delighted pub patrons in the town of Portmagee between filming scenes for Episode VIII. (Boats depart daily from Portmagee to the Skellig Islands.)
When it’s not being used as a Jedi hideout, Skelling Michael is a world heritage site open to hikers — and since the video above was produced by Ireland’s National Tourism Development Authority, they’re clearly hoping that Star Wars will attract new visitors. However, the trek is not for everyone. The monastery atop Skellig Michael is a 600-foot climb over 618 1,000-year-old steps, and in 2009, two older American tourists died in separate incidents after falling from the stairs.
Watch the cast demonstrate their reactions to seeing ‘The Force Awakens’ for the first time: