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Tuesday November 20th 2018

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi | 2017

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: Wailing Woman, Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: Rey demonstrates her mastery of the light sabre: The Wailing Woman, Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland | Photograph: Shutterstock / MNStudio

It’s all-change as Rian Johnson is brought in as director and given carte blanche to throw out all the previous ideas for the saga, recklessly breaking rules and and bringing in reversals galore.

The Resistance is fleeing its base on the Outer Rim planet D'Qar, as the fleet of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) arrives, a brief glimpse of the Greenham Common location from Episode VII, south of Newbury in Berkshire.

The first shock comes with the ending of Episode VII itself undermined, as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) contemptuously tosses away the lightsabre handed to him by Rey (Daisy Ridley).

It’s a return to Skellig Michael, the rocky outcrop off the coast of southwest Ireland, for Luke’s remote retreat on the planet of Ahch-To.

As Rey doggedly tries to persuade the reluctant Skywalker to teach her in the ways of the Force, there’s much more focus on the island retreat.

Surprisingly, the strange rocky outcrop sliced in two by Rey as she demonstrates her mastery of the light sabre, is not a prop but a real feature of the island (and still intact), known as The Wailing Woman.

But there were in reality only a few days’ filming allowed on the island which is a fiercely protected environment, so another location was found for most of these scenes.

The monastic ‘beehive’ dwellings on Skellig Michael, which you can see in Episode VII, were recreated as the Jedi settlement, on a spectacular headland called Ceann Sibéal (Sybil Head) on the northwest shore of the Dingle Peninsula near Ballyferriter.

A road was built across local farmland for the production to bring trucks, scaffolding, lighting, trailers, food, props and people to the set, which is on private farmland. Both road and set were removed completely after filming.

You can get spectacular views of this location from Slea Head Drive and from nearby walking trails. For another viewpoint, you can take a boat tour up to the sheer cliff face.

The dramatic peninsula is a tough location in which to film but has proved the effort worthwhile for Ron Howard’s 1992 Far And Away, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and especially David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter.

Puffins, flightless seabirds with brightly coloured beaks, are native to the area and, since the protected species obviously couldn’t be moved from their habitat, were digitally replaced with similarly-sized creatures – and so the lovable porgs were invented.

The exterior of the Jedi tree set was built on a vehicle test course at Longcross Studios, 25 miles southwest of London near Chertsey in Surrey.

Back at the First Order-Resistance battle, a secret rogue mission sees Finn (John Boyega) and newbie Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) slip off to find a specialist known only as the Codebreaker, the only person with the ability to get them aboard a First Order ship in order to disable its tracking capability.

He’s to be found in the decadent city of Canto Bight on the desert planet of Cantonica, a glamorous upscale version of Mos Eisley with grand casinos catering to filthy rich arms dealers who are making a killing from the continual war.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: Stradun, Old Town, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: the chase through the streets of Cando Bight: Stradun, Old Town, Dubrovnik, Croatia | Photograph: Shutterstock / canadastock

With its rocky headlands and curving beach, the design of Canto Bight was inspired by the city of Monte Carlo but, beneath the set dressing, and the CGI, the streets of the city are those of Dubrovnik on the coast of Croatia.

The casino interior was of course built in the studio, and Johnson slips in an homage to William A Wellman's 1927 silent classic Wings, the first Best Picture Oscar winner, with the swift tacking shot through the crowds.

The main chase is along Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main shopping street dressed with hi-tech detailing.

The walled Old Town of Dubrovnik is no stranger to the screen, having appeared regularly as King's Landing in TV’s Game of Thrones.

The seafront from which Finn and Rose try to escape, is the Black Sand Beach near Vik on the southern coast of Iceland.

After a ferocious attack by Hux’s forces, the survivors of the Resistance hide out in a huge abandoned mine on the red mineral planet of Crait.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: the featureless salt flats of Crait: Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia | Photograph: Shutterstock / Laura Facchini

In a remarkable visual coup, the planet’s vivid surface, covered with a thin layer of salt, is revealed with every movement.

The vast, blindingly white expanse is, for once, not Bonneville in Utah but the spectacular salt flats of Salar de Uyuni about 100 miles southwest of Potosí, in Bolivia.

The largest salt pan (salar) on Earth stretching nearly 4,000 square miles across the Bolivian Altiplano of the High Andes. Around 40,000 years ago, the area was a gigantic lake. At the height of the last glacial period, the water evaporated away faster than it could be replenished and layer upon layer of salt accumulated where the great lake had once been. Still, at certain times, nearby lakes overflow and a thin layer of water transforms the flats into a stunning reflection of the sky.

For a unique experience, there’s also Luna Salada, the world's only hotel made entirely of saltblocks.

The flats are a major source of lithium, the element vital for powering laptops, smart phones and electric cars, so don’t take their pristine appearance for granted.

Although Potosí is the nearest big city, there are flights and overnight buses direct from La Paz to Uyuni itself.