Star Wars Day: May the 4th Be With You

May the force be with you and may you book these trips ASAP

No movies more famously transport their audiences to locales far, far away than the Star Wars franchise. Now at 12 installments and counting—not to mention shows like The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett (aka The Mandalorian Season 2), and Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries—the films have been shot on a ton of green-screened sound stages… and some of the prettiest freakin’ places on this planet.

It’s not everywhere on Earth, after all, that can stand in for remote moons in ancient galaxies. The prequels were great at finding amazing filming locations. You don’t have to jump into hyperspace to meander along the craggy, wind-battered trails of an Irish island, look high up in wonder at the world’s tallest trees, or explore pre-Columbian ruins in Central America.

Yuma desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Star Wars movies came to screens in 1977 and revolutionized the film industry. Since George Lucas released the first installment, nine Episodes of the Skywalker Saga, three spin-off films, and three television films have been released.

Star Wars is a billion-dollar franchise. What is not to love about the franchise?

The original films used inspiration from the landscapes of Tunisia and parts of Europe. Yet, over the years, the Lucasfilms crew has traveled around the globe, capturing more dramatic real-life scenery to add to the sci-fi series. 

UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These films feature strong characters facing hard choices, epic battle scenes, forbidden love stories, and locations that make you want to jump on a spaceship (Roswell, anyone?).

Star Wars fans tend to annually congregate online and in real life on May 4 to celebrate the date with like-minded people for major movie marathons in addition to obtaining limited-edition merchandise released specifically for the occasion.

Some of the best Star Wars filming locations include Bolivia, Italy, Iceland, Tunisia, Guatemala, Norway, Jordon, United Kingdom, Croatia, Ireland, Spain, and United Arab Emirates. Star Wars fans around the world have traveled far and wide to step in the same spots as Carrie Fisher, Natalie Portman, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and many more.

Read on to find out more about some of the most iconic places used as real-life Star Wars sets.

Here are three Star Wars filming locations in the U.S. and how to visit them yourself.

Are you ready to explore the known universe? Check out three of the incredible Star Wars filming locations you need to see in real life below. Even better, many Star Wars filming locations only require you to fuel up your RV. 

Wildflowers in the Yuma desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buttercup Valley, Yuma Desert, Arizona

“Building the set at Yuma was an enormous project… Over Thanksgiving holiday when we first erected the fence around the set, there was a reported crowd of 35,000 dune buggy enthusiasts there. We needed to camouflage ourselves from the public and to schedule our shooting to avoid stray dune buggies creeping into a shot in the distance. This wasn’t easy because on weekends the buggies covered the surrounding hills like ants.”

―Howard Kazanjian

Instead of returning to Tunisia for Return of the Jedi, the film’s producers chose to shoot Buttercup Valley, a flat depression completely surrounded by sand dunes in Arizona’s Yuma Desert for the Sarlacc Pit sequence. Jabba’s Sail Barge and the Sarlacc Pit took more than five months to build and more than 5,500 cast and crew members lodged in Yuma during filming in 1982.

The sail barge was constructed here, behind fences to keep out prying fans. It was so big that the crew used the space underneath for offices, trailers, and a commissary with 150 seats. They didn’t blow up the barge here but fans still like to hunt for pieces of the set in the sand.

Things to bring: 

Colorado River at Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Death Valley National Park, California

One of the most iconic locations throughout the three trilogies of Star Wars is the desert planet of Tatooine in A New Hope. Although most of Tatooine was shot in Tunisia, crucial scenes were filmed in Death Valley between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Mojave Desert. Twenty Mule Team Canyon was used for Episode VI: Return of the Jedi scenes with C-3PO and R2-D2 traveling to Jabba the Hut’s palace. Other stops in the park that seem familiar from the movies: Dante’s View and the Mesquite Sand Dunes.

Boasting sand dunes, salt flats, canyons, and more, they had their pick of picturesque backdrops to choose from when filming. Here, the danger of hidden Jawas is evident with the many nooks and crannies within the rockfaces.

Star Wars spots within the Death Valley National Park include the Mesquite Sand Dunes, Artist’s Pallet, Golden Canyon, and Towering-Mule Team Canyon. Hike these scenic spots at your own pace while hunting for Star Wars locations. 

Things to bring: 

Sequoias, not the tallest trees on Earth but the largest by volume © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redwood National and State Parks, California

California’s Redwood National and State Parks portrayed the Forest Moon of Endor, the Ewoks’ home world in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Several scenes such as the speeder bike chase and the Ewok ambush were shot in the parks’ many redwood groves in Marin County which is close to Lucas’s home at Skywalker Ranch. Redwood trees rise like skyscrapers with thick trunks that depict their thousand years of existence. Giant trees with thick trunks surrounded by ferns and foliage fly past as Leia and Luke try to dodge stormtroopers. 

Home to mighty redwood forests, this collection of state and national parks that includes Redwood National Park and Del Norte Coast, has been used in a number of films like ET and Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

Things to bring: 

  • Water 
  • Camping gear 
  • Sunscreen and wide-brimmed hat
  • Bug repellant 
  • Comfortable shoes 

Worth Pondering…

In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.

—Obi-Wan Kenobi, A New Hope

Traveling To a National Park this Summer? Prepare For High Temperatures!

Searing heat that has settled over the Southwest has National Park Service officials urging visitors to prepare for the high heat and know their limitations

Summer inspires us all to go outside and explore the great outdoors. High temperatures and the risk of heat illness can happen in any national park environment whether it’s an urban, historical, mountainous, or desert park. Be prepared for high temperatures and the increased risk of heat-related illnesses while recreating.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s one thing that many Americans (and Canadians) can affirm right now: It’s freaking hot. In case you still had any doubts, the hottest place on Earth is as hot as it’s ever been—at least in terms of recorded temperatures in modern times. Death Valley National Park recorded a high temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) on Friday (July 9, 2021) and 129.4 degrees on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. When dawn broke Sunday, the low temperature was a sweltering 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius). By the late afternoon, the mercury has swelled to a blazing 128.6 degrees. The combination of the two produced the highest daily average temperature ever recorded on the Planet: 118 degrees.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those temperatures come as Death Valley and other areas in the Western United States continue to be blanketed by scorching heat. The Friday temperature matches 130 degrees recorded in August 2020. While some weather watchers point to a 134-degree measurement in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, that record has been widely disputed—with many in the meteorological community are suspicious of that mark because of temperatures recorded that day in nearby areas. But, that is still hot, brutally hot, especially for the unprepared in the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Expect high temperatures of 110 degrees to 120 degrees. Drink plenty of water and carry extra,” reads a warning on the park’s website. “Avoid hiking (after 10 a.m.). Travel prepared to survive. In the case of a heat related illness, get to a cool place and seek help as soon as possible.”

At Grand Canyon National Park, “an excessive heat warning” was in effect last weekend for the lower portions of the Grand Canyon with temperatures reaching 115 degrees. Elsewhere, an excessive heat warning was also posted for Zion National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, the National Park Service (NPS) encouraged visitors to recreate responsibly if they came to the park during this summer’s “record high temperatures.”

“During this time of unprecedented high temperature visitors are asked to consider rescheduling visits to when weather conditions improve. Many visitors and staff have experienced heat illness as temperatures exceed 110 degrees during the day,” park staff reported. “You can recreate responsibly by packing plenty of water and salty snacks, visiting early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are less extreme, and by keeping your outdoor activities short in duration.”

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead has been under a severe heat wave since late June. High temperatures in the park are anticipated to be over 110 degrees for the next few days and over 105 degrees for the next several weeks, a park release said. Current forecasts show that lows are not expected to be below 80 degrees for the foreseeable future, it added.

Rangers have been very busy responding to multiple medical emergencies caused by the excessive heat. The call volume is extreme and unfortunately not every request for assistance can be granted, the park said, adding that, “visitors are cautioned to prepare for their visit assuming no ranger response.”

Heat related deaths and illnesses are preventable. Despite this, around 618 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat-related illnesses happen when the body is not able to properly cool itself. While the body normally cools itself by sweating, during extreme heat, this might not be enough. In these cases, a person’s body temperature rises faster than it can cool itself down. Heat illness can lead to serious complications and cause damage to the brain and other vital organs and can lead to death if not treated quickly. Heat strokes, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburns, and heat rash are all examples of heat-related illnesses.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most heat illnesses happen from staying outdoors in the heat for too long. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of heat illness. Older adults, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at highest risk. However, even young and healthy people can be affected if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.

Check the weather before you head out. Sometimes the weather can make your activity unsafe. Remember that the mountain, trail, lake, or canyon that you are planning to hike, climb, or boat on will still be there another day when the conditions are better.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For practical tips on staying safe in the outdoors this summer, click here.

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith