One of the (many!) things I appreciated about J.J. Abrams‘ direction of the Star Wars reboot, The Force Awakens, was his use, wherever possible, of real rather than CGI’d locations, as George Lucas was (alas) so wont to do.
Turns out there are plenty of exotic, out-of-this-world sites on Planet Earth to serve a turn as backdrop for an epic galactic adventure .
Abrams saved the best–and most mythically resonant–for last. In the final scene, Rey, our new Jedi-in-the-making, finally locates the missing “last Jedi,” Luke Skywalker. He is alone on a remote and rocky island, its summit approachable only by way of steep steps with perilous dropoffs. It is, in the story, the site of the long lost First Jedi Temple.
The place looked perfect for the occasion. And as one from an Irish Catholic family with a special interest in Michael the Archangel, it also looked vaguely familiar.
Sure enough, Abrams chose Skellig Michael, the “skellig” (“steep rock”) dedicated to St. Michael, an erstwhile Irish monastery, to shoot his scenes for the first Jedi Temple.
Here’s what the World Heritage Ireland page about Skellig Michael says about the name:
…its dedication to Saint Michael the Archangel appears to have happened some time before 1044 when the death of ‘Aedh of Scelic-Mhichíl’ is recorded. It is probable that this dedication to Saint Michael was celebrated by the building of Saint Michael’s church in the monastery. The church of Saint Michael was mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis in the late twelfth century. His account of the miraculous supply of communal wine for daily Mass in St. Michael’s Church implies that the monastery was in constant occupation at that time.
In any event, Skellig Michael struck me as a singularly fortuitous choice as the shooting location for the “first Jedi temple.” In the Star Wars universe, after all, the Jedi are warriors for the Light Side of the Force. They protect the ordinary folk of the galaxy from the predatory forces of the Sith, the Empire, and the First Order–all “incarnations,” if you will, of the Dark Side of the Force.
This, of course, is very much analogous to the role played in Judeo-Christian cosmology by the Archangels, and especially Michael. In this tradition, Michael is the Archangel who leads the heavenly host in battle against Satan (himself a fallen Archangel) and his minions.
One of the most well known Catholic prayers is a prayer asking Michael for protection from evil:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
And just as there is an apocalyptic element to the galactic-wide battles in Star Wars, it should come as no surprise that Michael features heavily in the Hebrew and Christian writings of a more cosmic and apocalyptic nature.
In the Book of Daniel, chapter 12, we read:
When that time comes, Mikha’el, the great prince who champions your people, will stand up; and there will be a time of distress unparalleled between the time they became a nation and that moment. (Complete Jewish Bible)
And here’s from St. John’s Revelations, chapter 12:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. (Revised Standard Version.)
So Michael is a celestial Jedi…who knew?
Interested in touring Skellig Michael, or at least learning more about it? (I know we are.) Click here for the World Heritage Site.
Here’s the behind-the-scenes video about the choosing of Skellig Michael for a Star Wars location: