The Force Awakens opened in the UK on the 18th December in the UK and a day later in the US and much like Return of the Jedi was highly secretive about its locations from the start although sheer logistics meant some of the shoot was well-publicised whereas others only came to light as a result of accidents or investigative fanboys.
Late 2013 bought the announcement that the film would be based at Pinewood Studios in the UK and a year later and both Rogue One: A Stars Story and Star Wars: Episode VIII have been confirmed for the London studio.
The crew also used various UK locations during the second half of 2014 and in September that year a pilot taking publicity photographs for a flying school accidentally captured images of a full-scale Millennium Falcon and an X-Wing fighter being built at Greenham Common in Berkshire. It wasn’t until he got home that he realised what he had photographed and sent the shots to the UK media.
Fans had also discovered the film crew had been working in Puzzlewood, a section of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire that has previously been used for Doctor Who, Merlin and Atlantis. There’s still is no information as to why the crew were there but there has been speculation that it might be used to double for the Ewoks’ home Endor or the swampy planet Dagobah that was home to Jedi Master Yoda in his final years.
With the film based at Pinewood, it was preferable to be nearby geographically and in July 2014 the crew filmed on Skellig Michael, a remote unpopulated island off the Western coast of Ireland which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and wildlife conservation zone. There was uproar amongst the locals but the Irish government’s desire to attract the international movie industry (and it’s big bucks) industry won the day.
The crew only filmed there for three days but has since been revisited to shoot scenes for Star Wars: Episode VIII.
The quest for breathtaking scenery is rumoured to have taken the production to both Scotland and Iceland as the trailer shows dramatic snowy backdrops, but there’s little hint of the specific filming location. The Iceland theory is supported by IMDb credits for Martin Joy and Finnur Johannsson as members of a local production unit.
However Abu Dhabi was a key filming location, taking full advantage of an attractive 30% tax rebate.Shooting took place in spring/summer 2014 and local media reported that one of the locations used was the Rub’ al Khali desert two hours outside the city. Aerial shots were also captured in the vicinity of Abu Dhabi’s Jumeirah hotel.
At the height of the desert shoot in May, around 700 people were involved in the production and it required sets and roads to be built in a short time. However, Abrams was reportedly pleased with the result.
There were reports in late 2013 that the film would shoot scenes in New Mexico but there was never any follow up to suggest this actually happened. The credits do refer to a Norwegian scout, Per Henry Borch. Norway is likely to have been passed over in favour of Iceland, a country which offers filming incentive support and has been used before by Abrams for his Star Trek movies.
Visual effects work – including limited green-screen filming – was reportedly planned early on for Abrams’ Bad Robot production facility in Santa Monica, allowing the filmmaker to spend more time with his family in Los Angeles during the movie’s lengthy shoot.
Getting details of companies that worked with Lucasfilm on the new Star Wars movie is almost as hard as digging up locations. Industrial Light & Magic, founded back in the 70s by Star Wars creator George Lucas, led the visual effects work, while Base FX and Blind also contributed.
The UK-based aerial filming company Flying Pictures was used while Panalux is credited as the film’s lighting supplier. Also credited is Chapman/Leonard Studio Equipment, a leading supplier of custom camera support equipment.
As for the cameras themselves, the production mainly used 35mm cameras that were custom-built for the shoot by Panavision. The team also used 65mm IMAX cameras for some shots.