The (Irish) Force Awakens

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How it’s New York: Who in New York doesn’t like Star Wars? (Well, there might be a few. But still.)
How it’s Irish: Strong ties to Dublin, Skellig Michael, and the Bridge Bar pub in Portmagee, Co. Kerry. Not to mention the Scots smuggler Bela-Tik,  played by Brian Vernel, and that some scenes were filmed in Scotland.

Warning: Here there be spoilers, so if you’ve not seen the movie, read no further.

How Irish is “Star Wars?” Well this one had its Irish up. Domhnall Gleeson is Hux… we knew we recognized him from somewhere! Here’s Domhnall a few years ago talking about his film “Noreen,” in the Tribeca Film Festival, on the New York Irish Arts Podcast.

(And in case you’re interested, here’s Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan talking about “The Guard”)

Dubliner Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Photo courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm.)

Dubliner Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Photo courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm.)

The Star Wars universe exists “in a galaxy far, far away,” but some of the places and people in “The Force Awakens” have very close ties to Ireland.

Luke Skywalker’s Jedi refuge – or place to brood over how your nephew went bad in epic fashion – is a few miles off the coast of County Kerry, while the evil General Hux is a Dubliner.

Domhnall Gleeson, eldest son of Brendan and his wife Mary, plays the part of General Hux: officer in charge of the First Order’s wintry Starkiller Base, and close-ish friend to baddie-in-training Kylo Ren.

The Gleesons hail from Dublin; in addition to Domhnall, the rest of the clan includes Brían, Rúairí and Fergus. I first heard of Domhnall and Brendan through the Harry Potter series, in which Brendan played the crusty, curmudgeonly Professor Moody, starting in “Goblet of Fire,” while Domhnall played Ron Weasley’s eldest brother Bill in the two-movie “Deathly Hallows.”

Hux is definitely the successor to Grand Moff Tarkin in the original trilogy, as the senior-ranking officer in charge of the Starkiller Base. As a character, Hux is not to be trifled with; he has an iron fist and is not afraid to use it.

These days, Domhnall is also to be seen in “The Revenant;” he has also been seen as Ellis Lacey’s almost-suitor Jim in “Brooklyn.”

So that’s the Dublin connection in Star Wars. Now to County Kerry.

In the pivotal (and much-talked about) final scene, Rey arrives at a small clutch of islands on Ahch-To, a distant ocean planet. And it is here, after a climb up several flights of rock stairs, that she finally meets Luke.

These islands where Luke has made his retreat are the Skellig Islands (Oileain na Scealaga), two small islands off the coast of County Kerry; there are quite a few articles describing how the Irish film boards had suggested to the filmmakers that the Skelligs could be used as a location.

“We wanted to find somewhere really from another time and place,” Martin Joy, one of the location managers, says in a behind-the-scenes video produced for Discover Ireland.

Skellig Michael was used for the final scene, the meeting of Luke and Rey. (Wikimedia Commons)

Skellig Michael was used for the final scene, the meeting of Luke and Rey. (Wikimedia Commons)

The islands are considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, and they are also an important habitat for seabirds.

It was for this reason that BirdWatch Ireland became somewhat uneasy when it was announced that the Skelligs would be used for filming; there were concerns that the crews’ presence would disrupt the birds’ habitat.

Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichíl), the larger of the islands, and the one used for the scene with Luke and Rey, was home to a monastery during the days of the early Christians in Ireland. When you consider that, it seems almost fitting that a Jedi, leading a somewhat monastic and austere life, would retreat to such a place.

Not surprisingly, Tourism Ireland is using the excitement about Star Wars as an opportunity to promote Ireland and the Skelligs as a place to visit.

Nor is it surprising that, according to a nice piece by Ireland.com, the wrap party for the cast and crew took place at the Bridge Bar in Portmagee with a full-fledged session: music, dancing, and Mark Hamill trying his hand at pulling a Guinness from the tap.

Definitely a step up from the Mos Eisley cantina.

 

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