A Visit to Death Valley In Search of Star Wars
by Chris Gore
FEBURARY 14, 2015
From the first time the words, “In a galaxy far, far away…” appeared on screen, fans have wanted to travel to the Star Wars universe. To be able to visit the forests of Endor or the frozen drifts of Hoth or the desert planet of Tatooine is a dream to many. Sure, these fictional planets exist on screen and in our imagination, but these worlds from that galaxy far, far away are also actual shooting locations. In fact, unlike most modern fantasy epics that feature locations made on a computer, the Star Wars locations are all right here on earth. And you can visit them.
You only need to travel to Death Valley in California, which was used for many of the locations from Luke’s home world of Tatooine. This national park is only a few hours outside of Las Vegas, which is a great place to stay for your visit to one of the driest locations on our planet.
Death Valley itself is a place of jaw-dropping beauty. To witness nature here is humbling as you view the mountainous terrain, glorious vistas, and rock formations that look simply otherworldly. But do not keep your jaw open long or your mouth will dry out. One of the things that is most surprising about Death Valley is how serene the entire place feels. In fact, if you listen carefully, you will notice that you’ll hear nothing. Nothing. Not even the sound of birds. It’s unsettling at first, but then that silence brings forth an inner peace. On our trip to Death Valley, we didn’t see one piece of vegetation, not one snake or lizard, and we did not see a bird. The absolute quiet is something that must be experienced to be appreciated. It’s more peaceful than you can possibly imagine.
In addition, it’s worth noting that during the day, the heat can be nothing less than blistering so stay covered with light clothing, a baseball cap or hat with a wide brim and liberally apply sunscreen. And if you’re there at night, it does get cold, so be ready for a dramatic shift in the temperature.
When Obi-Wan Kenobi overlooks a spectacular vista on Tatooine, he says to Luke, “Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”
This quote from the original Star Wars is not a bad thing to say out loud when you actually see the vista for yourself. It’s utterly stunning… nothing but mountainous desert as far as the eye can see. The only piece missing is the actual spaceport itself, which was added later as a matte painting. The many shades of brown will blow your mind as you bear witness to actual purple mountains’ majesty. To truly appreciate this wondrous miracle of nature as a Star Wars fan, stand as close to the actual position as did actors Alec Guinness and Mark Hamill. Breathtaking.
Another familiar location is the patch of desert that Luke and the droids traveled in their landspeeder. This can easily be seen on the road, and seems fairly innocuous, but it is amazing to think that this is the place where that simple scene was shot. The original special effect, which gave the landspeeder the appearance of floating above the ground, was achieved simply with an angled mirror that hid the wheels of the vehicle.
There is one location that will warm your heart: the rocky valley traveled by R2-D2. As the little droid rolled alone through this cavern, Jawas pursued him. The little junk dealers surprise R2 and short circuit the droid who falls flat on his metal face. In a cute way, of course. This small cavern can be seen from on high and you may also venture the road traveled by little R2. You’ll have to stand in exactly the right position to see the angle it was shot for the movie, but it will be instantly familiar when you see it. Luckily, it’s not crawling with Jawas, so you may safely bring along an R2-D2 action figure, LEGO toy, or even an R2 cooler to take photos. I highly recommend bringing along an R2 toy of any kind as an Astro droid fits into this scenery so well.
Seeing these Tatooine shooting locations in real life is remarkably moving. It becomes very apparent why George Lucas chose Death Valley to shoot Star Wars—the place is unlike anywhere else on earth. It truly transports you to a galaxy far, far away.
Chris Gore is a comedian, a writer and an occasional TV host. He is a trekkie. A film devotee. He is in constant search of the nerd universe and will report back with news of alien life. He is batman.