Star Wars Filming Locations: From Tunisia to the Tube

By Tom Pritchard on at

Next month marks 39 years since George Lucas first released the first instalment of epic sci-fi franchise Star Wars onto cinema screens. Obviously it proved to be a very big deal, and in that time we've seen the release of six more live-action films (plus one animated), with two more on the way.

Nine films means, well, a lot of filming, and given Star Wars has some of the most iconic set pieces in modern cinema it's worth checking them out. Inspired by yesterday's local tour during the first Rogue One trailer, here's an extensive list of all the locations featured in Star Wars, from 1977 to the present day and beyond.

Star Wars filming locations (a.k.a A New Hope – 1977)

The most obvious filming location for the very first Star Wars film was the Tunisian desert, standing in for the majority of the desert planet of Tatooine - the home of Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi.

Scenes taking place in the Lars family homestead were filmed in the Sidi Driss Hotel in Matmata (a hotel that is still open for business), with exterior shots filmed in the Chott el Djerid salt lake in the Nefta region. Ajim in Djerba stood in for the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is Mos Eisley. Additional Tatooine scenes were filmed in Tunisia's Sidi Bouhlel, Death Valley, and Yuma, Arizona (but it's used in scenes from the Special Edition version, only).

Sadly, the Tunisian city of Tataouine (which gave its name to the fictional desert planet) was not one of the many filming locations.

The other major outdoor location used was the Tikal National Park in Guatemala, which stood in for the Rebel's base on Yavin IV. Yavin IV is also the homeworld of The Force Awakens' Poe Dameron, a fact suggested by the choice to cast Guatemalan-born actor Oscar Isaac in the role.

The rest of Star Wars was shot on set in Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, and Shepperton Studios in Surrey.

The Empire Strikes Back filming locations (1980)

There weren't that many exterior filming locations involved in The Empire Strikes Back, with a relatively large amount of filming taking place on set in Elstree Studios in Borehamwood and Lee International Studios in Wembley.

That said it wouldn't have been possible to film the scenes on the icy moon of Hoth on a set in 1980, and these external scenes were filmed on the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier near the town of Fince in Norway.

Filming also happened to coincide with one of the worst winter storms in over 50 years, with temperatures dropping to -29 Celsius and snowfall of 5.5 metres - trapping the cast and crew inside their hotel.This was used to the crew's advantage for Luke's escape from the Wampa cave, since it meant they could film Mark Hamill running out into the cold without anyone else having to set foot outside.

Additional exterior scenes were also shot in Hillboro, Banks, and Forest Grove in the US state or Oregon. Additional sound recordings took place on Alcatraz Island. Yep, home of the infamous prison.

Return of the Jedi filming locations (1983)

Despite the plot returning Luke to his home planet, the exterior scenes in Return of the Jedi were not filmed in Tunisia. Instead the exterior shots took place in Yuma, Arizona. A very small crew also spent a day in Death Valley during post-production, in order to create additional background matte plates for the Tatooine scenes.

Obviously the most famous exterior scenes in the third film took place on the forest moon of Endor (home to savage carnivorous teddy bears), with California's Redwood National Park (near Crescent City) standing in for the lush alien world. Once the exterior shots were complete, additional bluescreen work was done at ILM in San Rafael.

The rest of the filming was done on set, once more at Elstree Studios.

The Phantom Menace filming locations (1999)

After a break of many, many years, the ever-controversial Phantom Menace brought the Star Wars franchise back to Tunisia to stand in for Tatooine. The only difference is that this time it was focussing on wee-baby Anakin rather than his son.

The outskirts of the city of Tozeur became the city of Mos Espa, and the camel-like rock at Oung Jmel was the location used to film the arrival of Darth Maul, leading to Qui Gon Jinn's duel with the Sith lord. Ksar Hadada, Ksar Medenine, and Ksar Oueld Soltane all stood in for the Mos Espa slave quarters that Anakin Skywalker and his mother called home. The final filming location in Tunisia was Sidi Bouhlel, which stood in for the Jundland Wastes in the film's Podracing sequence.

Exterior shots of Naboo's capital city of Theed were filmed in the Royal Palace in Caserta, Italy, but any scenes featuring explosions were filmed on a replica set at Leavesden Studios in order to prevent damage to the historical landmark. Scenes in Naboo's forests were filmed in Whippendell Woods near Watford.

The rest of the film was shot on set, either at Elstree Studios or Leavesden Studios, both in the UK.

Attack of the Clones filming locations (2002)

Like Star Wars and The Phantom Menace before it, Attack of the Clones brought filming back to Tunisia once more. Oung Jmel stood in for the city of Mos Espa, and both the Sidi Driss Hotel and Chott el Djerid salt lake became the Lars family homestead.

Scenes on Naboo were filmed at the Royal Palace in Caserta (standing in for the Theed Royal Palace), Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como in Italy (The Amidala summer home/Anakin and Padmé's hiding place), and Plaza de España in Spain (general shots of Naboo).

The rest of the film was shot on set at Fox Studios in Sydney, Leasing Studios, and Elstree Studios.

Revenge of the Sith filming locations (2005)

There was only one filming location for Revenge of the Sith – in front of a green screen.

HAHA! OH, ZINGER! Though I'm obviously just kidding, very little of the final Star Wars prequel was indeed actually filmed on location, with the majority of the film being shot on set at Fox Studios in Sydney, Elstree Studios, and Shepperton Studios.

Secondary filming units also shot background footage in Guilin, China, Phuket, Thailand (both used for the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk), and Grindelwald, Switzerland (Alderaan). The production company also happened to be filming near Mount Etna when it erupted in 2003, and footage of the lava flow made it into the climactic scenes on the volcanic world of Mustafar.

As ever, the Chott el Djerid salt lake in Tunisia was used for exterior shots of the Lars Homestead (which appeared on screen for about 10 seconds). That's about it. The rest of the actual acting was filmed in a studio somewhere, ready to be CGI'd into existence. Thanks, George Lucas.

The Force Awakens filming locations (2015)

Unlike the George Lucas-led prequel trilogy, JJ Abrams opted to film as much of the latest Star Wars film on location as possible, rather than overly relying on green screen after effects. You can really tell too, given how many different places were featured in the final film.

Sadly Tunisia probably isn't one of the best places to film right now, due to political unrest. So rather than sticking to Star Wars tradition, the scenes based on the desert planet of Jakku were filmed in the Rub' al Khali desert near Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

England played host to a pretty large amount of The Force Awakens' filming, with the exterior of Maz Katana's castle on Takodana being filmed Derwentwater in the Lake District, and the Resistance base on D'Qar filmed at RAF Greenham Common.

The fight sequence between Finn/Rey and Kylo Renn  also took place in the Forest of Dean. That's contrary to the rumours that this area was being used as a stand-in for Endor. The last thing this film needed was bloody Ewoks.

The final sequence of Luke Skywalker's island refuge was filmed on Skellig Michael Island off the coast of Ireland. Landscape shots were also filmed in Mývatn, Iceland around the Krafla volcano. The rest of filming took place at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

Rogue One filming locations (2016)

Until the film comes out, we won't know a great deal about the different locations used in this year's Rogue One. What we do know, however, is that London's Canary Wharf Tube station was used for some interior shots of the Death Star (as spotted yesterday by Gerald), and that some scenes were shot in Iceland, Jordan, and Laamu Atoll in the Maldives.

Given that part of the film appears to take place on Yavin IV, it wouldn't be surprising if film crews had returned to Tikka National Park in Guatamala - even if it's just for exterior shots.

A large portion of the film was also shot at Elstree Studios.

Episode VIII filming locations (2017)

Image: Disney/Variety

The as-of-yet untitled Episode VIII might not have a name yet, but now that filming has begun we do know where some of the film is being shot.

Naturally, following the epic cliffhanger at the end of The Force Awakens, filming has returned to Skellig Michael Island, Ireland to film scenes starring both Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley. Scenes have also been shot in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and rumour has it both Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley were spotted on set.

Other filming locations include Mexico, Las Vegas, Ireland, Boynton Beach in Florida, and Pinewood Studios.