Now that The Last Jedi has arrived on HD digital, fans have started scouring through the footage with a closer eye for Easter Eggs. We have new details on the production from designer Rick Heinrichs. He inherited the job from The Force Awakens production designer Rick Carter, revealing that while The Force Awakens introduced fans to the hidden planet of Ahch-To, which was shot on Skellig Michael Island off the coast of Ireland, much more needed to be seen in the sequel. Which caused some big headaches. Heinrichs explains how difficult the shoot there was.
"It was up to us to figure out how we were going to do all the rest of the scenes that take place on the island. And it was like, 'This is fantastic Rick, thank you very much, it's beautiful, but it's a real pain in the ass to shoot at.'"
While The Force Awakens only featured the final scene at Ahch-to, there was a significant amount of time spent on this new planet in The Last Jedi. While Skellig Michael Island worked great for that one scene in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi story demanded much more of the island, and it was clear early on that it would be impossible to shoot most of this story there.The production team was forced to search for a new location that could replicate the same look as Skellig Michael Island. Here's what Heinrichs had to say about why they needed to find a different shooting spot.
"You've got two views there: one is into the rocks and the other is out to the water, and what we needed was a place for our own village that had both of those things in the same shot, and that was tough to find."
The production ended up shooting a majority of the Ahch-to scenes on a piece of Irish coastline not too far from Skellig Michael Island, with the production designer revealing that there are even a few shots in the movie where you can see the actual island they're supposed to be on. This production shift made it easier for the production team to construct buildings like Luke's living quarters and the Caretaker village. Each element of the island presented different histories that had to inform their designs and decorations. Luke's hut had to be simple, but also look worn-in, given the crestfallen Jedi's lengthy residence and isolation. Here's what Heinrichs had to say about designing Ahch-to to indicate how long Skywalker had been in isolation there for.
"It was a function of coming up with something that felt hermetically satisfying, in terms of what his lifestyle would have been, but also with some interesting aspects to it. We used a panel from the X-wing for the door, and originally we dressed it to the nines with lots of different elements we thought made sense. The idea was for Rian to look through it and see what stuck, and ultimately he got rid of a lot of that stuff and just kept it very simple with a few very interesting and precious objects."
Heinrichs added that Luke Skywalker has an "amazing amulet" that he never wears, but is something that can be spotted among his possessions, although there are no other details about the significance of this jewelry. He also added some "little token figures" to "create a little bit of a sense of company." As for the Jedi temple and the Force-sensitive Great Tree, they had originally planned on building it in Iceland, but the weather proved to be too unpredictable, so the Temple was built at Longcross Studios in the U.K., on a slope that was originally used for testing tanks during WWII. Here's what Heinrichs had to say about the Jedi Temple.
"The temple and the tree were meant to be built structures initially. Lucasfilm had done some images to that effect, and one of the things I felt was more important was to put across a slightly simpler and more kind of gnostic version of what the early Jedi religion was. A temple that wasn't quite as a built structure. The Jedi, who are masters of balancing the light and the dark, probably worked a little bit more with the nature and the natural configuration of caves. If you ever go to Skellig Island, it's weird, the top of it looks almost like a cathedral, it almost has a very holy feel to it just from that."
Heinrichs also added that he originally thought Luke Skywalker had this vast library of Jedi texts, until he was corrected by director Rian Johnson. As for the interior of the Temple itself, that too was sparse. "One of the things that helped me along the way was that I thought, this library has got like a lot of books, you know? And Rian was like 'No, there's like eight,'" he recalled, laughing.
Heinrichs originally designed the Caretaker village on Skellig Michael Island and the actual village was built on the island. They then recorded the setup with drones and scanned the ground, so they could rebuild the set at Pinewood.more with natural items to build a more complete setting. They first built it on Skellig Michael, recorded the setup with drones, scanned the ground, then rebuilt it at Pinewood. He added that a much larger version of the Caretaker village was ultimately cut. You can head over to SyFy Wire for their full interview with Rich Heinrichs.