We all remember that near-iconic scene from the end of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, when Rey climbs up the ancient staircase to find Luke Skywalker gazing off toward the sea. He turns around, only to find her carrying his father's lightsaber. It was an exciting moment for #StarWars fans for many reasons, but some of the symbolism in the choice of the filming location may have been lost on many.
Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of Ireland, was the site chosen by J.J. Abrams to stand in as the first Jedi Temple. It's a particularly striking location, considering its historical importance as an early Christian monastery. Indeed, the role Irish monks played in spreading Christianity through early medieval Europe eerily mirrors that of the #Jedi.
Skellig Michael has been home to a Christian monastery as far back as possibly the 6th century. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was occupied until the 12th century, but has been an important pilgrimage destination long after that. Remains of the monastery included domed structures that served as living quarters for the monks, a church, several oratories, and stone slabs and crosses that served as tombstones.
The otherworldliness of this location has been noted by various authors, who have discussed the connection between monasticism and #LukeSkywalker's supposed search for a place of quiet meditation after his failure to resurrect the Jedi Order. Indeed, this was the same kind of motivation that brought Christian monks to this place.
Early Christians often sought salvation in remote places, particularly those that were thought to be at the ends of the Earth. To medieval Europeans, you can't get any closer to the end of the Earth than Skellig Michael. It is just about the farthest west you can go in the British Isles. Looking out from the island's west side, one is faced with the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and, since Europeans had not yet explored further beyond that point, this appeared to be as far as one could possibly go.
Irish Monks And Christianity
The origins of Christianity in medieval Europe are strongly tied to the tradition of monasticism in Ireland. We know that Christianity first became popular and spread throughout Europe during the later part of the Roman Empire, particularly when Emperor Constantine the Great inaugurated Christianity as an official religion of the empire in the year 313. Nevertheless, after the fall of Rome to the Ostrogoths in 476, indigenous pagan religions remained popular throughout Europe.
Part of the Irish Christian tradition was that of sending missionaries throughout Europe. While it was probably not an organized effort, it converted most of the remaining pagans in Europe to Christianity. Starting in Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles, these missionaries then founded monasteries throughout France, Germany, the Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and central Europe, with the intent of spreading Christianity wherever they could.
While their monastic life set the missionaries apart from the general population, it is clear from their conversions that common folk were inspired by these foreign people, with their mystical beliefs and practices. While we do not know if any of these monks came from #SkelligMichael in particular, the monks living there were a part of the same tradition as those that traveled throughout Europe.
Jedi As Monks
Of course, it would be an imperfect metaphor to equate the Jedi with these monks, but there are certain similarities that are striking. These similarities make the choice of Skellig Michael as the location of the first Jedi Temple an excellent one. The first, of course, is the meditative, monastic, sometimes downright isolated lives the Jedi live, which is very similar to that of early Christian monks, particularly the Irish ones seeking salvation at the "end of the world" at Skellig Michael.
The early origins of the Jedi are unclear, and the full story behind the first #JediTemple has yet to be revealed, so it is impossible to say at this point how it directly parallels Skellig Michael. It is not difficult to imagine, however, that it served as a central point from which the Jedi spread out across the galaxy, seeking new Padawans, just as the Irish monks sought new converts. At the same time, they also spread a perceived order throughout the galaxy, just as Irish monks saw the spread of Christianity as creating some kind of order.
Eventually, the Jedi Temple would be moved to Coruscant. As the medieval period continued in Europe, the monasteries founded by Irish monks were of less importance, and power became more concentrated in the center of Western Christianity: Rome. Finally, even the pilgrimage Luke makes to the first Jedi Temple is reminiscent of pilgrims coming to Skellig Michael after it was abandoned by the monks.
So, there are commonalities to be seen in both the history of Irish monasticism and the function of Skellig Michael when compared to what is known about the early Jedi. Surely upcoming films, books, and other media will expand on this history and exploration of these similarities will become more concrete. Until then, we can appreciate this truly inspired choice of location as the first Jedi Temple. It's definitely a better use of the archaeological record than that seen in X-Men: Apocalypse!
We'll next see Skellig Michael in Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, set for release on December 15. In the meantime, relive the magic of that final scene from The Force Awakens.