In the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans at long last learned the answer to the question that bugged them the most during the buildup: "Where's Luke Skywalker?" Arriving on a mysterious island in an uncharted part of the galaxy, young Rey finds the grizzled hero at the top of the "Jedi Steps," holding out Luke's old lightsaber as a way of asking him to rejoin the fray. The movie's screenplay revealed that this planet is named Ahch-To. To shoot the now famous climactic sequence, J.J. Abrams and crew went to Skellig Michael in Ireland.
Rian Johnson was able to use the location to film some scenes for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII (which can be seen in the production announcement video), but Skellig Michael is hardly the easiest place in the world to access. With Star Wars 8 seemingly picking up right from where Force Awakens left off, Ahch-To could factor heavily into the plot as Rey commences training with Luke. It would appear that Johnson does indeed have big plans for the planet, since the island has been recreated at Pinewood Studios in London.
The Daily Mail had a batch of set photos that show a substantial replication of Skellig Michael. The scope and effort on display is quite astonishing, and a clear indication that Johnson intends to carry over the practical filmmaking techniques Abrams incorporated in Episode VII. A full scale Millennium Falcon model is also included in some of the pictures, suggesting that Chewbacca and R2-D2 (who accompanied Rey to Ahch-To) are still with her while she's with Luke. Star Wars Direct shared some of the images on Twitter:
The Millennium Falcon on set for Star Wars: Episode VIII pic.twitter.com/UlZRjd3rVL
— Star Wars Direct (@StarWarsDirect) April 30, 2016
Overall, the Ahch-To set strongly resembles the Skellig Michael location with a few alterations - namely the large tree. Making Star Wars theorizes that Rey could undergo a test there, similar to Luke's experience at the Dagobah cave in The Empire Strikes Back, but at this point it's difficult to say for sure. Regardless, having the set should prove to be valuable as principal photography chugs along, giving Johnson a more readily available Jedi Steps to film on. It's becoming apparent that viewers will see more of Ahch-To in Episode VIII, as earlier set photos showcased huts being constructed, perhaps where Luke calls home. Lucasfilm wouldn't commission all of this if the planet was just making a cameo.
While The Force Awakens implies Luke went into exile after his pupil Ben Solo turned to the Dark Side and became Kylo Ren, it's never revealed why he specifically went to Ahch-To. Han Solo believed his old friend was searching for the first Jedi Temple, but Luke's mission hasn't been officially confirmed yet. With Mark Hamill having a substantial role in Star Wars 8, it's likely that fans learn the answers to some of the burning questions they have about Luke. The potential importance of Ahch-To and Luke's possible connection with Rey are tantalizing elements to explore, and with a talented director like Johnson at the helm, it looks like the story is in strong hands.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16th, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.