A handful of places on planet Earth are about to become very famous thanks to a galaxy far, far, away.
When "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" blasts into theaters later this week, it won't just be the new characters, lightsaber battles and the return of the Millennium Falcon that will have everyone talking. Director J.J. Abrams has also captured some absolutely gorgeous (and relatively unknown) natural settings that are sure to attract attention in the years to come. Below are five of the most stunning to keep in mind when planning your own next adventure.
1. Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England
Puzzlewood, in the Forest of Dean, is part of one of the UK's last ancient forests. (Photo: Trubble/Flickr)
One of the last surviving ancient woodlands in England, Puzzlewood is a 14-acre site featuring strange rock formations, hidden caves and massive, gnarly trees. The woodland landscape is dominated by moss-covered scowles, remains of an ancient cave system that's been uplifted, eroded and exposed. Author J.R.R. Tolkien, a frequent visitor to Puzzlewood, reportedly based his mysterious forests of Middle-Earth on the site. It has served as the backdrop to everything from the BBC drama "Merlin" to the fantasy adventure "Jack the Giant Slayer."
2. Krafla and Lake Mývatn, Iceland
The Krafla region of Iceland is home to boiling mudpools, volcanic eruptions, and steaming cracks in the ground. (Photo: Dimitri Feltrin/Flickr)
It turns out not even the Force is not immune to Iceland's hold over Hollywood. The land of fire and ice, featured over the years in everything from "Batman Begins" to "Interstellar" and "Oblivion," is the backdrop for not one, but two important scenes in "The Force Awakens." The first is Krafla, a volcanic caldera that features a 2,600-foot peak, boiling mudpools, and steaming cracks in the ground. The region, which doubles as the location of The Wall in HBO's "Game of Thrones," is reportedly the location of a winter-time battle between the Empire and Rebels in "Awakens." Nearby Lake Mývatn, itself home to some beautiful, strange and decidedly more green geologic formations is reportedly also featured in the film.
3. Rub' al Khali desert, Arabian Peninsula
The Rub' al Khali or 'Empty Quarter' is the largest sand desert on Earth. (Photo: Nepenthes/WikiMedia)
The largest contiguous sand desert in the world, the Rub' al Khali, doubles as the planet Jakku in "The Force Awakens." Cast and crew reportedly spent six months shooting in the arid region, using the codeword "Avco" (named after the LA theater where Abrams saw the original "Star Wars") to keep the production a secret. The 620-miles-long, 310-miles-wide desert features unending sand dunes, ancient dry lake beds, and yes, luxury resorts to escape the heat. "The heat was so — ahh, my God — so intense," actress Daisy Ridley told the LA Times. "Like sweaty and gritty, we were filthy in it."
4. Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland
Skellig Michael will reportedly play a big role in the next two 'Star Wars' films. (Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki/WikiMedia)
With its mix of ancient ruins and remote isolated beauty, Skellig Michael is every film scout's dream. Rising 715 feet above the sea and spanning some 54 acres, the island is home to the ruins of a Christian monastery that date back to the 6th century. To get to the ruins is an adventure in and of itself, with tourists scaling 618 steep stone steps (with no guard or handrails) and ascending some 600 feet. Despite its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Disney was granted permission to film at Skellig Michael for three days in August 2014. Rumor has it the island will also make an appearance in "Star Wars: Episode VIII."
5. Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye is regularly named one of the most beautiful islands in the world. (Photo: john mcsporran/Flickr)
Rumors of the Isle of Skye playing backdrop for scenes in "The Force Awakens" have been circulating from the beginning. With its rocky ridges, soaring pinnacles and copious stone ruins, it's easy to see why. The island, the second largest off of Scotland, is regularly featured on "trip of a lifetime" lists and was voted at one point by National Geographic as the world's "fourth most-beautiful island." Besides a possible starring role in "Star Wars," Skye has also appeared in "Prometheus," Skyfall," "The Dark Knight Rises" and the "Harry Potter" series.