Star Wars Traveller – Yavin 4 (a.k.a. Tikal, Guatemala)

Thirteen seconds! Just THIRTEEN SECONDS! That is as long as the ‘Star Wars Episode IV‘ scene in Guatemala lasted. The shot of Tikal, first seen on 98 minutes (and again on 105 mins), features the Millennium Falcon spaceship flying over Yavin 4 which is overseen by a rebel standing on top of Temple IV in the western part of the national park. I have wanted to go to this 550-sq km place for a while now, and believe it or not, long before I even knew it was used briefly in the original 1977 film.

I arrived on the island of Flores (albeit one which is connected to Santa Elena via a 500m causeway) on December 24th following a seven hour bus journey from Antigua via Guatemala City. On Christmas Day I took an early bus to Tikal (not a pre-sunrise one though!) and I have to say that I was far more impressed than I thought I would be. My preconceptions were that it was just a jungle with a few temples and to an extent it is but there’s far more to the place though with thousands of ruined structures dominating the site. I spent the day in the company of a very nice South African couple; Shaun and Kerry, and we had a great day wandering around a fairly deserted place in the glorious sunshine. This was in contrast to the end of the Maya Long Count calendar four days before when by all accounts the place was packed full of people anticipating the supposed end-of-the-world.

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As you can see in the comparison shots above the towering pyramids are of a more glowing golden colour in the film. We reached this lookout point by ascending a series of wooden steps on the back of the 64m temple and the stunning views of the jungle’s green canopy really are the highlight for many. Of course the vast majority of visitors are none the wiser regarding the Star Wars filming location but I was quite surprised to overhear a few people mention the movie whilst we were in the vicinity of the temple. Not sure if they knew that this was the rebel base where Luke Skywalker and co launched their attack to destroy the Galactic Empire’s giant space station; the Death Star, and save his people from Darth Vader grasp.

According to chapter 33 of John Knoll’s ‘Creating the Worlds of Star Wars 365 Days‘ book the Rebel lookout was played by model-maker Lorne Peterson and his perch was erected on site with Richard Edlund of ILM pictured behind the camera in the behind-the-scenes shot (below right) taken in March 1977. According to this article on the Reuters website on December 18th the heavy camera and lighting gear was carried to the top of the temple using a pulley system and a guard protected the equipment with a shotgun for four nights in return for a six-pack of beer! The interior of the Rebel base was actually filmed at Cardington Air Establishment in Bedfordshire, England with the additional helping of a matte painting.

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If you thought thirteen seconds in ‘Star Wars‘ was short then thats nothing when compared to the three seconds which it is on screen for in the James Bond movie ‘Moonraker‘ (1979). 007 travels through the Amazon in search of villain Hugo Drax’s lair, encountering Jaws and other henchmen along the way, before he discovers it supposedly at Temple I at Gran Plaza (as seen in the screenshot below left) though the interior shots were filmed in the studio.

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Across from Temple I is Temple II and despite not being able to climb them (due to people tumbling to their death in the past) they were still awesome to just look at. Beneath the two Temple II pictures below are some photos of other ruined structures as well as the active wildlife in the 16 sq km central area.

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