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Dunes dominate in the Rub al Khali desert near Abu Dhabi (Photograph by George Steinmetz, National Geographic)

On Location: Five Scene-Stealing ‘Star Wars’ Sets

They may not be in a galaxy far, far away, but exotic locales such as the soaring sand dunes of Abu Dhabi and Iceland’s bubbling calderas help give Star Wars: The Force Awakens—which hits theaters in December—an otherworldly spirit similar to the original trilogy’s.

Die-hard fans ritually tour Star Wars film sites, yet in the most recent prequel films, CGI replaced most location shooting. But for Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams, real sets were the priority.

Rub al Khali,Rub al Khali, the desert landscape outside of Abu Dhabi known for its nearly thousand-foot-high sand dunes, represents Jakku, a newly introduced planet filled with starship wreckage.

There’s a rumor of a future Star Wars museum at nearby Saadiyat Island, where a Louvre and the world’s largest Guggenheim are being built.

At Iceland’s Krafla volcano, another filming site, an eruption in 1724 formed a crater that now holds an aquamarine lake with a hiking trail along the rim.

Across the country, the Eyjafjallajökull glacier doubles as an ice-covered planet similar to The Empire Strikes Backs Hoth.

For greener pastures, the crew headed to Ireland’s Skellig Michael, a towering rock island and World Heritage site that features the remains of a medieval monastery, and England’s Greenham Common, a former Royal Air Force base in Berkshire that’s now known for restored heathlands and walking paths.

This piece, written by Marlene Goldman, first appeared in the December 2015 / January 2016 issue of Traveler magazine.