In October 2000, when I was in Tunisia hunting for STAR WARS locations, there were a number of shots of Jawas watching R2-D2 as he moved through the canyon that I simply couldn't find. A few months later, I came to find out that at least a couple of shots from this sequence were filmed in Death Valley at Artist's Palette. I figured that the other shots I didn't see in Tunisia might be there as well.
Over the next few years, I continued to research this online. Though I did run across a few trip reports from STAR WARS fans who had visited Death Valley, the only shots I ever saw from this particular sequence in the film, where the three main shots from Artist's Palette: 1) the shot of R2-D2 entering the canyon (the first shot of the sequence), 2) the shot of R2 rolling away from camera inside the canyon, and 3) the shot of the Jawas carrying R2 to the sandcrawler.
A breakthrough came in mid-2006 when I was looking at Death Valley photos on flickr. As I was scrolling through the search results, this photo by a user named Paul Heaston caught my eye. It wasn't captioned or otherwise tagged as a STAR WARS location, but I was drawn to the profile of the rock on the left of the frame. It looked like the profile of a face and I recognized it from the STAR WARS screen captures I had more or less memorized by this point. I noticed that the shot was taken in Golden Canyon, so I modified my search to specify Golden Canyon. I did the same over at panoramio. Within minutes I had noticed a few other images that appeared to match up with shots from STAR WARS, though at the time none were tagged as such. I thought I might be on to something, but I needed more. I needed to visit the place to be certain. In February 2008, I did just that.
The first shot I came across on location, happened to be the entrance to the canyon itself. Merely a few steps from the Golden Canyon parking area, this shot is one of two static shots the appear in the film when Luke Skywalker is knocked unconscious after being attacked by a Tusken Raider. This also happened to be a view I had seen on flickr/panoramio a year or two earlier. Entering the canyon, it wasn't very long at all before I found myself in familiar territory. As it turned out, most of the shots were to be found within a stone's throw of each other some two-hundred or so meters into the canyon. Three other shots were found not much further up the ravine - including the other static shot used in the film after Luke is attacked.
The Golden Canyon parking lot is 3.5 miles from the Death Valley Vistor Center. From the Vistor center, head southeast on HWY 190. Just before you pass the Inn At Furnace Creek, turn south on Badwater Road. The turnoff to Golden Canyon is east side of Badwater Road about 2 miles south from HWY 190. It and the parking lot appear to have been paved since my visits. As with all roads and attractions in the park, check with the Death Valley National Park website for road closures prior to your trip. See also wikimapia | googlemaps
No less than three separate real-world locations comprise the sequence in the film where R2-D2 enters the canyon, is stalked, and is ultimately stunned & captured by the Jawas. The shots were compiled from footage shot in Tunisia at the Sidi Bouhlel Gorge (aka "Star Wars Canyon") and in Death Valley at Golden Canyon & Artist's Palette. What follows is a list of all of the shots/cuts from that sequence with the filming locations noted (as best I understand them at this point). For the most part, the first third of the sequence uses the Death Valley locations, with the rest of it coming from Tunisia - save for the wide shot of the Jawas carrying R2 to the sandcrawler. The times noted are taken from the 2004 DVD release of the film.
- 11:20 – Death Valley, Artist’s Palette – R2-D2 enters the canyon
- 11:26 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – a Jawa looks out from under rock
- 11:29 – Death Valley, Artist’s Palette – R2 Rolls away from camera
- 11:34 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – a Jawa looks over ledge
- 11:37 – Death Valley, Artist’s Palette – a Jawa looks over ledge (Jawa’s POV)
- 11:40 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – a Jawa ducks behind rock
- 11:41 – Death Valley, Artist’s Palette – R2 stops and looks
- 11:44 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – rock fall
- 11:46 – Death Valley, Artist’s Palette – R2 looks around
- 11:50 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – a Jawa ducks behind rock
- 11:51 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – a Jawa ducks behind rock as R2 continues on his way
- 11:56 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – a Jawa watches from cleft in rock wall
- 11:57 – Death Valley, Golden Canyon – a Jawa’s POV of R2 from slot in wall
- 12:01 – Tunisia – travelling shot of R2
- 12:06 – Tunisia – two Jawas duck behind a rock
- 12:07 – Tunisia – R2 travels down a slope
- 12:10 – Tunisia – two Jawas duck into a cave
- 12:11 – Tunisia – R2 continues down a slope
- 12:15 – Tunisia – Jawa zaps R2
- 12:17 – Tunisia – R2 is stunned
- 12:18 – Tunisia – Jawas look on through smoke
- 12:20 – Tunisia – R2 close-up with electricity effects
- 12:21 – Tunisia – Jawas watch as R2 short-circuits
- 12:22 – Tunisia – R2 close-up
- 12:25 – Tunisia – R2 groans and falls
- 12:27 – Tunisia – Jawas react
- 12:29 – Tunisia – R2 face down on ground
- 12:31 – Tunisia – two Jawas emerge from under a rock ledge
- 12:34 – Tunisia – head Jawa calls others
- 12:36 – Tunisia – two more arrive
- 12:38 – Tunisia – head Jawa holsters his weapon
- 12:40 – Tunisia – three more Jawas scurry over
- 12:44 – Tunisia – Jawas gather around R2
- 12:47 – Tunisia – the Jawas lift R2
- 12:52 – Tunisia – the Jawas lift R2 (wider view)
- 12:57 – Tunisia – the Jawas carry R2 past rock
- 13:01 – Tunisia – the Jawas carry R2 past rock (close up)
- 13:09 – Death Valley, Artist’s Palette – Jawas carry R2 to sandcrawler (wide shot)
- 13:15 – Tunisia – the Jawas arrive at the sandcrawler with R2
- 13:19 – Tunisia – the Jawas arrive at the sandcrawler with R2 (side view)
- 13:24 – Tunisia – the Jawas stand R2 up
- 13:29 – Tunisia – Sandcrawler lowers droid “vacuum"
- 13:44 – Tunisia – R2 gets fitted with restraining bolt (close-up)
- 13:46 – Tunisia – R2 gets fitted with restraining bolt
- 13:50 – Tunisia – R2 gets sucked into sandcrawler
- 13:51 – Tunisia – Droid vac retracts as Jawas board
For me personally, this was the most fun of all the Death Valley STAR WARS locations as it embodied the most mystery - both in terms of watching the film and visiting the actual location. At the time of my first visit in 2008, I had next to no information about Golden Canyon's relation to the movie. Though they hadn't been tagged as such, a few shots I'd come across on the internet confirmed to me that the canyon had been used. Beyond that, the rest of the shots that I hadn't seen in Tunisia (or at Artist's Palette) were an mystery. But unraveling the mystery is perhaps the biggest thrill of hunting for these filming locations!
Next up ... On The Road To Jabba's Palace!