“There is a rocky island, far out in the sea. And a second, smaller island. They lie on the far edge of the inhabited world.”
If these words, spoken by the great actor Josef Bierbichler at the end of Werner Herzog’s 1976 drama Herz aus Glas (Heart of Glass), bring to mind the final shots of a certain, recent episode of the Star Wars franchise, it’s because the actual islands Herzog filmed to bring Bierbichler’s character’s vision to screen are the Skellig Islands off the southwestern coast of Ireland.
“I see a man on top of the rock. For years he stood alone, looking out over the sea. Day after day, always in the same place.”
They are the same islands that J. J. Abrams, some forty years later, used to shoot the closing scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And it’s not just the location that connects both of these final scenes: from the establishing shots to the almost identical images, filmed from a circling helicopter, of a lone man in long robes at the top of the rock, staring out into the sea, the similarities are striking.
Coincidence? Probably. I’ve read and listened to a handful of interviews with J. J. Abrams over the years, and I don’t remember him ever talking about Werner Herzog. And an out of the blue homage to a relatively obscure German drama set in 18th-century Bavaria doesn’t exactly strike me as something Abrams would do. But I sure would love to ask him about it.