Star Wars begins shooting in Abu Dhabi

The rumours began swirling a long time ago - now the United Arab Emirates is finally acknowledging it is standing in for George Lucas's galaxy far, far away.

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Harrison Ford stars.
Harrison Ford stars.

A media company backed by the Gulf federation's capital of Abu Dhabi announced that the next instalment of Star Wars is currently filming in the oil-rich Middle Eastern emirate.

It was the first definitive word from the Middle East nation that filming had begun. Officials had previously refused to confirm any involvement with the seventh instalment of the galactic franchise, even after a government-owned paper reported on the preparations.

The media company, known as twofour54, said director JJ Abrams and cast arrived in early May.

It made no mention of any specific droids or Jedi involved.

"We are extremely excited about being part of such a huge movie," Paul Baker, executive director of twofour54 Intaj, the company's production services division, told the Associated Press.

"It's a good demonstration that we are well on the way to establishing a long-term production environment in Abu Dhabi," he said.

Abu Dhabi has invested heavily in trying to establish itself as a centre of media production and a destination for film-makers from around the world. So has the nearby Emirati city of Dubai, which played a central role in the 2011 blockbuster Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

Filming on Fast & Furious 7 recently wrapped up in Abu Dhabi. The American soap opera The Bold And The Beautiful also filmed in the Emirati capital this year, as did Bollywood feature Bang Bang.

More than 600 international and regional crew as well as lead and supporting cast members are in the Emirates for the Star Wars shoot, according to Mr Baker.

He would not say how much The Walt Disney Co's Lucasfilm division was spending in Abu Dhabi, describing it only as "significant". The film-makers will be taking advantage of a 30% rebate on production costs.

The government-owned daily newspaper The National reported last month on apparent preparations for the filming deep in the desert, and later said that the police and army had been deployed around the site to keep onlookers away.

While he was unable to confirm what specific measures were being taken, Mr Baker defended the intense secrecy surrounding the shoot

"A very important part of us building our film industry is ensuring we are able to maintain confidentiality on film projects," he said. "This one being the most anticipated movie shooting this year, it's quite reasonably shrouded in secrecy."

Disney bought Lucasfilm for just over four billion dollars (£2.36 billion) and said it would revive the Star Wars franchise in 2012.

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy described Abu Dhabi as "an incredible place to commence this journey" in the twofour54 statement.

Star Wars: Episode VII is scheduled for release in December 2015.

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