Colin's Finse trip - March 2006

Star Wars stories
My first interest in visiting in visiting Finse was probably a remark by Damien on the first Trip To Tatooine back in 2003. At the hotel Marhala on the Isle of Jerba he casually remarked that after the trip he was off to Norway to visit Finse. I have to admit that impressed me a little to just take off to Norway like that. Of course I had seen the tiny amount about Finse on the ToysRGus traveller web site, but it had never occurred to me to make the trip. I imagined it was just a snowfield, very uninspiring and nothing compared to Tunisia, plus I wasn't that familiar with the film. Then I remembered an earlier feature in the Star Wars Insider magazine, the writer made the actual locations seem difficult to find as if you needed insider knowledge about where the filming actually took place. Plus the photos were taken during the snow melt, so it looked a little less like Hoth. I still needed something more to make me want to go. But my main focus was still on Tunisia, I love that place, I love the desert. I would watch programs about Lawrence Of Arabia, watch Arabic movies and read the tour guide books. I would revisit Tozeur several times and spend days exploring around Star Wars Canyon, meeting locals and seeing some amazing sights. Someone said that snow was like a desert in many ways, the silence, isolation, cleanliness, the endless horizon and the lack of anything, yet there is so much there if you can just appreciate nature. I still needed some further motivation to make the trip though.

A trip to Belgium in October to meet up with Jeroen and others from the 2003 and 2005 Tatooine trips was to change all that... I don't know how it started, it was probably a remark by Jeroen about there not being another trip and that we should make a trip ourselves somewhere. Well the die was cast and we were making plans for Finse. Setting the date was a little awkward, it was always going to be the date of filming, but would it be 2006 or 2007?

So there I was on March 4th 2006 stepping off the flight from Manchester and walking into Oslo airport. I had a little over an hour to spare before Jeroen would land and then a further four hours before the train to Finse left Oslo Central. I had a wander around the airport and waited for Jeroen who walked through the arrivals gate and then walked off in the opposite direction! After a chat and a bite to eat we collected our pre-booked train tickets and headed off to Oslo. For some strange reason it seemed Oslo Central train station didn't have any trolleys for luggage but anyway there was plenty of time.

The train to Finse was spacious and comfortable, and the view through the window was one of a winter wonderland. There was a real excitement about the next 3 days and as we passed first through urban and then hilly countryside the sun set and we headed off into the night. As we approached Finse the train slowed right down as the railway line became steeper. The last few miles seemed to take forever then the driver announced the next station was Finse. Only four people got off the train at Finse and we were two of them. The train gave us plenty of time to get off with the bags, and left us in the dark out in the open in a town we didn't know in a temperature of -20ºC. We didn't even know which way to turn!

We headed off down the snow covered platform, well it's not really a platform since it is at the same level as the rails, and after 20m we came to a stack of beer barrels, behind the beer barrels was a familiar sign, it said 'FINSE 1222'. We had found it, it really was so close to the train station. In the daylight we would wonder how we ever thought it would be hard to find. But before doing anything else we had to have a quick explore around the outside of the hotel and take some silly photos.

Walking into the fantastic reception, we were surprised at just how quiet it was. Apparently it was the quietest few days, so I don't know if that's a good thing or not. We were told we could have any room if we didn't like the one we had. But it turned out they put us right by the hotel's back door, which is featured in a few on-location photos. Plus we got a nice view of the glacier and frozen lake. We were given a 'family' room which was 2 bedrooms and a bathroom.

Because we arrived after the normal meal times we had a buffet meal before retiring to the bar for a drink (note that is 1 drink at hotel prices!) and talk with the manageress, Merete, about getting a guide to show us the filming locations. As luck would have it an ex-resident of Finse was in town for a Red Cross training week and knew the filming locations because he was also a child extra in the movie. Merete fixed us up with a meeting for the next day and then showed us what little Star Wars items the hotel had to offer. Firstly downstairs where there is a set of framed photos and some facts about the filming, then back to reception where we were allowed to wear a genuine rebel snow trooper's head gear (but no goggles). Merete explained that no one at the hotel really cared about the movie and that it was all in the past. I got the impression that although she knew about the movie she had never actually seen it. In fact most of the staff had probably not seen it, it really is no big deal in Finse. Although she did not mind the occasional visit by the fans she did not want it overrun by them. I think she sees the hotel as primarily for outdoor activities.

The hotel breakfast was fantastic, every type of breakfast you can think of plus a few more! The hotel's dining / lounge area enjoyed a magnificent view of the glacier and surroundings. Make your own sandwiches for later because the hotel does not serve lunch, although the reception does sell cake, coffee and drink.

We waited for our guide but he couldn't show up until later so we decided to go for a walk on the glacier. We walked out across the frozen lake and then headed uphill. It was a lot of fun in the snow, you never knew if your next step would go straight through the snow up to your knee. As in the Star Wars Canyon there were lots of big rocks lying all around. Although we were in sub-zero temperatures the lack of any wind meant that just walking was enough to keep warm. Eventually Kenneth turned up after his training and we headed out on his snowmobile to the battlefield site. There was no need for him to point out anything, we knew straight away where everything was. But what came next was unexpected. Returning to the hotel we veered off the track to a large flat snowfield. This, said Kenneth, was an additional battlefield location where AT-ATs were super imposed on the film coming towards the rebels. I hadn't anticipated 2 locations at all and it was a pleasant surprise. Finally we were taken to the Han Solo / Probot rock. A little way off as I remember as Kenneth wasn't exactly sure of which rock it was, but close enough. By now it was getting cold and we had been out around an hour so it was time to head back to the hotel. Along the way Kenneth mentioned that another hillside not too far from the hotel had been used for filming and he could take us tomorrow. Well he never did, but I imagine it's the spot where Luke stands and watches the Falcon take off over the glacier, everything would line up perfectly from that hillside. As we pulled into the hotel Kenneth had one last piece of info for us, the place Luke gets knocked out by the Wampas arm. He pointed to a balcony of the Apartments 1222 building where he said that he and his friend watched it all happen, and by all accounts Mark was given a good old whack by that arm. Having now watched the Building Empire dvd I can imagine Mark wanted that scene over in as few takes as possible.

There wasn't much to do after that but retire to the lounge, play a few rounds of Star Wars Top Trumps, have a can of beer from the airport and wait for dinner to be served. There was a different menu every evening however the wine list prices are enough to give your wallet a coronary!

Now we had been shown the locations we decided to revisit them the next day on cross-country skis, which we rented from the hotel. It wasn't the best gear but it was all that was available. We had no idea how long it would take but Merete had mentioned it was maybe 4km in a straight line and 7km of actual walking. Apart from being tricky on the downhill slopes there was little trouble on the skis and the exercise made sure you were never cold, in fact quite the opposite, at times I would be unzipping my coat to cool down a little.

The first port of call was at the second battlefield site, just a stone throw away from the main glacier site. Here we collected samples of snow and rock for the collection. Figuring the snow up there is pure and feeling a little thirsty I thought it safe to eat a few handfuls of snow, with apparently no after effects. The main glacier looked just a stones throw away however it seems to get there involves navigating up one long uphill slope, very exhausting but worthwhile. Another set of snow and rock samples were collected, before tucking in to our sandwiches from the hotel's breakfast bar. Trouble is, it's so cold up there that the sandwiches started to freeze after a few minutes out in the open, just like our fingers as well! The way back was again via the Han Solo rock.

After dinner in the late evening we bumped into Kenneth at the hotel bar and he went through the 'Making Of' photos we took with us. He explained roughly where each was filmed, when we get to Lukes crashed Snow Speeder he pointed to Dex and said "That's my friend". So the Dex actor in the studio didn't travel to Finse, instead they used a local boy as a stand-in. This was confirmed when I watched the Empire Building dvd a week later back home. Kenneth gave us an autograph and his address and we agreed to send him some photos from the movie.

Day 3 (our last full day in Finse) and Merete said she had fixed for us to meet someone else in the village connected with the movie around lunch-time. We had a wander around the village and tried to find the railway museum which we did with a little help from the hotel staff. We killed an hour or so in the museum before going back to the hotel for a possible meeting. The guy didn't turn up so we take a load of 'Making Of ESB' photos and stick them into a scrap book to present to the hotel. One of the guests saw the photos, it turns out he was well aware of the film's connection with Finse. Merete showed up later in the afternoon and explained her 'friend' had been too busy at work to call in at the hotel but she would see what could be done tomorrow morning before we leave. We mention to Merete some of the places we saw in the village and one of them was the village school, where the people of Finse were treated to a private showing of the movie by Lucasfilm way back when. It felt like a bit of a wasted day since it was too late to go out into the hills or anywhere so we just had a quick wander around the Finsehytta to see if we could line up any photos. Afterwards we handed over our scrap book to Merete who placed it alongside the rebel cap in the cabinet behind reception.

Next morning we were up early to get our 10:00 train to Oslo. It was sad to be leaving such a wonderful place but it was so darn expensive in the hotel, we had to go. We got a call from Merete who took us to see our man from the previous day. It turned out he worked just next door in the railway station, as he did 25 years before when he handled all the film crews freight and equipment when it arrived by rail. He couldn't really tell us anything about the filming though. Merete then kindly showed us around some of the closed areas of the hotel and told us a little about the history of the hotel. It would be cool if they had some old guestbook or receipts with Kurtz's or Ford's signatures but sadly they do not. How much is a 1979 Mark Hamill autograph worth anyway?

Well the journey was over and it was time to board the train and return to our normal lives. Don't let anyone put you off making this journey, Finse is an easy place to reach and once there you'll have no problem spotting the locations. It was an amazing trip!

Colin Kenworthy

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