Postcards from Naboo, Lake Como

Villa Balbianello Star Wars

Lake Retreat & Secret Wedding

A significant part of the impact of the Star Wars movies stems from a deliberate attention to detail. This is reflected in the appearance of props, costumes, sets and locations. A diverse multitude of planets are represented across the six Star Wars movies – careful scouting and selection of unique filming locations has formed the backdrop in this rich and convincing fictitious galaxy. In the original trilogy we saw Tatooine based on the Tunisian desert (reprised in the prequel films); the battlegrounds of Hoth based on snowfields of Norway; and the forest moon of Endor, based on the redwood forests of northern California; amongst other worldwide destinations. One of the new planets seen in the prequel trilogy, Naboo, acquires its natural and engineered style and tone from locations in Italy and Spain. It was a few years ago now, but worth recounting, that we  were lucky enough to spend a few days visiting a destination in Italy that is home to the lake region of Naboo – Lago di Como (Lake Como), north of Milan.

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The Villa del Balbianello is a lakefront property, tightly integrated into a steep promontory in Lenno, almost opposite Bellagio, constructed in the late 18th century. It is currently owned and managed by a not-for profit trust, Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (FAI), which manages historic properties and ensures they remain accessible to the public (click here for the official Villa Balbianello website). The Balbianello site has a number of components of particular interest: terraced gardens, a small port accessed by a long, stone stairway, the ivy-covered villa proper, the more inland Loggia (or Lodge). These elements were used as the Naboo lake retreat property that Anakin and Padme spend time at after the night-time assassination attempt and Coruscant speeder chase scenes. Part of the property also makes a brief appearance in the deleted scene that took place at the home of Padme’s family, elsewhere on Naboo; further, aspects of the villa’s external appearance are used as that of the Naberrie residence.

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Villa Balbianello has also been used as a location for other big budget productions. Indeed, we had to change our itinerary as the entire villa property was closed literally a couple of days after we were able to visit, for principal photography of the James Bond film, ‘Casino Royale’. Other than that unique closure, the villa is open 5 days per week (closed on Mondays and Wednesdays) and can be accessed via lake boat or road (although the latter is restricted to Tuesdays and weekends). Accompaniment by an official guide is required for visits to the building interiors. There is a bookshop on site that sells souvenirs.

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Our excursion to Naboo began in Milan, where we arrived late the night before. The train ride from Garibaldi Station, in Milan, to Como (at the southern tip of the western leg of Lake Como) takes just on an hour – from there, a number of transport options to Lenno are available (taxi or bus via road, ferry or hydrofoil via the lake). On the day that we went to the villa, taxiboat access was the only available – but this is probably the much preferred option, as you get to see and photograph the villa from the water… pretty much the same establishing shots seen in ‘Attack of the Clones).

The taxiboat docks at a jetty that is seen in the first Lake Retreat scene of EP2, but which is not used in the film; instead, Padme and Anakin alight at ‘the small port’, a narrow stairway that leads right to the water’s edge. The first point within the villa grounds that we visited was the Loggia – this building is open through the middle, framed by 2 sets of tall triple archways. Padme finds Anakin here, contemplative on the morning after his nightmare, and during their conversation, the ivy-covered walls and lodge doors are clearly visible.

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One of the terraced levels overlooking the lake is used for both the ‘first kiss’ scene and the closing scene of EP2, the ‘secret wedding’. Building up to their first romantic encounter, Padme and Anakin make their way from left to right in front of the detailed stone wall. The red flowers seen on Naboo are in fact a permanent fixture of the Villa Balbianello flora. Later, the tree-framed right-most corner of that garden level, filmed at dusk and from a slightly different angle, is the spot where Padme and Anakin exchange wedding vows.

In the deleted scenes that are available for viewing on the second disc of the Episode 2 DVD set are 2 shots that match up very easily with views at the villa. An establishing shot of the Naberrie home is one of the villa buildings, atop a tall terrace and surrounded by trimmed hedges. We also see a view out the window of the Naberrie home that is in fact a composite of the interior of a small window, placed against the an exterior shot of the terrace with the ‘mushroom-shaped tree’.

As a side note, in June of 2015, StarWars.com published an article on fans who have visited Star Wars filming locations – tales of our trip were included in that piece, as were a few of our photos, including one being used as the header/feature image. You can read that article here.

Attack of the Clones screen-caps