It was at Dave Tree’s excellent Farthest From Toy Show event in December last year when former Jedi News members Brian Cameron, Matt Booker and Mark Newbold, now of Fantha Tracks, mooted an idea to visit Hoth. Yes! Sign me up!
Details were initially sketchy and as a teacher dates must fall into place with school holidays, but I can honestly say it was simple to organise and everything fell into place nicely. Jumping ahead for a moment, there will indeed be a Visit Hoth 40th Anniversary with some fantastic surprises and some of this article may help in the planning.
How to get there
I know some flew to Oslo but I went to the nearest airport which was Bergen. Neither journey was difficult but the times of the trains worked better for me and Bergen Airport was simple to navigate. To get from the airport to the train station at Nonneseter you have three options; taxi, light railway or shuttle bus. I got the light railway there (approximately £4 and 40 minutes journey time) and the shuttle bus on return (approximately £12 and 20 minutes journey time). Both were clearly marked and simple to find. The train from Nonneseter to Finse is bookable online and costs around £35 each way. It is not a frequent train by any means so be careful when booking flights. The train journey is around 2 ½ hours and covers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Very quickly you leave behind civilisation and are in the snowy mountains with beautiful lakes and snowy peaks. The Hotel at Finse 1222 is on the train platform so there is no chance at all of getting lost at this point even in a blizzard.
The staff at the hotel are wonderful and cannot do enough for you. They are especially keen to hear ideas on how to improve the experience for future guests. I arrived the day before in order to be fully refreshed for the whole experience.
Visit Hoth is led by Andreas Frølich who is always available throughout the weekend. There is a programme of events and a timetable clearly displayed which gives a rundown of things to look for. Make sure that you book your dogs or ski tours as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
From 17:30 to 19:00 we were encouraged to circulate and to meet and greet. There are people of all nationalities there and a special shout out must go to my fellow Spanish Star Wars Toy Collector Gonzalo Diaz, James Floyd from San Diego and Peter Husby from Norway for an especially wonderful time. During this time there were rare photographs displayed throughout the hotel showing behind the scenes footage and TV screens scrolling through never seen before images.
After the evening meal we were taken to the first panel which was hosted by Petter Aagaard, a Norwegian fan who recently published a book discussing the prequel trilogy. Also, two members of the Norwegian Crew (Greg Dupre and Christian Berrum) discussed their time during the making of The Empire Strikes Back (TESB). It was fascinating to see old memories come back to the surface and it was clear that the feeling among many of the crew was that “it was just a job!” Both guests were available throughout the weekend to discuss their experiences and mingle with the guests.
After breakfast Martin Dahl, a Norwegian super-fan, delivered a fascinating insight into the research that he has undertaken in tracking down as many of the crew that he can who worked on TESB. His talk, images and stories was one of the highlights of the weekend. I learnt many new things during this and will be looking to purchase his book on the subject once it gets published.
From 11:00 the dog sleighs are available and we all headed out to see some shooting locations. My dogs were very lazy, I assure you it was nothing to do with the weight they had to pull, and were reluctant to go uphill! You first cross a frozen lake before taking some turns to arrive at Han Solo rock. It is very easy to find this point and all of us took the pose that Harrison did when he shot the Probot! Just a few metres away is also the rock that Chewbacca hides behind and we took some shots with toys in the snow. In the distance you can see miles of snow-capped peaks and hills and the all-important glacier. We headed back to the hotel after seeing Han Solo rock but I wasn’t done.
James and I were keen on more so we decided to go back out and were going to walk to the glacier to do some exploring. We headed out to the lake but were stopped by a skiing Hoth Stormtrooper at the start (I should have mentioned that the Nordic Garrison are there all weekend and they greet every train which passes. The looks on the passengers’ faces is priceless and not just that of the young kids!) who asked where we were going and he laughed, “you need snow shoes or skis.” Both are available to rent so we went for the snow shoes and headed back to the lake. Maps are available from many of the guides which highlight shooting locations. It took us about 75 minutes to find the following places: the scene where Luke turns to see the Falcon blast off, where the Probot first detects the Rebel Base, both of the Rebel Trenches locations, the main battlefield and a few other camping locations which were used for storage and shelter. The weather was kind to us and we were not cold at all. As you can see we got some amazing photographs. For those worried about the conditions I will say that yes there are many places where the snow is waist deep but it was never too cold or difficult. The staff work hard to maintain paths and safe routes for passage.
We arrived back to the hotel a little late and missed some of our meal but were really excited for the main speaker who was Art Director Alan Tomkins. For almost two hours he gave a talk covering not only his experiences on TESB but also the Bond Movies, 2001, Laurence of Arabia and many other movies that he worked on. Even the Norwegian crew found this fascinating and asked further questions about their time in Finse together. This finished at midnight and yet there were still opportunities for mingling and a Star Wars quiz which went into the very early hours.
I was really excited to have a tour of the locations around the hotel from Greg and Christian. Within minutes you can locate the hotel room used by Mark Hamill, find the location of the Taun Taun warming scene and see where Luke crawled through the snow calling for Ben and find camera locations. This was particularly fascinating as both guides had bits to add to the tour as memories flooded back.
The event finished at noon and we had to leave then but there was so much more to do which I haven’t really mentioned such as the TESB museum of rarely or never been seen before photographs, photoshoots with Simon Wilkie as C-3PO and R2-D2, or purchasing items from the hotel or local comic shop vendor. I learnt so much (did you know that the Han who waved at the Snowspeeder was not Harrison? How did Luke’s body double get chosen? Some of the hotel staff were used as extras for pick-ups…. it just went on.) For anybody even remotely considering going next year I would say do so without hesitation. This has been one of the best Star Wars experiences I have ever had and can’t wait to go again.