Star Wars in real life: Tunisia in pictures

Photo: Rapidtravelchai

Say “Star Wars” to most people and the image they will picture in their mind is a young Luke Skywalker standing outside his Uncle Lars’ home, gazing at a binary sunset in Episode IV: A New Hope. Tattoine is, inescapably, the formative memory we all have of George Lucas’ sci-fi saga: it’s appeared in five of the original six films and was the first planet we ever saw in the franchise’s universe.

Tattoine, though, is not as far away than you think: it’s actually in Tunisia. The home planet of the Skywalker clan took its name from the Tunisian city Tatouine, even though it was never used as a location for filming. Lots of Tunisia was, though, from Episodes IV through to Episode I: The Phantom Menace and beyond.

It’s not just Luke’s home, but Anakin’s childhood home too – the place where he did pod-racing under the watchful eye of Jabba the Hutt, whose palace was a few canyons away. And who can forget the Mos Eisley Cantina, purveyors of blue milk, venue for everyone’s favourite intergalactic woodwind band and the bar where Han Solo shot Greedo first?

Photo: Neil Rickards

Crews chose several places around southern Tunisia to shoot – and build. The sets for Mos Espa were constructed close to Tozeur and Nefta in 1998 for the first of the series’ prequels. Lars’ home, meanwhile, sat in the middle of the dried up salt lake of Chott El Jerid.

The Sidi Bouhlel ravine was used so often for the original film, from Obi-Wan Kenobi’s hide-out to C3PO and R2-D2’s excursions, that it became known as “Star Wars Canyon”.

Photo: Panegyrics of Granovetter

The sets, though, have not been cherished over the years as much as the films they helped create. One of the Mos Espa sets was lost in a sand dune, while the second was renovated by the government a decade ago, only for the country’s revolution and subsequent terror attacks to leave its tourism industry severely reduced.

Some fans still make the trek to the country, though, snapping holiday photos of familiar alien sights.

Photo: Hicham Souilmi

And what of the iconic igloo from 1977? The original was dismantled, although it was rebuilt for Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Five years ago, die-hard fan Mark Dermul led a campaign to renovate the home, with people from around the Internet clubbing together to help raise thousands of dollars for the restoration.

With The Force Awakens bringing Star Wars back for the first time in 10 years, will it re-awaken interest in fans making the pilgrimage? The UK Foreign Office currently advises against all travel to much of Tunisia and against all but essential travel to the rest of the country. Still, though, Skywalker’s home continues to sit in its desolate location, a tiny piece of cinema in the real world.