Thursday, 6 August 2009

Star Wars in Tunisia

One of the unexpected aspects of visiting Tunisia was to come across a range of areas that had been used as locations for various movies. ‘The English Patient’, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ have all been filmed here. However, the most famous of all would have to be the ‘Star Wars’ series. Many of these George Lucas movies were filmed in the remote deserts of Tunisia, which apparently seemed to be an ideal location to represent planets from ‘a galaxy far, far away.’ As part of our Sahara odyssey, we were scheduled to visit some of these locations which would certainly be of more interest to me than Jules. We had actually attended the opening night screening of Star Wars back when we were dating many moons ago, but while Jules was happy to leave the series at that, I had continued to enjoy the original trilogy for many years to come. It was over forty degrees when we head into the rocky desert area, toward the tiny village of Matmama. This is the land of the ‘Berbers’, nomadic tribes who still live in primitive dwellings dug into the hillside as a way of protecting themselves from the intensely dry heat. Such was the design of the ‘Sidi Drass Hotel’, which was similarly dug down into the ground to provide the visually unique setting for Luke Skywalker’s childhood home. Amazingly, the interiors remain much as they were seen in the original 1977 film and as a functional hotel, the dwelling still attracts Star Wars devotees from throughout the world eager to spend the night. The dugout rooms were amazingly cool and we enjoyed respite from the heat while tucking into a traditional Tunisian lunch before heading back into the desert. The next day we change our mode of transport from coach to four-wheel drive as we headed deep into the sandy desert to search out an exterior location from ‘The Phantom Menace’, filmed in 1999. Bouncing over the sand dunes, we eventually come across the manufactured set looking pretty much as George Lucas had left it once the filming was over. Clearly it still provides a good income for locals who continue to transport the tourists across the desert as well as for the trinket sellers who wait there eagerly for them to arrive. You can well understand why this area was selected, with it’s stark unearthly landscape providing a terrific backdrop to the sci-fi epic. As we wandered around the remote site, we had our light saber at the ready…well, our camera at least! The isolated beauty combined with some fantastic alien architectural forms certainly provided us with some interesting shots that appeared to be straight from another world, just as the famed director intended.

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