Star Wars fans in Tunisia mobilise to save film sets

Friday 08/01/2016
Tourists jump as they pose for a photo at the Star Wars movie set in Ong Jmal, south of Tunisia.

Tunis - As elsewhere in the world, Tunisians cel­ebrated the release of the latest episode of Star Wars but, at a spe­cial screening in Tunis, the local fan club did what other clubs could not do — it announced a project to renovate Star Wars sites in its own backyard.
While the events of Star Wars movie take place in a “galaxy far, far away”, many fans of the film series still walk in the footsteps of Anakin Skywalker on his home planet Tatooine, explore the mar­kets of Mos Espa, stay in Luke Sky­walker’s home and wander around the evaporators at the sets in Tuni­sia.
The Star Wars Tunisia group called on members and other fans to help revive the abandoned sets as hundreds of attendees at the screening of Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens cheered, repeat­ing the famous Star Wars slogan: “May the force be with you”.
Preserving the Tunisian sets means protecting them from sand dunes, which led to the formation of Star Wars Tunisia, a collective of movie buffs, to revive Star Wars locations scattered across southern Tunisia.
“This year, we collaborated with a collective of producers to release the film in Tunisia on the same date as the international release. We also renovated one of the main sites of the filming of Star Wars in November as part of celebrating the upcoming release of the new film,” said Abdou Ameur, a mem­ber of Star Wars Fan Club Tunisia.
“Last year, we launched a cam­paign to save the [Mos Espa] site and we managed to mechanically move the sand dune but we need to be always cautious when deal­ing with the site since it remains in danger. The site needs to be always restored to keep the sand from cov­ering the decor,” said Taieb Jallouli, a Tunisian producer and the film set director of Star Wars locations.
The Mos Espa set, situated in the middle of the desert, was built from scratch to serve as the home­town of Anakin Skywalker on the planet Tatooine. Today visitors can see the gates, the pod racing arena, the market and other land­marks seen in Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. A few metres away, one can locate the Yardangs, which is made up of shark-fin-looking sandstones and where the lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul was shot.
“In 2005, the Mos Espa site be­came a tourist attraction for Star Wars fans. Now, it is a component of tourist offers… The site was en­dangered by many threats, mostly the sand dunes. The association of Star Wars fans tried to take care of the site but they need funding. Perhaps we need the government to intervene again to maintain the site,” Jallouli said.
In November, the team of Star Wars Tunisia started to restore the Skywalkers’ home, the Lars Home­stead, in the Sidi Driss Hotel. The hotel is set in a traditional Berber house, which was built centuries ago. The house is made up of a se­ries of caverns built around a court­yard. The Star Wars Tunisia team tried to recreate a “moisture vapo­rator” inside the courtyard.
“Over a month ago, we launched a project of decoration of one of the sites by building some elements that were taken once the filming was over like the famous moisture evaporators. We thought the resto­ration would be a great idea to rec­reate some parts of the decor using very primitive material. Now when you enter the site you find some­thing related to Star Wars,” Ameur said.
He added that “the Tozeur site is one of the many sites scattered across the country. Many of these sites are unknown to people except to Star Wars fans because not all of them are official location sites. Some scenes were filmed in Djerba, in Tozeur, in Matmata and they are all neglected which requires some work for them to be touristic at­tractions. One of our objectives is to restore them.”
Ameur emphasised the impor­tance of promoting the sites inter­nationally as many are overlooked by the public and the government.
“One of the missions of the as­sociation of Star Wars Tunisia is to promote both the official and unofficial Star Wars locations in Tunisia when participating in in­ternational Star Wars conventions. We have what other fan clubs don’t have — the actual locations where iconic scenes were filmed and stars walked. We need to work on bring­ing back the real value of these sites,” Ameur said.