Star Wars fans in Tunisia mobilise to save film sets
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.