…or five years ago, in Tunisia and a few hours flight away.
One of my strongest childhood memories is standing on top of a ridge of sand, staring wistfully into the distances as I watch the twin suns slowly set on the horizon…
Okay, I was posing on a sand dune on the beach at Fleetwood looking out as the single sun sank into the Irish Sea. I was geeky child with a great imagination. I’d seen Star Wars: A New Hope at a very early age, either on TV or VHS – I had to wait until the re-releases before the prequels came out to finally get to see it on the big screen
Luke was the character I most identified with when I was a kid, waiting for adventure and excitement, feeling that something was just out of reach yet calling to him. As an adult with wanderlust and a disposable income I knew that one day I would visit Tatooine and the Lars Homestead where Luke was raised and where he met a couple of droids that would start his hero’s journey.
In April 2013 I joined an Explore trip to Tunisia which as well as visiting Tunis and Tozeur, and historical sites such as Carthage and El Djem, would take in two Star Wars filming locations; The “Lars Homestead” in Matamata and the standing sets that formed Mos Espa in the prequel films.
Sand…lots of sand…
The Mos Espa location is in the middle of nowhere, a place called Chott El Jerid. This site is great for pinpointing exactly where http://www.losapos.com/starwarstunisia. Either by accident or design the very large and quite substantial set built for The Phantom Menace still stands and is slowly being smothered by the desert. In fact, the encroaching sand dunes are being used by scientists to study how the Sahara is spreading; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23375344
Built in 1997 so were 16 years old by the time I got there, they seemed in very good condition. It’s an area you wouldn’t get to without a 4×4 and a guide so it’s not open to vandalism and damage you might get somewhere else. A nearby town had a shop with a couple of items that looked like they’d come from the set, and the entrepreneurial shopkeeper would try and tempt tourists in to see more items he’d acquired.
I remember feeling very slightly cheated when I discovered that when Luke’s Aunt Beru shouts up to him to as he looks over the edge of the homestead – they were actually in two separate places. The internal courtyard is in reality a traditional troglodyte dwelling – now the Sidi Driss Hotel in a small town called Matmata. Not much has been altered as the locals are well aware of the power of the geek pound. The location was reused when they filmed Attack of the Clones and they left all the set dressing behind. It’s a very strange and familiar place, you can sit in the cave used for blue milk scene, it has a very recognisable painting on the ceiling.
I’m sure there are many fans who stay the night there, though I stayed in a similar hotel nearby. I tried to watch the sun set from the roof but it lacks the romance of the desert –too many satellite dishes and aerials.
I didn’t get to visit the external Lars Homestead structure that was restored by a group of fans in 2012. I did though get to see how they did it at Celebration Europe in 2013 when they gave a great talk about their “Save the Lars Homestead” project. I also got a patch!
I got my Tatooine sunset on our last day in desert region before we headed back north. We walked over dunes to a beautiful vantage point. As the sun sank lower in the sky I could hear the classic John Williams score in my head, and for a moment lost myself to a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Magical, just magical.