More than 40 years ago, George Lucas set up shop on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Tunisia, nestled between Algeria and Libya, to film scenes on his desert planet of Tatooine for Star Wars: A New Hope. He even named the planet after the Tunisian village of Tatouine, and now locals are doing their part to restore the sets that have been left behind for more than four decades, while a tourist agency is trying to draw more visitors to the area. While for many years, threats of terrorism kept Star Wars fans from visiting the once-volatile area, that isn't the case anymore.
DW.com reports that there are two spots in particular that have become a haven for Star Wars fans, Ong Jimel, which lies in southwest Tunisia, and the village of Matmata. While these names may not have significant meaning on their own, they were quite important in Star Wars lore. Ong Jimel served as the Tatooine way station known as Mos Espa, the birthplace of Anakin Skywalker, long before he became Darth Vader. The village of Matmata is home to the set where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was raised by his Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) and Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser). That set was actually a hotel, the Sidi Driss Hotel, which is still there today, where fans can discover props left behind such as switchboards embedded into the structure, while posters and photos of the film crew hang on the walls.
Tunisia was once an active tourist destination for Star Wars fans for many years, but that changed in 2015, when a gunman opened fire on a Tunisian beach, killing 38 people. A year earlier, there was also an initiative dubbed Save Mos Espa, which raised over $75,000 to restore the Mos Espa sets which had been "swallowed" by the desert sands. The funds were then handed over to the government which dug the film sets out of the sand. Here's what Nabil Gasmi of the regional tourism organization CDTOS said about his continuing work to make sure these film sets are not forgotten by bringing more tourists to the area.
"We have to. Everyone here in the area profits from the film set and sees it as a part of their inheritance."
Nabil Gasmi hopes to turn the area into a tourist mecca, complete with a convenience store, film festivals, film screenings and a museum. There was also a delegation of Tunisian tourism managers who attended the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) trade fair in Berlin back in March. This group is particularly interesting in acquiring more Asian tourists who have become increasingly more likely to travel around the world to visit all of the latest "hot spots." It's possible that these Star Wars locations in Tunisia could eventually become one of these "hot spots" if the area is developed more.
Now that tourists are starting to return to Tunisia, two years after the terrorist incident, it could be the start of a new wave of fans flocking to these Star Wars sets in Tunisia. It's possible that future Star Wars movies could return to film in Tunisia as well, although since there is very little we know about Star Wars 9, or the future spin-offs being planned by LucasFilm and Disney, it's unclear if there are any plans in the works to make this happen. Still, it will be interesting to see if Star Wars fans around the world start flocking to Tunisia once again.