The Tunisian desert has been the setting of almost every "Star Wars" movie. However, there is not much glamor left from the film. For some time, many fans have tried to preserve and revitalize the shooting location.
Finally some customers! Salem Ben Said crawls out of a cave with a small fennec fox on his hand. A photo with the nocturnal desert fox costs only about 50 cents but François and Yvonne Boisson kindly decline, they did not come to Mos Espa for that. They are in the search of a distant galaxy.
"I have been a Star Wars fan since I was a kid. The whole atmosphere of this place is very impressive," says François Boisson as his eyes light up as they gaze the desert village. The settlement is made up of small, yellowish huts with a round roof and no windows. In the middle of the village, there are only two "moisture vaporator" props left from filming and plenty of sand. This is Mos Espa on the planet Tatooine, the hometown of Anakin Skywalker, later known as Darth Vader.
In the movie, the settlement is a buzzling spaceport filled with fantasy figures and crooks. Today, almost nobody comes to Mos Espa or Onq Jmel, the real name of the area located in southwest Tunisia.
Three souvenir shops are the only ones left holding the fort. Ben Said tries to persuade the French tourists to wear an "original Jedi cloak," or so he calls it. The brown wool robe hangs on a wooden frame and was worn by Anakin Skywalker. François Boisson laughs and decides to go for a stroll around the dunes instead.
Fans have saved Mos Espa from the sand
Mos Espa was almost swallowed by the desert sand in past years but local authorities along with "Star Wars" fans from all around the world collected money to save the settlement. An excavator was taken to the set and shoveled tons of sand from the area.
"Most of the money came from fans in Germany. Our efforts moved German fans into action," said Abderrahman Ameur, a man in his mid-30s that appears to be younger, especially whenever he talks about "Star Wars." Ameur founded the first "Star Wars" fan club in Tunisia. 200 "crazies," as he calls them, gather around him. Together they have taken on the task to save the locations.
"Its pretty much at my doorstep. Not every fan is this lucky so I have to take care of it, this is our national heritage." There are a total of 12 film locations in Tunisia. Ameur has worked on them for a year and has opened them up. Most can only be found with the use of a GPS in the desert.
Sidi Driss: a must for every fan
You do not need a GPS to find Matmata in the middle of Tunisia. It is about a five-hour drive away from Mos Espa and it is the most famous spot of the saga. The hotel Sidi Driss is a must-see for every "Star Wars" fan trip. Luke Skywalker, Anakin's son, grew up here.
Mesoud Barshid needs to fish a bit behind the counter. "Oh here it is. This is Luke Skywalker's lightsaber," Barshid wipes the dust from the plastic stick with his hand and tries to pull it out with a quick flick but it gets stuck. "Of course it looked a lot more elegant when Luke Skywalker did it," but the sound effects still work.
A bit left from the 'Star Wars' glamor
Barshid stands in the middle of the courtyard of the hotel, which he has managed for many years. It is some kind of round hole in the ground. The rooms, which all face the courtyard, are dark and cool. This is where Luke lived with his uncle and his aunt.
George Lucas filmed here in the middle of the 1970s but when the crew came back in the year 2000, Barshid was present. "They filmed 'Attack of the Clones' here for one and a half months. Nobody was allowed to come in as they had redecorated everything."
Barshid knocks on a brown box with buttons on the wall, an old prop left by the crew. The walls are filled with old fading photos of George Lucas and his team.
It has been a long time since then and only a bit is left from the saga's glamor. The film crew turned its back on the area and the whole country as Abu Dhabi became the film location for the seventh film.
The official word is that Tunisia is not safe enough but Barshid believes that there are other reasons behind the decision. "The Sheiks simply offered more money," he says.