Star Wars in Tunisia: to the birthplace of the Skywalkers

Published : 16-12-2017

From Tataouine to Tatooine, from Ong Jmal to Mos Espa, to the Sidi Driss hotel of Matmata to the house of the Lars and Luke Skywalker, Star Wars did not restrain itself from using the unique sceneries of Southern Tunisia. A quick look over a galaxy not that far, far away.


The release of the 8th episode of the biggest cinematographic saga of all time comes to remind us of an unchangeable element in the Star Wars universe: the settings. Yavin 4, Geonosis, Hoth: each setting perfectly brings the adequate atmosphere for each planet and location.

But if Star Wars played out a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, you can always find the locations used for the settings a few hours away from Europe: it was actually in Southern Tunisia that Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, and his son Luke grew up. George Lucas largely used the sceneries of Southern Tunisia to film his two trilogies. Tatooine? A name directly inspired by the Tunisian town of Tataouine, which surroundings were used as a shooting location for the Episodes IV and I, especially some ksour (plur. of Ksar, fortified Berber village or attic) in its surroundings such as Ksar Hadada and Ksar Medenine. Chenini, one of Tatooine’s moons? The exact name of a Tunisian troglodyte village not far from Tataouine, and which also served as a shooting location for the Episode IV. The list of connections between Star Wars and Tunisia is long.

At the Northeast of Tataouine starts our journey: it is at the Sidi Driss hotel, in the Matmata village, that Luke Swkywalker grew up with his uncle and his aunt, the Lars, and which we see at the beginning of the Episode IV. This village is unique due to its troglodyte houses, dug in the mountains. The arrangement of these caves must have caught the eye of George Lucas, given the complexity of some houses, linked between each other by a succession of corridors and courtyards. The advantage of troglodyte houses? Allowing the light to enter while keeping the rooms cool during the scorching summer heats. A perfect arrangement for the hot desert planet that is Tatooine! 

The hometown of the future Sith Lord

On the other side of the country, we can find the birthplace of Luke’s father, Anakin: it is on the site of Ong Jmal, to the north of the town of Nefta and to the northwest of Tozeur, that where shot the scenes in Mos Espa, hometown of the future Sith Lord on Tatooine. There, you can still find pieces of setting that were actually used for the movie: antennas and houses of the birthplace of the future Darth Vader thus still remain open to the public. It is also in Nefta’s surroundings, in the vastest salt plane of Tunisia that is Chott-el-Jerid, that you can find the famous “igloo” entrance of the Lars’ house.

Finally, we come back to the first trilogy, but leave the Tunisian desert to go to the island of Djerba: you can find the Mos Eisley spaceport here, the most “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, according to Obi-Wan Kenobi. But no risk of getting arrested by stormtroopers or by Jabba the Hut in this town, which true name is Ajim. Located around 20km from the Djerba International Airport, the Ajim village does not have smuggling in a dark cantina as a main activity, but rather agriculture and fishing. You can fin within a few kilometers radius many knows places which can be seen in Mos Eisley in the Episode IV: an ancient Berber bakery which served as a shooting place for Chalmun’s Cantina, a fisherman’s old house for Ben Kenobi’s hut, or the Sidi Jemour marabout2 for the arrival at Mos Eisley’s scene. And this does not even mention all of Ajim’s streets which served as shooting locations for various scenes in the spaceport!

The list can still be extended: the Great Dune at the North of the Nefta-Algeria road which served as a shooting spot for R2-D2 and C-3PO’s landing in the Episode IV, the Sidi Bouhlel marabout (tomb of a local Muslim saint) for the southern part of the “Star Wars Canyon”, various locations for the emblematic pod race in the Episode I, … The Star Wars saga largely took advantage of the unique charm brought by Southern Tunisia’s landscapes and ancient Berber buildings. Unique enough to be chosen as the place to represent the birthplace of the two main characters of each trilogy. 

After seeing them, only Anakin Skywalker will still not like sand!

S.M.

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