In the nothingness of the Tunisian desert close to the Algerian border, far from any towns, cities, or civilization, is the site where a galaxy far, far, away was filmed. Many of the original Star Wars films were shot across southern Tunisia during the late 1970s and 22 years later, for the prequels, they returned. Once the filming was done, much like they had for the original movies, George Lucas decided to leave the sets and props standing.
Today one of the largest sites is of the fictional Mos Espa on the planet of Tatooine, where Anakin Skywalker was born. Ever since I read about photographer Ra Di Martino‘s visit to the site where Star Wars Episodes I and II were filmed, it’s been one of the experiences I dreamed of traveling to. Earlier this year I finally made it to largest site, about 20 kilometers from Tozeur.
There are no roads to the site itself, you’ll have to take a tour, or negotiate a ride – a service most hotels will provide.
Given that most tourists are no longer sure is Tunisia safe to travel to, there are times when there isn’t a single visitor.
Eventually two padawan show up to practice using the lightsaber.
Instruments of The Force a few touts offer for photo opportunities.
Most Tunisians I spoke with had never seen Star Wars including my driver, the owner of Residence Almadina in Tozeur.
Most of the items on sale at the site aren’t Star Wars related at all.
Mos Espa is the location for many popular scenes in Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, like Watto’s shop.
The entire site is free, you can wander around in and out of all the prop dwellings to notice hardly any of them have roofs.
Movie magic close up.
Transmitters fans will quickly recognize from the pod racing scenes in Episode I.
Right along the edge of the Mos Espa props is the imposing emptiness of the desert.
Fill in the blanks with your imagination’s own CG generator.
Wandering around you can walk up the nearby sand dunes that are slowly encompassing the Mos Espa movie sets.
The deserts are slowly eating away at the sets as sandstorms roll dunes in like waves of the ocean along a beach.
Some choose to make it their spot to watch the sunset.
A popular daily event for most visitors.
The transformation of the sky’s colors make you feel a bit sorry for those who decided to not to stick around.
Sunset takes it time here.
Several years ago there was a failed campaign to save the Mos Espa site.
Officially, Tunisian authorities say the movie sets aren’t in danger from the surrounding desert.
But most experts agree if nothing is done, it’s likely Mos Espa will vanish in the next 20-30 years.
Single star only.
In the coming weeks I’ll write how you can visit the Star Wars sets in Tunisia – a gratifying geek destination worth a trip – where the biggest danger is the environment consuming this potentially big tourist draw for the country.