The following was written by fan of TheForce.net T A Chafin, chronicling his recent trip to
My name is T A Chafin and I have been a Star Wars fan for 40 years. I've done many award-winning costumes and was even the lead author of a Star Wars book. When I realized earlier this year that we were coming up on the 40th anniversary of the Star Wars saga's premiere, I realized I had to do something big to celebrate. I decided to go to Tunisia, the filming location of many scenes throughout several of the Star Wars movies.
At first I was going to travel to Tunisia and visit the locations by driving there myself. However, after some thought (and MUCH advice from friends) I decided that I would be much better off with a guide. After some research online I located a tour company that could accommodate me but was amazed that had absolutely no one else was planning to take this tour during this special time.
The bottom line was I could either pay for a private tour all by myself (Expensive!) or try to reschedule it at a time when others were visiting and try to rearrange my vacation. As the latter was difficult and I actually could afford to pay for the solo tour, that's what I did.
It took me almost 30 hours to get from my driveway in West Virginia to take two flights via Frankfort, Germany, and a 7 hour ride on bad roads in an old van with bad suspension to get to my first hotel room in Tunisia. I made it though and with virtually no sleep.
Day 1 - I'M WHERE?
9AM. I am greeted by my guide, Slim, who got me to the hotel after meeting me at the airport in Tunis and road with me for 7 long hours yesterday. I met my permanent driver, Muhammad, and we were on our way to my first Star Wars location.
Along the way I was briefed on the military history of Tunisia, its primary imports and exports, its poor economy, what grows during each part of the year, its general geography, the state of its cinema, and other things.
I brought up Star Wars and Slim acknowledged a number of the films were shot here but he hadn't really said much about the movies yet. I was then told we would be dropping by a shooting location from "The English Patient" called "The Camel" since it is "on the way."
We stopped near the base of "The Camel" at a shelter made of stone, some wood, fronds, and blankets. It was so primitive that if I had been told that it had been constructed over 2,000 years ago originally and simply repaired as required I would have believed it. It's only modern aspects was a metal cooler for holding drinks (not plugged in; these are stocked cold each morning and the case is merely an insulator against the heat) and a desktop (not wall) dial-up telephone in lime green nailed to a post with a wire running out the back of the structure and going...somewhere. There was nowhere nearby that I could imagine it being connected to and pictured a single wire leading 20 miles (sorry, 32 kilometers) across the desert connecting to some isolated junction box on a lonely road.
I was still so tired that I didn't even think about taking a picture of the shack. It didn't help that there was a tour group of about 20 Chinese ladies there at the same time, all laughing and yelling to each other. They each seemed to be determined to be photographed in the middle of jumping into the air with the desert mirage as a background.
It was only after leaving this location that I recalled that this was near when Darth Maul rides off on his speeder bike. However, it was too hot to go searching for the exact spot. Slim hadn't mentioned this.
We drove farther into the desert and passed a location where I was told "George Lucas filmed something here but we're not certain what and anything he built is gone" so the driver didn't even stop. I am beginning to suspect I know more about some of their locations than my guide and driver.
Then, on the horizon, is Mos Espa -- filming location for Episodes 1 & 2. Again, my guide doesn't know about exact filming spots so it is up to me locate them among the deteriorating structures. Half of the domes are collapsed and it has fallen into general disrepair.
There were a couple of vendors selling items that could be found in any market in the country; nothing actually related to the location. (A single enterprising fan could move in and probably make a killing. Hmmm...)
After searching around I manage to locate at least 3 filming locations, the final one (an empty archway) on a final walk-though.
What made it possible to locate these spot was the distinctive arch that you cab see in the background in each of them.
I have walked in the footsteps of Queen Amidala...
...and Anakin Skywalker.
On the way to our next stop I remembered to dig through the filming notes I had brought. (I was still suffering from lack of sleep and jet-lag so I wasn't quite thinking clearly yet.) I discovered that the first location my guide pointed out (but was oblivious as to what was filmed there) was the landing location of Queen Amidala's transport and later where Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn first face-off. By this time we are many klicks across the desert and I decided I could live without a picture of some rocks. (I had many more important rocks to photograph later.)
Seeking a lunch in a nearby town Slim spotted something he had never noticed before: a business called, "The Star Wars Store".
I asked to stop and we investigated. These days it was more of an indoor/outdoor junk shop but the owner said he was the first to get permission to acquire items from Mos Espa and sell them. All he had left in the store at the moment was a door from one of the buildings and what looked to be a large pressure container of some kind.
I figured I would have problems getting either of those onto my return flights so he said he would look at home to see if he had anything else. (NOTE: I had to leave the area 2 days later and we never heard from him, even though we did call.)
Proceeding to our next destination my guide and driver pointed out a large sand dune in the area which is well known. I informed them that it was also a filming location and talked them into driving to it.
Muhammad then demonstrated that his vehicle was not a minivan but a well-disguised SUV and started 4-wheeling across sand that would have mired an ordinary vehicle in the first 20 feet.
We reached the top of the dune which sports a magnificent view. Muhammad didn't understand why I wanted to go back down about 100 yards and stop. A line rings in my mind: "We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life."
Shot from different angles this was where R2-D2 and C-3PO crashed, parted ways, and C-3PO was seen again later near the skeleton of the Krayth Dragon. (I looked but couldn't find any pieces after 40 years although I had been told there are some to find if you are lucky.)
Before we left, Muhammad pointed to something in the extreme distance. Just a bump on the desert but even from there I knew what it was.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at that "bump". I could help but feel I am walking upon holy ground. I could almost hear Aunt Beru calling in the distance, "Luke! Luke!"
Yes, I wore that specific t-shirt just for this photograph.(I have to admit that I was feeling a little misty right about then.)
I took many pictures for many purposes and verified something I had been told previously: fans from around the world left their names written on the inside of the dome. I joined them.
I spent almost an hour roaming around and inside this structure, knowing that once I left this place that had touched my life in so many ways I would never return. But, eventually, we prepared to depart.
Muhammad watched all of this and saw this place meant a lot to me so, before we left, he did a slow, wide 360-degree turn around the structure. If I had been clearer of mind I would probably have videoed it.
We then drove back to the hotel. I noticed I was feeling little fatigued from the heat but nothing bad happened so I must have been okay, right?
Day 2 – FEEL AS IF SHOT BY JAWAS
We were on our way to “The Overlook” and “The Canyon.” As I wrote previously, I had important rocks to photograph. The overlook was easy to find, a challenge to get to. Bring water, good hiking boots, lose some weight, and build up your stamina before going. I did two of the four suggestions here before taking this trip.
The landmark was a couple of shrines that lead to an area called “The Jawa Parking Lot” across the road from which was where R2-D2 was enveloped onto the body of the Sandcrawler and later Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids found the dead Jawas. I figured to capture the location on the way out.
The final road to the shrine nearest the overlook is for 4-wheel-drive only. Mohamed stopped near the top and says, “No further.”
Leaving instructions with Slim I decided to tough it out and hike all the way to the lookout. However, about halfway there you pass over a rise and discover drop-offs, crags, and lifts of over 8-feet designed for experienced climbers with proper gear. I'm not stupid (well, not THAT stupid) and turned back, deciding to have my picture taken with “The Overlook” over my shoulder. After all, SPFX placed them there in the movie.
So, back to the SUV, back down the “road” and we parked near the canyon entrance. I listened when was warned to bring water and a hat, especially since I was a little weakened by yesterday's heat. The first 50 yards were the toughest. I thought if the rest of the canyon was like this I should turn back now. It got a little easier shortly.
We rounded a bend, Slim paused, and I stopped dead in my tracks. (I think he was testing me.) We were near a rock I would have recognized if I had been blindfolded and using just my hands. It was “Jawa Rock” where the Jawas captured R2-D2 and carried him away. I thought of Kenny Baker and Jack Purvis and looked at the rock from right about where the camera had to have been. (George Lucas must have been right here. Eek! Not that I'm a fanboy or anything.) I set up a couple of shots and Slim snapped them, before we headed deeper into the canyon.
I knew the other spot I wanted to locate. It 's a small cave or disguised outcropping in front of a smooth area of ground with a couple of boulders in front of it and some writing on the far wall of the canyon. We continued looking, even passing right about where it is supposed to be but no spot seemed to fit the bill.
We started climbing higher and looked around rock falls but we just couldn't find it. All this time it was getting hotter, the sun higher, the breeze decreasing, and the terrain rougher. We looked for almost an hour.
Slim went a little higher while I took a break in a small patch of shadow and... BOOM. Dizziness and nausea hit at the same moment. I had had a least a liter of water but it seemed I had been losing fluid faster than I could replace it. It reminded me of the heat exhaustion I had as a kid.
I thought about the complete lack of rescue services, roads, and wireless phone coverage. “It's just a minor inconvenience,” I told myself.
Slim returned and I told him of my condition. He led the way back and I found going down hill was far easier than climbing. We reached an area with a little shadow so we took a break. In fact it was just dark enough not to overwhelm the screen of my tablet on which I had placed all 8 SW films before coming this trip. I pulled up SW:IV and went to the canyon scene, looking for anything familiar.
And there it was. Obi-Wan's rock was about 15 feet away from me. And I was sitting in the exact spot where R2-D2 had been hiding.
What had caused me to reject the area originally was I had been on the other side of the rock and area between it and the outcropping was a gully about 4 feet deep. Luke had been dropped on smooth ground. Over the last 40 year the Tunisian winter rains had washed away that soil, fooling me completely. I was still dizzy but very happy to have found the spot.
In my head I heard, “Obi-Wan? Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long time, a long time.” Hello, Sir Alec.
Had my head been clearer I would have set the pictures up differently but at least I have one of me standing right about where the landspeeder was with the rocks in the foreground.
The canyon was also used as a shooting location in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. I believe I spotted the location of the “I'm going to blow up the Arc, Rene.” scene but knew I was too far gone to climb the ledge to take the shot I wanted. At least I found it though.
We made it back to the van and decide to head back to the hotel. I was too dizzy to think very clearly and forget to shoot the Jawa scenes location.
It was only about 2PM but we managed to visit all the locations scheduled for the day. Upon returning to the hotel Slim brought me a lunch of pizza and fries and I did all of the right things to fight heat exhaustion; no point in going into all of the details. I hunkered down and spent the rest of the day and night getting better, while watching clips from SW movies that covered the sights we were to visit in the coming days.
And tomorrow was to be a big day.
Day 3 - THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME...
Feeling somewhat recovered, we made a relatively long drive to our next destination. Slim tried to keep me entertained by telling me more about Tunisia and other things but I was still a bit out of it and monitoring just how recovered I actually was. Knowing how few rest areas there were in this country (none) and almost as few clean restroom for travelers (almost none, according to Slim) this was a situation of some concern.
I went over my notes again, we discussed the various destinations of the next couple days, and our driver, Mohammed, had great fun arguing with the directions being given by my GPS. (“Ahh! This way shorter.”)
Eventually, in early afternoon, we arrived at our destination: The Sidi Driss Matmata Hotel. In fact, the entire trip had been arranged and scheduled so that I could spend this night in this very specific place. These pictures explain why. And I didn't even have to speak bocce.
There were a few pictures, worn and faded, on various lobby walls and the words “Star Wars” in a couple of places pointing down various tunnels leading to the courtyard pictured above. There was a binder with very worn 40-year-old articles in one of the bars and one poster from the “Clone Wars” animated series on a wall near the lobby. And that's all.
While I was checking in Slim mentioned I was there because of “Star Wars”. They were surprised to be told that the 40th Anniversary was tomorrow. They mentioned that the entire crew stayed here when they were filming in 1976 and George Lucas stayed in room 16. I asked if it's available and they told me no but they think Mark Hamill stayed in room 11 and I could have that one if I wanted. I took a chance and asked if the cast and crew stayed here during the filming of SW:II and in which room did Natalie Portman stay. They replied that during the filming that year they stayed in a different hotel. I accepted the key for room 11.
As an aside, ever since deciding to take this trip I told people that on the 40th Anniversary I was going to try to wake up in Luke Skywalker's bed, concluding with, “I'd rather it be Princess Leia's bed but one takes what one can get.”
It looks like I got as close as someone can come to actually living out that joke.
The room had exactly one plug, near the door, at the switch for the single light. The cord for my CPAP was not long enough to reach the plug from the head of the bed so I wound up sleeping with my head at its foot, meaning my head was lower than my feet. Awkward, but livable, considering I was sleeping in a cave with a door being kept closed with a chain and padlock.
I had dinner in the same historic courtyard and called it and early night.
Day 4 - May 25th - HERE IS WHERE AND WHEN I WANTED TO BE
The door to George Lucas's room was open when I was heading to breakfast so I snapped a picture, although I was told I should not enter. Much larger than Mark's and even has a table.
And in case there are any fangirls screaming, “What did Luke's bedroom look like?” check out the next picture. Those are several empty water bottles and, yes, a beer bottle on the nightstand.
I was served breakfast in the legendary alcove that was the Lars Dining Room (note the painting on the ceiling) and that is blue milk I am drinking, the ingredients of which I transported all the way from West Virginia. (No, there are no lactating Banthas in West Virginia.)
I took a few more pictures including the stairway used by Luke, Anakin, and Padme at various times.
We checked out and were on our way South to Medinine Ksar, another filming location in yet another hotel.
There was a sign out front promoting the location but nothing else.
There was nothing on sale in the store except an old child's Darth Vader costume. (I have a reoccurring feeling that a couple of dealers from almost any SF convention could boost this country's tourist revenue quite significantly.)
However, there were also a couple of wall banners displaying pictures they claimed were from scenes filmed there. I didn't have the heart to tell them that over half of the pictures were incorrect as I knew where the correct locations actually were.
I went to visit two of them; the balcony from which Qui-Gon Ginn and Shmi Skywalker discuss Annie's future while watching him work on his podracer (although it had changed much over the years) and the podracer location was here as well.
And then we were back on the road, arriving at our hotel in the mid-afternoon. We decided to make an early day of it as it was very hot and there were 5 locations on tomorrow's itinerary.
This was a great way to spend Star Wars 40th Anniversary and I had one more day to go.
Day 5 - IF YOU CANNOT TAKE THE HEAT GET OUT OF TUNISIA...
We started out the last day by heading east and arrived at the location where we first saw our heroes enter the home of young Anakin and his mother. This is the same place where Anakin says goodbye to Shmi as he leaves with Qui-Gon to become a Jedi. What threw me at first was there was no sand at all in this location; Slim said the sand was brought in for the filming. Secondly, the overall poor condition of the area; graffiti, rotting doors, and structures deteriorating rapidly seem to be the hallmark of these historic areas in Tunisia in general. Not just the Star Wars locations either.
We then headed to another historic grainery storage structure that Slim claimed was used in the movies. However, we went through ALL of the footage in the films and accounted for all of the locations at other sites. (I'm not entirely certain from where he got his information.)
From there, we took the ferry to the island of Djerba, the last of our filming locations.
Our first stop was the building used for the exterior of the cantina. As many of the other locations, it was falling apart and almost unrecognizable. Amazingly, the most popular story they told about the structure was not that it was a Star Wars filming location but that it used to be a bakery. What made it infamous was that the baker died inside and was there for 3 days before anyone even investigated to see where he had been.
The building is now surrounded by structures that have been erected in the last 40 years so the area is virtually unrecognizable, as is the location where Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids were stopped by Stormtroopers, just a little over a block away.
After that, we headed north on the coastal road and in just a couple of minutes spotted a building we saw only once in the Saga but is memorable to many: Obi-Wan's hut. Even though it was supposed to represent a desert dwelling, it was right on the beach. It was only two small rooms in size, far smaller than the interiors shots in SW:IV would have you believe.
Lastly, we headed for Toshi Station to pick up some power convertors. This location was used in some detail in the cut Biggs footage from SW:IV. However, as the Biggs footage was cut it was used as the approach our heroes took when arriving at Mos Eisley Spaceport.
I brought the clips with me so I could reproduce a picture or two accurately. The building was actually a mosque and mid-day prayers were underway so we had to wait, outside, in the heat.
And that's when I was hit with heat exhaustion for the third and final time. As I was starting to climb to the upper level of the mosque I almost passed out and decided I just couldn't do it. I settled for a couple of pictures from about the same camera location showing where approach footage was filmed.
From there, Slim and Muhammad took me to the airport. I arrived about 4 hours before my flight but Slim had a bus to catch and Muhammad wanted to head home so I assured them I could proceed unaided.
I was still overheated, dehydrated, and (I think) running a temperature from the heat exhaustion. When we were ready to board, I was pleased my seat was Row 1, seat C, so I wouldn't have to go far. Until I saw we were boarding from the rear of the aircraft.
Then we were on our way to Tunis, where I had landed a short 5 days previously. As whirlwind as this trip had been it was an experience I will never forget. Even though I had been to locations where many scenes from Star Wars were filmed this has not diminished that magic the movies inspire; if anything I feel closer to them than ever before.
I am even now considering where the Force will take me next.
I hope people enjoy reading about this trip and, as always, May The Force Be With You.