While I didn’t love the Star Wars prequels, I have to admit that the sets were pretty fantastic. George Lucas’s choice to use the Sahara Desert in Tunisia as the filming location for Tatooine proved a particularly good decision. Sandy, barren, and alien, it’s not hard to believe that the Skywalkers grew up there, and that such a harsh environment made Luke into a wimp and Anakin into a dick. Okay, I know the desert supposedly had nothing to do with it, but what’s a little retcon at this point, especially compared to the ridiculousness that is Jar Jar?
Scenes from Anakin’s hometown of Mos Espa were filmed just outside the Tunisian city of Tozeur, and at the request of the Tunisian government, the Mos Espa set was never broken down. 20 buildings covering around 10,000 square meters in the desert draw legions of Star Wars fans each year. Sadly, scientists report that the Mos Espa set is about to get swallowed by the Sahara’s encroaching sand dunes, which are moving at approximately 4 cm each day. If the Tunisian Sahara is your geek Mecca then you better get a move on.
Tunisia has benefited from the filming—more than 1,500 extras were hired for the movies, and hotels and other agencies in the area experienced a boon for the months that Lucas and his crew were in town. Of course, there were challenges—temperatures got as high as 135 degrees and summer rainstorms delayed production, but Lucas managed to get what he needed.
The surrounding sand dunes have been moving toward the set since 2003, and Tunisians worry that the swallowing of Mos Espa will halt the growth of the country’s economy, especially after the 2011 revolution. Despite Mos Espa’s seedy reputation as a place where poor residents turn to crime and the Hutts turn into the equivalent of the mafia, the city (and Tunisia as a whole) is touted as a safe place eager to build its tourist industry. Maybe hosting podraces would help bolster tourism?
I can’t help but imagine some time in the distant future the aliens uncover the set and decide that perhaps humans are a bit smarter than they originally thought. Let’s just make sure they only watch episodes IV, V, and VI.