📸 Star Wars being filmed in Tunisia (Source: Lucasfilm)
When George Lucas sought out a location to stand in for a galaxy far, far away, he settled on Tunisia along the Mediterranean coast. Inspired by Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s seminal novel Dune, Lucas wanted to open his space epic on a harsh desert planet. With its billowing sands, the almost otherworldly locale was the perfect setting for Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine. But the perfect place for the movie would prove to be the worst place imaginable to work for the filmmakers, almost preventing Star Wars from being made at all.
📸 Lucas on set. (Source: Lucasfilm)
In Star Wars, Tatooine is a barren desert planet, but in real-life Tunisia the weather was more temperamental. On the second day of the shoot, a freak rainstorm ruined the day’s filming, tightening an already limited schedule of 11 days in the country. The problems only grew from there. Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO, could hardly move in his suit—those stiff movements are about as good as he could manage. The controls that operated R2-D2 were better at picking up Tunisian radio signals, necessitating that the droid be pulled along the desert floor on skis by a wire
Things only got worse from there. Blistering heat during the day turned to unforgiving cold at night. The crew operated on very little sleep and many sickened with dysentery as the shoot dragged on past the planned 11 days. A massive sandstorm destroyed the Jawas’ sandcrawler, which then had to be rebuilt in just one day. That same sandcrawler almost started a very real war when Muammar Gaddafi, leader of neighboring Libya, accused the Tunisians of preparing to stage an invasion, with the sandcrawler mistaken as a real military vehicle. Lucas and company quickly moved filming away from the border with Libya and kept on with filming.
📸 Nefta, one location where Star Wars was shot.
All this begs the question, why did Lucas choose Tunisia to stand in for Tatooine? Lucas had been attracted to the country’s architecture—many of the buildings seen in Star Wars are real locations, or else sets inspired by local architecture. The Lars homstead’s white domes were located in the town of Nefta, built low into the desert floor to stay cool. A room in a cave network in Matama stood in for some of the interiors of Luke’s childhood home. The adaptations to survive the harsh desert of Tatooine were real innovations used for thousands of years across Northern Africa.
📸 Filming The Rise of Skywalker (source: Vanity Fair)
When it came time to return to Tatooine for The Phantom Menace, Lucas (back in the director’s chair) returned to Tunisia again. Anakin Skywalker’s home, a cool stone building with stairs carved into its facade, was filmed in Ong Jemel. This time around, there was a greater reliance on built sets, though they still drew from architectural styles used by the Tunisians. Attack of the Clones was also filmed there, while the sequel trilogy made use of places like Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni salt flat to stand in for Krait (The Last Jedi) and the United Arab Emirates’ portion of the Rub' al Khali desert became Jakku (The Force Awakens).
📸 The krayt dragon.
After filming in Tunisia was done on the original Star Wars, many of the sets and props were abandoned in the desert. These have become pilgrimage sites for die hard Star Wars fans, with the Tunisian government maintaining the sites to attract visitors. Among the material left behind is the Krayt dragon, the skeleton found by C-3PO after he separates from R2-D2. Although the whole skeleton has now been lost under the desert sands, pieces of it found by locals continue to circulate.
The skeleton is a fiberglass model, which was originally used as a Diplodocus skeleton in the 1975 comedy film One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing. Its inclusion in the movie was a matter of happenstance—when some forgotten equipment needed to be flown out to the shooting location, the skeleton was tossed in with the cargo simply because they had space for it. The creature would not even be given a canonical name until some years later, but it maintains a spot in Star Wars lore, with a living Krayt dragon later appearing in an episode of The Mandalorian. Here at Mini Museum, we are excited to share this small bit of Star Wars history.
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Rinzler, J. W., and Charles Lippincott. The Making of Star Wars : the Definitive Story Behind the Original Film : Based on the Lost Interviews from the Official Lucasfilm Archives. 1st hbk. ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007. Print.
Pollock, Dale. Skywalking: the Life and Films of George Lucas / Dale Pollock. Updated ed., 1st Da Capo Press ed., Da Capo Press, 1999.