A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…
Well actually, it was only three hours away by plane and then around eight hours to the middle of the Sahara desert. Our life before children took us on many adventures – one in particular being a childhood dream to visit the original home of Luke Skywalker in the far out desert plains of Tunisia.
I’ll be honest, back then my wife had a little more patience for my geeky ways and in reality dragging her on this trip to the middle of nowhere was probably a little selfish. But her love for a wannabe Jedi meant she left the relaxation of our luxurious resort for an adventure into the wilderness.
Tunisia is the centre of the Star Wars galaxy, with much of the landscape recognisable as Tatooine. But my goal was to see the small white abode once lived in by my long time hero, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker.
As with any adventure abroad we were given a pick up time and location outside the resort to meet our guide. Much like the Jurassic Park tour portrayed in Spielberg’s movie, two Jeeps arrived to take us and our limited luggage into the desert.
As we made our way out of the Tunisian tourist compound the landscape started to drastically change from a built up commercial area into crudely built houses alongside dusty roads. As the hours passed in our beautifully air conditioned Jeep, so did civilisation as we knew it.
The first stop on our two day trek was Darth Vader’s first home from Episode 1 (The Phantom Menace), in Ksar Hadada, Ghomrassen. It was a little eerie entering this dead village – the small houses were originally used by the workers in the local area and resembled open desert tombs.
This was the first true wakeup call that I was in the world of Star Wars.
We continued to the salt lakes, a vast dune of flat sand for as far as the eye could see, where the Pod race was filmed, as well many other movies – Life of Brian, Indiana Jones and The English Patient. It was OK, but my mind wasn’t blown. Having said that, on the salt lakes something amazing happened: I saw my first ever mirage!
Before that day I never really understood a mirage, but now I could see why people would run towards them, convinced they were headed towards a much-needed body of water.
The interesting thing about being in the desert for so long (and you really can’t get the full effect from photos or on films) is how incredibly hot it is. The moment you leave your air conditioned vehicle, you need to drink instantly. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever drunk so much water in my life. Your body craves it from the moment the sun hits your skin.
The final destination of the day was in Onk Jemal, Tozeur – the setting for Darth Maul’s battle with Qui-Gon Jinn and Mos Espa spaceport as seen in Episodes 1 and 2.
We drove through the dunes for what seemed like miles with nothing to see but sand, sun and extremely blue skies. Then in the distance we spotted a small town. Not a mirage this time, but a huge alien space port hidden in the centre of the desert.
As we drew nearer, it was clear that this was a town like nothing we’d ever seen before – a perfect an example of a Star Wars setting.
The next morning we set off for the finale of our trip.
Before arriving at our hotel the night before, we’d taken part in a high speed rally race through the sand dunes. I’m not really one for ‘thrill seeking’, but having been almost forced upon us it was one of the coolest experiences ever. The vehicles seemed to fly through the air and everyone in our party was screaming with excitement throughout. No wonder desert dwellers don’t have roller coasters – they have ‘nature’s own roller coasters’ (if they have jeeps anyway)!
Realistically, I couldn’t see how Day One could be topped, but Day Two was all about Luke’s home. That’s why we were here – that was always the goal of the trip.
Along the way we visited all kinds of locations – including various caves used as backdrops from Life of Brian and the village from Raiders of the Lost Ark – and then the interior for the Lars Homestead (interior of Luke’s home) situated in Matmata. Our tour guide was very clear in telling us that many tourists come away from Tunisia thinking they have seen the actual set used in the film – these ‘cave homes’ look exactly the same in structure – but if you want to see the real home you need to drive out a little further to Matmata.
Once you arrive there’s no mistaking its authenticity.
This set is pretty much a huge hole in the ground with rooms carved into the walls. Aside from being an incredibly important part of movie history, it’s also truly fascinating to see how locals live in the area. As you wander around you can’t help but think: how on earth would you go about building this thing?
The highlight of this visit was the dining area. Even now the brown alien painting is still clear to see on the ceiling.
The drive to the exterior of Luke’s home in Chott el Djerid seemed to take forever. I’m not totally sure it took any longer than any other set trip, but this one meant far more to me. I could feel the excitement of that little boy back in 1977 desperately trying to burst out, at the realisation of a dream finally coming true.
On past drives there was always something to spot, but here the landscape was very flat and bland for hours. At best in a game of ‘I spy’ you’d get ‘S’ for Sand, ‘S’ for sky and ‘S’ for Sun.
Then in the distance something caught our eye . ‘Is that it?’, I asked. The tour guide replied in a very blasé way, ‘Yeah‘.
That’s when the butterflies kicked in.
As we drove nearer, the odd alien structure became clearer and clearer. This was it. This was the moment. This was my childhood dream.
It’s really hard to describe the Lars Homestead exterior – it’s basically no more than an igloo made of plaster and clay with nothing inside. But to me it was so much more. It was something I’d wanted to see my whole life and the end of a rather challenging adventure in the Sahara.
When Star Wars came out in 1977, it opened my mind to a world beyond the one I was living. It took me away from the sadness of losing my father and entertained me throughout my childhood. Now my own children battle in the garden with lightsabers.
The great thing about being an adult is you can expand on your Star Wars adventures in real life. It’s a genuine trek to visit any of these iconic locations, but you’re guaranteed to come back with more than a few stories and every set you discover feels like a goal achieved. It’s basically a huge Star Wars treasure hunt around the world.
I hope I get to see more in the future. The next time with my kids.
Star Wars Location – World Treasure Hunt Check List:
Matmata – Episode 2, Episode 4: Lars family homestead interior
Chott el Djerid – Episode 2, Episode 3 and Episode 4: Lars Family home Exterior
La Grande Dune – Episode 4: C-3PO and R2-D2 first arrival in Tatooine
Death Valley National Park , California – Episode 4: R2-D2 and the Jawa’s
Twenty-Mule Team Canyon, Death Valley, California – Episode 4: C-3PO and R2-D2 walk to Jabba’s palace
Redwood National and State Parks – Episode 6: Endor, Planet of the Ewoks
Palace of Caserta – Episode 1 and Episode 2: Naboo Palace
Villa del Balbianello – Episode 2: Anakin and Padme’s wedding
Mount Etna – Episode 3: Obi Wan and Anakin final duel and Mustafar lava planet
Hardangerjøkulen Glacier – Episode 5: Hoth Battle
Guilin – Episode 3: Kashyyyk the Wookiee world
Nick Gibbs McNeil is a Star Wars fanatic who runs children’s film review site kidzcoolit.com. He continually maintains that the prequels are ‘Really Good!’