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The Tunisian town of Tataouine that inspired 'Star Wars'


Pioneering the space opera, George Lucas’ Star Wars series has become known for its bombastic cosmic adventures, travelling to the galaxy’s most peculiar corners to discover life teeming in the strangest places. From the jungles of Endor to the swamps of Kashyyyk, bizarrely, when it comes to the franchise’s baying fans, it is the harsh desert world of Tatooine that is by far the most beloved. 

Beginning the very story that has since become a media empire, Tatooine is the planet that Luke Skywalker finds himself on at the beginning of the original film in 1977, and has since been featured in five of the following franchise instalments. Though whilst the aforementioned likes of Endor and Kashyyyk are largely created using CGI, Tatooine’s real-life location is a lot closer to reality. 

Situated in South West Tunisia lies the city of Tataouine, a location that has since become the hotspot for dedicated Star Wars fans eager to escape to something that resembles a galaxy far, far away. Near-enough sharing its name with the desert planet of George Lucas’ original film, much of the architecture seen in the franchise exists in the historic architecture of the ancient city.

With delicate exterior stairways and curious windows, the iconic buildings are made from adobe brick, a mixture of clay, sand and straw that blends the structures into a seamless landscape of the seemingly never-ending desert. Sprouting from the sands around Tataouine are similar rugged buildings displaced within the landscape, taking the place of cliffs, mountains and rocky spurs such as the astounding architecture of the Ksour, fortified villages of the Saharan inhabitants.

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Truly appearing as if an exceptional, cosmic location, it’s no wonder George Lucas chose Tataouine as the base for his original film, filling the Tunisian city with the life of several hundred intergalactic characters. Taking everything from props to giant vehicles to the small city in the 1970s, Lucas and his crew inadvertently heightened tensions between Tunisia and neighbouring Libya by increasing activity in this area. 

One particularly shocking report of the incident outlined how matters between the two countries reached a pinnacle when Libya made a demand that Tunisia immediately cease its deployment of a massive military vehicle near the border which they both shared. This was then further heightened when Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi warned that conflict would inevitable if such demands were not met. Humorously, the issue in question was the giant vehicle used as the Jawa Sandcrawler, with Lucas subsequently moving the massive prop to a more secretive location. 

In recent years, this now iconic film location has since been reported as “unsafe,” with the city becoming “embroiled in the country’s unrest with Isis,” and the position being used as a waypoint for fighters travelling to and from Libya. Whilst a physical visit to Tataouine may not be recommended, its place in the history of cinema and as a must-see location in the world of Star Wars has certainly been solidified.