Reporter Discovers People Living In Original Star Wars Set


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Reporter Discovers People Living In Original Star Wars Set said:
MATMATA, Tunisia — I have never been a "Star Wars" aficionado, to tell you the truth. The closest I ever came to appreciating the movie was singing along to the "Star Wars" ring tone on my colleague's cell phone.

That is, until I took a trip to the planet Tatooine itself — a real place in the middle of the north African desert, a well-kept secret of Tunisia.

While ruthless Hollywood knocks over the set of each movie as soon as the director shouts his final "Cut!," Tunisia, where George Lucas shot most of the "Star Wars" scenes, still keeps the original set from the '70s, protecting it from the burning sun and the evil winds of the Sahara.

We drove through the desert in an aging four-wheel vehicle with a local driver. He didn't speak any English, and his French was limited to "S'il vous plait" and "voila." So he couldn't understand me pleading to turn off the stereo, from which he was listening to his favorite, "Aicha," for the 40th time.

If you cannot change the situation, change your attitude, I thought, and gradually started to enjoy the milieu: the tired African sun, slowly setting into the endless ocean of sand in front of us; the evening breeze getting inside from the half-rolled window; the anticipation of seeing "a surprise" in the middle of the Sahara, as our guide promised — oh, and the relentless "Aicha" sing-along.

The driver stopped the car at the top of the hill and stepped out for a cigarette, turning up the "Aicha" volume. The guide said: "Prepare yourself for the ultimate Star Wars experience — we are going to see the real movie location!"

Yeah, yeah, I thought, some more sand and a rustic lunar landscape.

The driver started the engine and the roaring car slid down the valley, leaving sandy fog behind.

What seemed to be just another pile of desert rocks, gradually, as we approached, took the shape of the rockets, satellites and spheres of the 1976 "Star Wars'" production, the real-life science fiction amid the ancient desert.

Breathless and with my heart pounding, I wandered around the abandoned set, looking at the inscriptions "Mike and Lucy were here, 1987" or "Luke, I love you! Jessie, 2001."

As I peered inside one of the impeccably built constructions, I noticed a mattress and a small teapot on the sand floor. In a mere moment, the "owner" of the house was there: an elder Arab man dressed in a typical desert fashion.

Surprisingly, his French was perfect and he explained to me that since he had neither family nor money, he came to live in the movie set. He looks after the place, the real roof of the fake house protects him from the sandstorms, and if a tourist throws him a small coin every once in a while, he can buy some more tea and some food. And he is hardly the only one living in the Lucas-built wonderland in the middle of the Sahara.

The set guardian offered us some Tunisian tea, but it was time to move on, because the sun had already disappeared behind the blurred horizon of the desert and the wind was growing stronger. As we drove off, I couldn't help but think that Anakin Skywalker and company would arrive at their property any minute and start negotiations on saving the universe, or something along those lines.

My unexpected African "Star Wars" encounters were far from over.

A three-hour drive from the futuristic desert sits the town of Matmata where we stayed the night at the troglodyte hotel. Troglodytes, are Tunisian cave people who live in houses dug vertically into the ground, a couple of stories deep, complete with doors and staircases, but no windows.

Normally, you would visit them in the daytime: the troglodytes (most of whom nowadays have motorcycles and cars parked in front of their cave entrances) will gladly show you their property, feed you home-made bread with olive oil and honey, play the tambourine for your entertainment and just ask for a few coins for all this fun and pleasure.

We were much luckier. Not only did we sleep and eat at the troglodyte place, we stayed at the troglodyte hotel, Sidi Driss, which was used as the actual house of Uncle Owen and Aunt B, the underground home of Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" movies.

It is said that Matmata is the only town on our planet where the hotel is the main attraction, and I totally believe it.

Sidi Driss used to be a real troglodyte house, and in the beginning of the '70s it was transformed into the hotel. When Lucas came to Tunisia to shoot the original "Star Wars," he came across the hotel and liked it so much, that not only did he sleep there; he also built additional "space" decorations inside the structure to shoot the necessary scenes. I received my first insight on the Sidi Driss' role in movie location history from an extremely excited American "Star Wars" fan, who was having dinner at the next table in the hotel's tiny canteen.

As the lady ate her vegetable couscous with Tunisian tuna salad on the side, she kept giving out essential information to her fellow pilgrims.

We couldn't help but overhear, and our guide was translating the "Star Wars" story into Arabic for the astonished local driver, who had no idea whatsoever about the legendary importance and exclusivity of this "last place on earth," the Tunisian "middle of nowhere."

Having consumed both the food and the info, we left the "restaurant" and took numerous pictures near the real Skywalker memorabilia — the interior of the hotel. Then we went into the "Star Wars Bar" — a small pit in the hotel used to film the famous bar scene, and continued our investigation over the fancy-spacey-named cocktails.

The bar was basically a secret "Star Wars" fan-club, containing dozens of hand-written journals, countless newspaper clips, pictures and other pieces of documentation proving over and over again that yes, Luke and his entourage were here!
Yes, it is an interesting place. I visited Matmata in 1996, and noted that while the temperature was something like +45C at ground level, it was nice and cool down in those dwellings. (I would not call them caves. Apart from the lack of windows, there was really nothing to give away the fact that they were underground). It makes good sense to live underground in that environment.

I met nice people there too, so I can recommend a visit.


Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
I have a nephew who is a real Star Wars fanatic (his wife, too!)
His home looks like a museum or memorabilia store (shelves and shelves of variations on Star Wars "action figures" still in original packaging, a vacuum cleaner disguised as the little robot, etc.) I am forwarding this item to him - he may begin saving up to visit!
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I heard on the radio this morning that one of the New Year's Day parades - possible the Rose Bowl one - has George Lucas as the Parade Leader or whatever its called and it will feature 200+ stormtroopers and other characters.
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