Star Wars Traveller: Tatooine (a.k.a. Matmata)

After the unreliability of the buses on my birthday I thought it safer to move around by louage from then on. These are shared taxi’s looking like vans which go long distances and cost just about the same as the bus and are quicker too. I was fortunate to be the last one to want a louage from Tozeur on the west coast to Gabes on the east coast which meant that we left instantly at 7am. Two more shorter distant louages took me to Matmata where it was my privilege to check into the Hotel Sidi Driss which doubled up as the Lars Homestead in Star Wars or Luke Skywalker’s home to put it more simply.
You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan to be intrigued by this type of underground “troglodyte” home as is proved by the many many buses which make a stop at this place on their way up and down the country. I was one of only two guests to be staying in the hotel that night as it is kind of dirty with poor service but small matters like that were never going to deter me! Throughout the day I spent many a moment lining up photo shots inbetween all the tourists popping by.
The town is a very small place with less than a 1000 inhabitants and I walked round the place taking in the Berber museum (basically just a simple underground home similar to the one I was staying at) and the Matmata Hollywood-type sign. I went to the nearby hotel where Xavier (a French guy who I met en-route to Matmata) was staying to have a swim in their pool and I later witnessed a wedding which was very interesting. Lots of clapping and noise as a crowd of people paraded through the streets with the bride kept undercover on a camel as is tradition for these events which can last for up to seven days! I even got a free cous-cous (Tunisia’s national dish) meal later that night at one of the towns two restaurants which was really filling. My night was later ruined however at Xavier’s hotel when I started to suffer absolute chronic toothache while drinking which was just unbearable. A nose-bleed at 3.30am woke me up the following morning which all added up to it not being the most pleasant of nights but it was all worth it to me.
You can see my Tunisia photo’s here.
You can see my Tunisia Star Wars Collection photo’s here.

Star Wars Traveller: Tatooine (a.k.a. Tozeur)

It may surprise many that to visit some of the Star Wars filming locations in Tunisia is actually very difficult. There are no Star Wars package tours and very very few Tunisians have even heard of, let alone seen the sci-fi saga. With that in mind, getting things started was a bit of a headache but luckily I’d done plenty of research. Having walked the streets of Tozeur in the early hours I’d found nothing that could help me such as a tour operator. In fact the whole town seemed to be closed! Eventually I returned to the scene of my previous nights wild(?) birthday celebration extravaganza and enquired at reception about hiring a private 4WD driver as the receptionist spoke a bit of English as my bad French couldn’t help me express what I wanted which was, at times, a problem in a country where very few people spoke any English. I had to pay what was expensive by local standards but reasonable by UK ones and well-worth it to me.
My driver Amar first took me to Sidi Bouhlel which is known (outside of Tunisia) as Star Wars canyon and was used in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ as well as in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. An awesome sight and when I went down into the canyon the scenery (Artoo’s hideout and Jawa rock) was so instantly recognisable. A great start to the tour and not a sole in sight as I took my photos.
After that, we saw wild camels and with it a baking 45 degrees celsius outside we then saw Ong Jemal (neck camel) or Camelhead rock which was in ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ but is maybe more famous for its use in ‘The English Patient’ which I had seen as my preparation for this trip.
A short ride away from this was the Yardangs (protruding rocks resembling shark fins) which was the duel site between Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul and then in the middle of nowhere was the Mos Espa set from ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’. Incredible to think that there is no entrance charge, no fenced off area, no nothing. Truly amazing and this place was a highlight of my whole trip. The set itself is made of wooden moisture vaporators and multi-domed buildings and archways made of plaster with nothing inside apart from sleeping touts waiting for the next tourist bus as this place is on the tourist circuit though its only billed as ‘The Star Wars’. I guess I must have arrived in between buses as unbelievably I was alone again and able to wander at ease locating (this is where it gets geeky!) Watto’s junk shop, Qui-Gonn’s Alley, Sebulba‘s café and Jira’s fruitstall.
After those three highs I was then looking forward to seeing the igloo which played host to the Skywalker’s home exterior which was one of the sites I was really excited about seeing. However, I was dealt a crushing blow when I couldn’t find the tiny igloo and communication problems with the driver made it difficult for me to really guide him to where I wanted and he gave up and after showing a photo of the place in my book to a local I couldn’t believe their ignorance in just saying it wasn’t in the area but what can you expect when a foreigner tries to tell you that something is in your neck of the woods that you’ve never heard of. A truly frustrating experience and I really regret not stopping the driver at the 26km marker (as directed in ‘Trip to Tatooine’ by Mark Dermul which I was following) and looking for it on foot rather than driving a bit further on to a turning which had a bit of a road to follow but from where we just couldn’t locate it.
Back in Tozeur I was still pretty deflated about the sour end to the trip but managed to cheer myself up temporarily by sampling some camel steak which was available at a restaurant run by two nice chatty guys which was a relief given that yet again I was on my own. I wandered round through the palmeraie area (a huge oasis) and around the town looking at the achitecture and brickwork which the area is famed for although its also a bit of a building site in many places. I returned to the hotel de l’Oasis at night for a couple of beers with an Italian guy I met earlier that morning which was nice given the lack of speaking so far on the trip.
You can see my Tunisia photo’s here.
You can see my Tunisia Star Wars collection photo’s here.

Star Wars Traveller: Naboo (a.k.a. Caserta)

The very first thing I did on my first day in Italy was take an 8am Eurostar train for 28 Euro’s from Rome Termini station to Caserta which is 25 kilometres north of Naples. I had intended to get the 6.27 local train but arrived just a few minutes before and without knowledge of how to get a ticket or which platform to go to I decided to not risk it. Ironically, I still got there earlier than I would have but at three times the price! The reason for this journey was to visit Caserta Palace which is luckily opposite the station and was used as Queen Amidala’s Royal Palace in Naboo in Star Wars Episodes I and II as well as filling in for the inside of the Vatican in Mission Impossible III and more recently Angels and Demons. Having done my research before the trip it really was quite a sight to see those stairs and the huge window that appeared in the Star Wars prequels. I had a quick look around the palace and as impressive and beautiful as it was I just wasn’t that interested in any of the exhibits and pictures on display. However, the palace gardens were very nice and just stretched on for ages and ages as I found to my cost when I walked them in the mid-morning sunshine thinking the end fountain was much closer than it was. With the need to move on and visit Pompeii later that day I took the shuttle bus back to the palace. Back at the station I had to endure Italian inefficiency and poor service as the machines weren’t working and so I had to queue up at the one window that was open just to get a ticket the short distance to Napoli.
You can see my Italia ’09 photos here.

Top Trump Lessons

No this entry isn’t about letting rip in class but using top trump cards as a tool for learning. After making some James Bond actor profile flashcards a few months ago (featuring their age, hair and eye colour and height) for a comparatives and superlatives lesson I got the idea that trump cards might work in lessons. Subsequently, I went on ebay and bought five sets of cheap top trumps (three lots of ‘Star Wars’ and two of ‘The Simpsons’ if you must know!) which I got sent to Japan. Given that the Simpsons aren’t well-known here I have only used the ‘Star Wars’ ones. I teach a couple of young private students (separate lessons) who are both young ‘Star Wars’ fans so I have used the top trumps cards with them as a warm-down fun activity to make sure they leave the room on a high rather than having just been told what their homework is which is not an ideal way to finish a lesson given the negative connotations often associated with the dreaded ‘h’ word. Some of the items such as ‘dark side’ and ‘force factor’ have to be ignored but the likes of brains, jedi powers, battle skills and of course height can be used to practice the target language review (.i.e. Chewbacca is taller than Darth VaderHan Solo is more skillful than Luke SkywalkerObi-Wan Kenobi is more powerful than Princess Leia and so on). I only wish I could now find a way to incorporate ‘The Simpsons’ ones into a lesson but maybe some of the items up for comparison are not so suitable. By this I am referring to personal hygiene, shamelessness, huggability and prone to mayhem. Then again, maybe eliciting something like ‘Homer Simpson is more prone to mayhem than Chief Wiggum’ isn’t so bad after all!

A Spook-tacular Halloween

The force was strong with my students last week as Halloweeen provided a good excuse to incorporate some Star Wars stuff into the special themed lessons. Having brought my lightsaber back from Britain in September I wanted to show it to the kids (and the adults too) as a treat although the younger ones didn’t have much idea what it actually was. Still, even those with no interest in the movie franchise seemed to enjoy having a quick play with it. Anyway, long before it was introduced the kids entered the lesson to the X-Files theme (of course unknown to them but thats not the point) to spook them out a bit before the haunting tune of ‘Tubular Bells’ kicked in and then I introduced my specially made Halloween flashcards and a load of fun games followed culminating in the revealing of my Darth Vader mask and Luke Skywalker lightsaber. I can’t say I have ever really done anything for Halloween and am still ignorant of its actual meaning but I have to say that I did enjoy doing something different with my lessons which is always good for both students and teacher in terms of keeping us interested, motivated and entertained.
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TF Film Review: The Clone Wars (2008)

The Star Wars Celebration Japan event in July wasn’t just celebrating 30 years of Star Wars in Japan but was also about promoting the new animated movie ‘The Clone Wars’ (released in Japan on August 23rd) which was originally intended to be a TV series pilot filling in the gaps between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I do remember from the aforementioned event that director Dave Filloni did say that he had become interested in the Clone Wars from the moment he heard Luke Skywalker ask Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi “You fought in the Clone Wars?” in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Can’t say that it got me thrilled or that I was too concerned about these blanks so it was with fairly low expectation that I went to the cinema last Friday to see how things were developing in this latest part of the Star Wars saga.
Myself and Gideon weren’t the only Star Wars geeks there as there was a single line of loner ‘otaku’ (nerd or geek) going down a fair few rows with them all sitting in the middle of the row. The plot is a bit thin, desparate and fairly forgettable but with no expecatation and hype surrounding the movie I was able to enjoy it. Of course if you’re not a Star Wars fan then it obviously won’t appeal and I’m sure its not even designed for us original trilogy generation fans either.
The dialogue was inevitably cliched but I thought that about Revenge Of The Sith so no real change there. The addition of new female character Ahsoka Tona was not as bad as I thought it would be and was it actually quite enjoyable watching her banter with Anakin at times. The storyline involving Jabba the Hutt and his kidnapped son Rotta did slightly remind me of the far, far superior Dr Evil and Mini-Me from the Austin Powers movies but overall I would have to say that I didn’t mind the film. High praise indeed!!
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Star Wars Celebration Japan: 30 Years in Japan

The Star Wars Celebration Japan event marking 30 years since the original film was released in Japan (Yes, it came out here one year later than in the West) took place on the weekend of July 19-21 and of course myself and Gideon were in attendance going on the middle day having bought our premium Vader one-day passes the week before at a ridiculous cost of 7,500 yen (approx. 37GBP).
Arriving in plenty of time for the opening at 10am we were straight on over to the Millennium Falcon, Jabba’s Palace and the speederbike (from Return Of The Jedi) for photo stops and it was then that I realised how geared up this event was for the snap-happy Japanese with photo opportunities galore and often an assistant on hand to take the picture for you.
We were then frustrated that we couldn’t get in to the theatre area to see ’30 Year Heroes’ which was an hour long interview with the actors behind Darth Vader and Chewbacca and not full to capacity but I guess they didn’t want people constantly going in and out of the presentation. Needless to say we didn’t make the same mistake later that morning with the ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ presentation which this event handily coincided with. A good promotion opportunity therefore and there was a sneak preview as well as an interview with the Director Dave Filoni who when asked what his favourite character was of course said that it was one of the ones in his new movie that none of us know yet.
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Obviously I am a victim of it but it did irritate me at times how much this event was being used to milk the Japanese market for all its worth as is often the case such as when the big-boys of European football arrange pre-season friendlies in Japan in a desparate attempt to sell more of their replica club shirts to a market which laps it up. For that I guess I can’t really blame them! Further proof of this was the fact that it cost an outrageous 20,000yen (approx. 100GBP) for Mark Hamill’s autograph where photos were not allowed. I dread to think how much each person spent on average! I spent a good 65 quid and that was just on the ticket, a souvenir towel and an autograph. In order to justify to myself that it was worth the entrance fee myself and Gideon thought we should ahem spend more money so we went and got the autograph of Jake Lloyd who played young Annakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace. I liked one of the images he was signing and thought it would look good on my wall with a signed message to me on it. We could also get our photo taken with him and chat to him for a bit so I’m happy that I overcame my cynicism to do all that.
Other exhibits included ‘The Vader Project’ which featured “edgy variations on the iconic Darth Vader helmet” which was an interesting and novel idea. There was also a Jedi training stage for aspiring young Jedi’s to learn the ways of the force and take on the challenge of Vader in a series of choreographed moves. A shame I wasn’t 20 years younger!!
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Skywalking with Mark Hamill brought the curtain down on the days events in what was a supposedly rare convention appearance by the man who portrayed Luke Skywalker. Although it got better towards the end with some interesting insights it was frustating before that as he seemed to look a bit peeved and kept on talking about some film he’s making next year but I guess that was in his contract that he get the chance to promote it heavily. The constant translating between the interviewer, Hamill and the translator herself was annoying for me as it really disrupted the flow but of course its a neccessity in a country where English isn’t understood by the majority. One lady fan actually braved asking a question to Hamill in broken English which he didn’t understand so well as I guess he’s not so used to hearing the Japanese speaking English. All credit to her anyway and that was it for a very geeky, but enjoyable day hanging out with the stars, many other fans and cosplayers.
You can see my Star Wars photo collection here

The Dream Is Over!

My plan this August was to realise a long dream of going to southern Tunisia on a Star Wars tour of the sets used in many of the films. Very geeky yes and on top of a couple of nights in Rome en-route I really thought it was feasible. I was envisaging going to the home of Luke Skywalker, seeing the setting of Mos Eisley or doing the sights of Rome before chilling out in a cafe reading (but obviously not understanding!) la Gazzetta Dello Sport newspaper with an untouched dessert like what James Richardson seemed to always be doing on Channel 4’s Football Italia back in the mid nineties.
Sadly the time of year I wanted to go is holiday season for so many Japanese that the price goes up big-time and so 300,000 yen for flights only is not something I can really justify and would put a bit too much pressure on me to have an amazing experience in what is in all likelihood just a desert with some unique igloo-style buildings.

As an alternative I will now be popping over to Laos on my birthday (08/08/08) via a five hour transit in Bangkok to hook up with my mate Richard and his better half Mizukifor a weeks travel which I am looking forward to very much. As for southern Tunisia that will have to wait a while longer but I hope that idea will be realised sooner rather than later.

“Your dreams are never silly, Depend on them to guide you.”