Star Wars Traveller: Tatooine (a.k.a. Death Valley)

Having been to see the Star Wars filming locations of TunisiaItalySpain and England I thought that was the end of the ‘Star Wars Traveller’ series but not so as I couldn’t go to the USA and be so close to some locations without checking them out. Admittedly, Yuma and Redwood Forest featured in ‘Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’ but there’s not much to be seen there. On the other hand Death Valley in California is a different matter and parts of this vast national park were used to portray Tatooine in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ and ‘Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’Tunisia is of course more famous for being Tatooine’s true home but scenes were shot in Death Valley and inserted and blended in with those shot in Africa.

Ethan and I were very tired when we arrived in Death Valley one evening last month. Whilst having our burgers at a roadside cafe we debated where to stay that night. In the end we decided to stay in the car all night to save a bit of money. We parked the car on the most quiet of side-roads near the Death Valley sign and, despite being really tired, we ended up drinking a 6-pack of beer each as we got excited by the nothingness of the situation. Despite being in the middle of nowhere in pitch-black darkness we were still able to get phone reception so we skyped a mutual friend back in the UK which was a laugh not that we remember too much about the call!!

   

Our day started early the next morning and first stop was Stovepipe Wells which is where we briefly see R2D2 wheeling his way across the sand dunes (at 10 mins 23 secs on the special edition dvd) following an argument with C3P0. The sand was absolutely baking hot while we were there and it was painful on the feet at times (I’d discarde my sandals earlier on as we crossed the dunes) as I lined up the shots seen below by matching up the mountains in the background with particular reference to the peaks.

   

Desolation Canyon was next where the film crew did a couple of pickup shots in the vicinity of this place. The first is the sandcrawler station (13 mins 8 secs) and inevitably can only be matched up using the mountains in the background and the directions given on this article. A 1.6 yard-long radio-controlled model was used for the wideshots such as below left. Whilst I brought my droid figures with me I never gave it a thought to bring my sandcrawler toy which would have been a good idea. Oh well! On top of that I later noticed a mark on the camera lens which is now in a lot of my photos such as the one below right which is a match-up of the screenshot next to it.

 

Moving a little into Desolation Canyon is where the Bantha (a large native Tatooine animal with a long furry tail) filming took place (28 mins 1 sec) which was basically just an African elephant in a costume! As the name implies this place was completely desolate which can be the only excuse for stripping off for the lower left photo! Actually I’d been telling my American counterpart Ethan that its British-style to do such a pose though whether theres any validity in that statement I don’t know! One gets bored of doing the same poses so here is something different!

   

Having reached erm rock bottom there, we moved on to Artist’s Palette and it was there that I found the path that Artoo rolled down (11 mins 21 secs and 11 mins 29 secs for the respective screenshots below) before he was attacked by the jawas. This was probably my favourite Death Valley shot as it was one that I remember vividly without having to get the dvd out and it only lasts for about two seconds as indeed do all of these Death Valley locations!

     

The next location was one I was looking forward to purely for the fact that it was to my first ever ‘Return of the Jedi’ scene. The dirt road for Twenty Mule Team Canyon was used way back in December 1982 where we see the two droids approaching the palace below left. Of course CGI was used to add Jabba’s palace into the background which appears on screen after 5 mins 14 secs. Sadly I don’t have figures of C3P0 and R2D2 which are the same size so my recreation is not perfect but are they ever?!!

   

Dante’s Inferno was the final destination on this Star Wars tour and by far the easiest to track down as its a major sightseeing spot in its own right. We were of course there as it was the overlook where Ben Kenobi famously introduces Luke Skywalker (as they stand on the cliff edge in Sidi Bouhlel in Tunisia) to Mos Eisley spaceport by telling him “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy“. The screenshot is below left and the views were naturally way more impressive than what was described by Ben Kenobi.

   

Overall the vast area is a beautiful scenic location as it is and our trip was just further heightened by the six Star Wars locations shot there. After Dante’s Inferno it was then time to leave our great memories of Death Valley (the night spent in, and indeed out of the car was one of the highlights of the whole American journey) behind and make our way to Las Vegas for some very different landscape!

Thanks to the following site: starwarslocations.com

*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Naboo (a.k.a. Como, Italy) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Naboo (a.k.a. Villa del Balbianello, Italy) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Naboo (a.k.a. Seville, Spain) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Naboo (a.k.a. Caserta, Italy) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Naboo (a.k.a. Watford, England) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Tatooine (a.k.a. Tozeur, Tunisia) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Tatooine (a.k.a. Matmata, Tunisia) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Tatooine (a.k.a. The Ksours, Tunisia) here
*** You can see Star Wars Traveller – Tatooine (a.k.a. Djerba, Tunisia) here
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Star Wars Traveller: Tatooine (a.k.a. Djerba)

I just missed a louage to the island of Djerba at 5.30am and then had to wait over an hour for the following one to become full. The cost of the taxi included the ferry crossing and culminated at the north of the island from where I then hired a taxi driver to take me round the places I wanted to visit. This island is a very popular destination for tourists who frequent the eastern side of the island and its beautiful beaches so my driver must have thought I was a right oddity for wanting to see three old run-down buildings on the west side in Ajim.
First stop was the marabout of Sidi Jemour which played Anchorhead in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and was also used as the outskirts of Mos Eisley. Personally, I wasn’t that bothered about this place but as I was in the vicinity I thought I may as well see it.
Further down the coast and close to the ferry port was Ben Kenobi’s hermitage; a lone derelict building which appeared on screen for about one second with Luke Skywalker‘s landspeeder outside it. The film portrays it as being in the middle of the desert by using a low camera angle but it is fact right next to the sea. This was very geeky but very exciting although there was nothing whatsoever inside for that was no doubt filmed in the studio.
 
My final port of call on the Star Wars trail was the Mos Eisley Cantina bar where Luke and Ben were introduced to Han Solo before escaping in the Millennium Falcon; filmed on a nearby sidestreet which I found thanks to the map in Mark Dermul’s ‘Trip to Tatooine’ book. Without such a map it would have been fairly impossible to find the Cantina, the blast-off alley and the stormtrooper checkpoint. They were still difficult enough to find even with the map! Of course its been over 30 years since the movie was filmed so needless to say that the buildings are not in good condition but it was nice to finish my Star Wars journey at such a pivotal place in the whole saga.
 
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. The Ksours)

I left the Sidi Driss Hotel in Matmata and caught (by luck) an over-packed 7.30am bus to Gabes where I checked into a hotel and then went straight out again to the louage station to get down to Tataouine, the name that inspired the name of planet Tatooine in the Star Wars saga. While waiting for the taxi to fill-up with people Xavier came along and once we’d got to Tatouine we were prepared to go our separate ways. Before this I asked him if he could just help me out with the arrangements and invitable haggling with a taxi driver for what I wanted to do which somehow eventually lead to us both taking a taxi to his hotel, Ksar Ouled SoltaneKsar Hadeda before dropping me off in Medinine and then taking him back to Tataouine. I was more than happy with this deal as it was reasonably cheap and meant I would have a travel companion for a bit in a country where its fair to say I hadn’t had too much conversation due to my French not stretching so far!
We had been expecting some sign of civilisation before we reached our first sightseeing spot but that never happened as one moment we were driving through the middle of nowhere and then the next we stopped and walked into the beautifully coloured Ksar Ouled Soltane (a Ksar is basically a fortified granary whatever that really means – a place to store grain?) which was great. No-one there (apart from a few artists selling their paintings of which I bought one), no surrounding fence, no entry charge and so we were free to climb all over the building to view the surrounding area which was nice as the Ksar is on the top of a hill.
Ksar Hadeda was next and we were there much sooner than I had anticated. This was similar to the previous one but not quite as aesthetically pleasing as it had fallen into disrepair in places. It was the location of Shmi Skywalker’s home in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the scene where she told Qui-Gon Jinn that her son Anakin didn’t have a father. This place is now part hotel, part Ksar and part building site and so made it difficult to locate the exact filming shots.
The final location was Ksar Medenine where I said a bientot to Xavier and then went to the alley on the back of the Ksar which was also used as the home of Anakin and Shmi Skywalker. The scene where Anakin had to say bye to his mum was filmed here with sand added to the street to make it look more desert-y so inevitably it looks a little different now with no set dressing remaining and it looked like people actually lived there.
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.