Tunisia battles to save Star Wars set from shifting sand

Numerous Star Wars scenes were filmed at this desert film set in Ong Jmel, southern Tunisia, photographed April 5.(AFP/Noor)

TUNIS: Tunisia announced a new international fundraising campaign Tuesday, whose object is to reclaim the set where numerous Star Wars scenes were filmed from the encroaching desert.

The set for Mos Espa – hometown of Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader), the protagonist/antagonist of the blockbuster film series – was built at Ong Jmel in southern Tunisia in the 1990s for the filming of a film that eventually came to be known as “Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope.”

The Tourism Ministry has teamed up with several organizations to launch the “Save Mos Espa” campaign, aiming to raise 300,000 Tunisian dinars ($189,000) for the restoration of the site, which has been damaged by shifting sand dunes.

“Mos Epsa is located in a very windy region, threatened by sand dunes which the wind moves by around 15 meters a year,” noted Nabil Gasmi, an employee at one of the tourism groups involved in the campaign. “One dune has already buried 10 percent of the site.

“We managed to remove 8,000 cubic meters of sand in 12 days,” he continued. “Unfortunately some of the set has already collapsed.”

The Tunisian state has allocated 160,000 dinars to the project, with an appeal launched Monday on a crowd funding website to raise $45,000. The ministry hopes to secure the rest of the money from sponsors and private donations.

The sand clearance was a temporary operation, ministry official Fahmi Houki explained, because the dunes are constantly moving, and would save the set for another eight-to-10 years.

Tunis’ vital tourism industry has suffered from violence and political instability following the 2011 uprising that toppled the decades-old dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The new tourism minister, Amel Karboul, said last month that she wanted to improve Tunisia’s image as a holiday destination by raising the awareness of areas away from the coast like Ong Jmel, which have previously attracted barely any attention. – AFP

Interested in saving Darth Vader’s home town? See

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 10, 2014, on page 16.




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