It was to be the last trip to Tatooine (Tunisia, Africa) for Mark Dermul and company. He had already been three previous times with other large groups, so this was a reunion for one final journey. The trip was announced in August of 2009 seeing all eighteen spots filled within a matter of just a few days. With Celebration V looming about and no date or time announced, many were unable to commit to traveling to the Jundland Wastes, myself included. It was only after someone had to cancel that a spot opened up and I was able to join the team...thank the maker.
Our group of eighteen pioneers consisted of men and women from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Some of us had previously met, but for the most part, we were all perfect strangers who simply shared a passion for Star Wars. This passion is what brought us all together and created bonds that will surely last a lifetime. This is our story.
Day 1 Saturday, May 22nd 2010
As soon as everyone had cleared customs and gathered their luggage, we made our way out to the jeeps that would be taking us around Tunisia for the next eight days. Our first stop was Sidi Jemour or Toshi Station. As many will recall, this is the place Luke whines to his uncle about wanting to go to "pick up some power converters". While the actual scenes with Luke, Camie, Fixer and Biggs and then later just Luke and Biggs were cut from the final version of the film, you can still see this building as Luke, Ben and the Droids enter Anchorhead on their way to Mos Eisley.
The next stop was only a few minutes away. Ben Kenobi's Hermitage. This was Ben's home as seen in A New Hope. In the film, it appears as if the structure is out in the middle of the desert when in fact, it sits right on the water. Some careful camera angles can fix that as you can see below.
Our last stop for the day was also very close to our first two. Ajim or the Mos Eisley Cantina which now looks extremely out of place among the many new buildings that surround it. The door has been plastered over and some grass and plants have grown up, but it's easy to imagine Dewbacks to the left, Jawas leaning up against the outside wall and Luke, Ben and the Droids making their way into the Cantina.
Literally just around the corner is Falcon Blast Off Alley which is where Sandtroopers turn around to see Han Solo's ship blasting it's way out of Mos Eisley Spaceport. Unfortunately, the Stormtrooper Checkpoint were the Landspeeder is stopped for questioning has been replaced by another building and is no longer visible.
A short ferry ride across a large body of water and we were on our way to Sfax to check into our first hotel of the trip. After several hours of driving, we finally arrived and ate a very late dinner and called it a night.
Day 2 Sunday, May 23 2010
After breakfast, we left for El Jem where the third largest Colosseum in the world resides. This was the filming location for Gladiator. Seeing the film and thinking that it surely must have been filmed in Rome, I was quite impressed to discover this was not the case. What an eerie feeling it was walking through the dungeons and catacombs of this mighty fortress.
We set off for Kairouan or Cairo as it was called in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Thankfully, we had our very own Indy expert, Colin, to show us the way. Many alley ways seen in the film during the basket chase, the door way Marion runs into with the frying pan, the cafe Indy and Belloc speak in, shots of the German's with Fedoras, the exploding truck square and more!
A quick five hour drive to Tozeur and we made it to our next hotel for the night.
Day 3 Monday 24th May 2010
After breakfast which consisted of...bread, we left for Chott el Gharsa where Angjemel or Camel Head Rock is located. This location can be seen in The English Patient and more important to us, The Phantom Menace. It's where Darth Maul's Sith Infiltrator lands as we see him send off his Sith Probe Droids and then later, blast off in his Bloodfin Speeder. I learned that these two scenes were shot in the same spot, but the frame was flipped to give the appearance of two different locations.
Next up were more sets from The Phantom Menace. The Repro Haddada set was almost completely covered by sand back in 2005. This time, it was almost completely uncovered and waiting for us in all its glory. In the film, this is where we see Anakin working on his Podracer before the Boonta Eve Classic. Yardang Field was the backdrop for the Royal Starship Landing Gantry and the duel between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn.
What came next is probably one of the coolest things a Star Wars fan can ever experience. The city of Mos Espa. This was the giant set where Qui-Gon, Jar Jar and Padme first meet Anakin. We spent a long time discovering each and every structure, taking photos and seeing the first ever 501st troop of Mos Espa. Michael (TK 6682) drug his big suit case with armor around the desert for days and it surely paid off. The photos and video we shot are proof of that! Several Rebelscum.com board members made this trip, so we couldn't let the opportunity slip by to get a group shot at some of the locations.
We left just in time as a big sand storm started up upon our exit. Once everyone had had their fill of Mos Espa (ha!), we drove to Nefta for lunch and to check out the Star Wars shop. Hardly anything Star Wars about it other than a few pieces of a podracer engine, some shipping crates and an unpainted door from one of the sets.
Our next stop was the Dune Sea. It was impossible to make out the exact location of the Krayt Dragon or the path that C-3PO took where he limped his way through the desert as the sand had shifted over time, but we found the general location as we hiked up Krayt Dragon Ridge. The locals saw us coming from a mile away and were there waiting for us to arrive as they tried to sell off pieces they had discovered over the years. Some pieces were real, some where not.
A few miles away sat what is probably one of the two most iconic locations we would visit on our trip: the Lars Exterior set or the Igloo. Heavily damaged now by the constant sun, wind and sand, many shed tears as we approached this amazing piece of film history. I can promise you that I got chills like never before. We were racing the clock to try and get all the photos we needed done before dark. What better way to watch the sun set than on the planet of Tatooine by the crater's ridge which Luke sets his foot upon as his hair is blown about? It just doesn't get any better than that. Thank you George.
As if all of that wasn't special enough, Michael did more trooping in his Sandtrooper gear, Franz proposed to his girlfriend Gini (she said yes!) and Mark & Sarah were married in front of the Igloo. I dare say that was probably three more firsts right there. All went to sleep smiling that night.
Day 4 Tuesday, May 25th 2010
The next day, we made our way to Sidi Bouhlel or Star Wars Canyon. Here we saw such iconic locations as the Sandcrawler Parking Lot, Jawa Rock, Ben's Rock, Artoos Hideout, Tusken Terrace, Tusken Sniper Point and the Mos Eisley Overlook. Parts of this canyon were also used in The English Patient and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Just a short drive away, our Indy expert, Colin, lead us to the Well of Souls, the entrance to the Map Room, the Airfield and the Tanis Dig Site as seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Our day ended as we arrived in Ksar Ghilane, an oasis in the middle of the Sahara Desert. We slept in tents which were quite comfortable. Unfortunately, the power was shut down after 10:00pm, so those hoping to take late showers were out of luck.
Day 5 Wednesday, May 26th 2010
The next morning was an early one. Up at 6:00am and ready to brave the elements high atop a camel by 7:00am! Our destination was an old Roman fort. The desert was very hot and the ride was almost an hour each way, so we all got a good bit of riding in as it was the first time for most of us.
Back in the jeeps and onward we forged to Ksar Haddada. This is the hotel at which the scene between Qui-Gon Jinn and Shmi Skywalker was shot as they speak about how Anakin came to be. The set is quite different than what can be seen in the movie, but using our reference shots, we could still make out the location. Everyone got a cold drink from the bar and it was off to the city of Tataouine.
We checked into the Jawhara Hotel and then left for Ksar Ouled Soltane which is believed to be a location used to CGI some of the background for the Slave Quarters. Back to the hotel to freshen up, a nice relaxing dinner and our day was complete.
Day 6 Thursday, May 27th 2010
On our way out of Tataouine, we stopped to take photos of the various road signs going in and out of the city.
Our next stop would be Medenine, home to a famous market which is where Skywalker Alley sits. This is the location used to film Anakin and his new friends as they run for cover from the sand storm as well as where Anakin says goodbye to his mother. After many photos and some extremely welcomed ice cream, we loaded up the jeeps and headed for Matmata to check into hotel Sidi Driss or Lars Homestead Interior.
Personally, this was right up there with the Igloo as far as importance. As we stared down into that pit for the first time, it brought a smile to each and every face. We were home (at least for that night). The events that followed will surely go down in history as the ultimate Star Wars experience for those present.
There were tons of tourists walking around the hotel upon our arrival. As the hours passed, little by little, everyone left and we were all alone in Luke Skywalker's home. At Mark's request to the manager, we were allowed to dine in the pit which is generally not allowed. After a very filling dinner of Tunisian spaghetti, some retired to their room for the evening. Some of us did not. Sleeping bags and pillows were brought out into the pit, benches were used for beds and we proceeded to spend the night under the stars which was the first time anyone had ever done so. I opted to crash partly inside the Lars Dining Room which made for an incredible first sight when I woke up the next day.
For breakfast, in true Star Wars fashion, we had blue milk using the same style containers used in A New Hope. Another nostalgic moment for everyone, certainly. Tourists began to arrive as we were packing up the jeeps. We said our goodbyes to this wonderful place and made our way to Houmt Souk where we checked in to the hotel Marhalla for just one night before we headed for home.
Day 8 Saturday, May 29th 2010
Our plane didn't leave until later in the afternoon, so many of us decided to head back to Ben Kenobi's Hermitage, Falcon Blast Off Alley and Mos Eisley Cantina. Michael didn't troop these locations the first time around, so he used this second opportunity to do so. The results were priceless. It truly was the the perfect ending to the perfect trip.
We arrived back in Belgium later that evening, spent the night at Mark's house and began our various trips back home the following day. Our journey was nearly complete, but it will live on through each one of us for the rest of our lives.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mark for organizing the trip and making it so special. I don't think many of us would have attempted it otherwise. I also want to thank the other pioneers for creating some incredible memories that will certainly last forever.
1. Mark Dermul (Belgium) (Tour Guide)
2. Scott Burton (USA)
3. Imanuel Dijk (Netherlands)
4. Sarah Seward (UK)
5. Mark Cox (UK)
6. Bret Calltharp (USA)
7. Terry Cooper (UK)
8. Colin Kenworthy (UK)
9. Markus Haeusler (Austria)
10. Franz Boszak (Germany)
11. Virginia Frenzel (Germany)
12. Claus Berghammer (Austria)
13. Rich Appenzeller (USA)
14. Ross Cuddie (Canada)
15. Robert Cunningham (USA)
16. Michael Bender (USA)
17. Zack Vazquez (USA)
18. Chris Wyman (USA)
For those wishing to make this journey themselves or for anyone who simply wants to read a good book, Mark's "Trip to Tatooine" will serve as the perfect guide. For more photos and information, you can visit the Facebook page or the main main website.
Photography by Chris Wyman