Star Wars: Tunisia Strikes Back
With many Star Wars scenes having been shot in Tunisia's desert land, the pioneers of the Arab Spring are hoping to bring fans of the film series back, as the country stablises and focuses on tourism.
Being in Tunisia's Sahara desert is the closest one can come to feeling like they are on another planet. It is for that reason that this location has been used as the backdrop of several films including the legendary Star Wars franchise. For years, avid Star Wars fan have travelled to the village of Tataouine, which also inspired the name of Darth Vader home planet, Tatooine, as a must see destination. Unfortunately, that all changed with the Tunisia uprising three years ago, sparking the Arab Spring, which rendered the location inaccessible. However, with a newly passed constitution and what seems to be a successful transition to democracy, many hope it that the tourist will return.
"George Lucas always said he loved the light in Tunisia's southern desert. We hope old directors and a wave of young, new ones will come back now there's stability," explain Taieb Jallouli, an artist and set director who oversaw a smorgasbord of films including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The English Patient.
Surprisingly, it isn't only movie fans that desire to return, but also astronomers fascinated with meteors. Despite being the home planet of Darth Vader, Tataouine is also the site of a famous meteorite landing in 1931. Meteorite-hunters have been eagerly awaiting to return to the area which is currently restricted and too dangerous as it is currently a military zone that is weeding out jihadist groups training in the desert.
"In the desert, there's a huge surface area of land that's uninhabited, so it's the best place for successfully recovering any fragments which don't land in the sea. We need them to have a better idea of the birth of the solar system," says Sofien Kanoun, president of Tunisia's amateur astronomy society.
Aside from the lack of access, the group also suffers from a lack of funding, as hardline Islamist cracked down on a wide range of disciplines that includes everything from arts show to Rap music. The situation is dire and it is an absolute travesty, especially considering that the country is the homeland of Ibn Ishaq, legendary Muslim scholar, whose work still influences modern astronomy.
The times they are a-changing in Tunisia, and as they move forward hopefully they will recognise the tourist and academic potential that it's forgotten desert still maintains.