We stroll through the heart of the Lars family moisture-producing farm.
We found no sign of Luke Skywalker or any other member of the vast clan that had long inhabited these imaginary places.
It's real humans – both native and resident and from afar – the ones we see around and at the bottom of the many caves dug in the sandy soil southeast of the oasis of Gabes, not in the imaginary Great Salt Flat of Chott, nor in the wastelands and fictitious pictures of Jundland.
It was also only on screen that this farm Luke Skywalker grew up on until he was 19, raised by Owen and Beru, was burned by the Galactic Empire when his army sought the droids C-3PO and R2-D2.
We are in Matmata, a real troglodyte city that is now Tunisian and where, as thousands of years ago, more than 6.000 earthlings use these concavities as their homes, silos, warehouses and even businesses.
The Terran and Tunisian Lair of Matmata
We circle around five round ditches. We peek inside with extra care to avoid falling to the bottom. These days, the complex filmed as the Lars' home is Sidi Driss' hotel.
Four of these pits house Spartan rooms. The fifth is a restaurant. It houses and serves travelers who are enthusiastic about the eccentricity of the establishment and the region's scenery, in particular by those selected by the team. George Lucas to illustrate Tatooine, the first planet in the Tatoo binary solar system.
A star far drier and more peculiar than the landscape that inspired it.
The base of this fourth clayey hole is whitewashed and painted in indigo. It has windows and ogival or round doors distributed around the circumference. We heard muffled screams coming from one to another.
Nothing to match the sound of the Star Wars protagonist's laser saber or the futuristic weapons with which their enemies and allies clashed.
Reality Now Only Sidi Driss's Restaurant
Instead, waiters fight against time and bosses. They cross the earthy courtyard late and hurriedly, with trays full of food and drink. Or, in the opposite sense, the dishes that accommodated them.
The absence of references in the saga is, however, far from being total. A white vent retains a gold disk with a spatial design. Several door frames preserve strange modular grooves. Both items were inherited from the footage.
After the first movie “A new hope”, the entire decor has been removed. In 2000, the sequel “Attack of the clones” forced the reconstruction of a large part.
Today, whether they are fans or not, guests or visitors to the hotel have lunch or dinner with a feeling even the slightest part of being part of the saga. As we see it happening again and again, they photograph themselves emulating the most emblematic scenes of the sidereal epic.
The Obsessive Cult of Star Wars Fans
As Raisha, a local guide, tells us, some of her addicts are not content with so little: “Some time ago, we learned around here that a group has created a fund to recover the exterior of the Lars' farm! They collected almost 15 thousand dollars!” she informs us, incredulous at the exorbitant value that that lost igloo in a desert nowhere in Chott El Jerid deserved.
The igloo was destroyed after the filming of the first trilogy, rebuilt for the “Attack of the clones"and "The Sith Revenge” and, therefore, abandoned to erosion.
“Not only did they raise the money, but five or six rescuer friends came here on tour. They only came back after rebuilding it.
Later, they presented the project, all happy, in Germany, part of some ephemeris of the “Star Wars” and even released a book describing everything.”
From Matmata to Tataouine. And from Tataouine to Star Wars Tatouine
We take advantage of the relative proximity. The next day, we'll go to Tataouine where a Tunisia's emblematic ethnic and cultural festival, the Ksour. When we arrived, the area was under a sandstorm. It remained surrounded by a somewhat Martian, ocher, dusty atmosphere, much more humid than is supposed to be in a desert.
George Lucas and his collaborators may not have been so lucky – or unlucky, depending on your point of view – anyway, Tataouine's extraterrestrial scenarios inspired the director in such a way that he borrowed his name for the saga.
The name and not only.
On a visit to the outskirts of the city, the unexpected sight of the ksour, fortified barns of compact sand. We admire them projected from the ground, divided into several ghorfas (store cells) turned out to be perfect models for the slave wing of the Mos Espa spaceport, home of Anakin and Shmi Skywalker, prominently featured in the first episode, “The Phantom Menace".
A historic landmark written in rhodes (one of several pretending dialects of conflicting peoples) proclaimed at the entrance to this obscure modular place: “We forged this city under the heat of twin suns, in memory of our ancestors, in honor of our living clans and for the hope of our unborn children.”
The Berber and Desert Atmosphere that Inspired the Star Wars Scenarios
The Berbers of Tataouine are not given to advertising such pompous writings. When we enter Ksar Ouled Soultane, a politician from Tunis visits and the elders of different tribes participate in a banquet.
In a real dimension, terrestrial and strongly photogenic, its mere presence takes on a symbolism similar to that of the Mos Espa landmark.
We observe the secular and exotic beauty of its white jilabas, yellowed by time. We wonder if, with a certain Japanese influence (from the kimonos) to the mix, they would not have illuminated the creation of several of the garments sui generis of Star Wars.
In the last days of this tour, we moved to the Mediterranean island of Djerba, the largest off North Africa, where Ulysses and his companions from the Odyssey are said to have landed. And that the last ones didn't want to leave anymore, delighted with that kind of floating oasis and its endless succulent fruits.
In Djerba, we let ourselves get lost in the alleys and bustling market of the capital Houmt Souk. Around us, we pass rural villages embellished by countless menzels, traditional houses, partly vaulted, surrounded by olive and palm trees, in the style of a Berber Alentejo hill.
While investigating this other stronghold in Tunisia, George Lucas and his team noticed – as we also noticed – the abundance of donkeys that the peasants and fishermen carried with a bit of everything.
Now, it was no coincidence that Tatooine's pack animal of choice was named jerba. As eccentric as they were useful, these creatures had long, shaggy fur. They provided milk, leather and its fur. They were created by the far more bizarre Pacithhips. And by Swilla Corey, a part-time pickpocketing, slave-born, blonde human.
In Djerba, we still peek at the building that gave rise to Obi-Wan Kenobi's retreat hut and others used in scenes set in Mos Eisley, a second spaceport that deserved Obi-Wan Kenobi's warning that Luke Skywalker “would never find a den most despicable of scum and villains”.
The real Djerba leaves in our minds a contrary image, of honesty, tranquility and harmony.
Restrained fans as we always were, by this time, we appreciated better than ever the perverse wealth of George Lucas' imagination.
We were well aware that Earth was one thing, Tatooine was another.