Sand wars: Tunisia battles to save Anakin Skywalker's home against the desert empire

Tunisia announced a new international fundraising campaign to rescue the set, where numerous Star Wars scenes were filmed, from the encroaching desert.

The set for Mos Espa – hometown of Anakin Skywalker, also known as the protagonist-turned-antagonist Darth Vader in the blockbuster Star Wars film series – was built at Ong Jmel in southern Tunisia in the 1990s for the filming of Star Wars Episode One – The Phantom Menace.

But it's being eaten alive by desert sands. And now the local authorities are rushing to save it. 

”Mos Epsa is located in a very windy region, threatened by sand dunes which the wind moves by around 15 metres a year. One dune has already buried 10% of the site,” said Nabil Gasmi, from one of the tourism groups involved in the campaign.

The tourism ministry has teamed up with several organisations to launch the Save Mos Espa campaign, aiming to raise 300,000 Tunisian dinars (RM610k) for the restoration of the site, which has been damaged by shifting sand dunes.

”We managed to remove 8,000 cubic metres of sand in 12 days. Unfortunately, some of the set has already collapsed,” he told reporters.

The Tunisian state has allocated 160,000 dinars to the project, with an appeal launched on Monday on a crowdfunding website to raise more.

The ministry hopes to secure the rest of the money from sponsors and private donations.

Still image from Star Wars Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, showing an assortment of up-to-no-good aliens enjoying refreshments at the popular eatery Akim's Munch in Mos Espa. 

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

The North African country’s vital tourism industry suffered from the violence and political instability that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled a decades-old dictatorship.

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

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