A long time ago (roughly 35 years), in a galaxy far, far away (well in Africa actually), good old George filmed some of the scenes for his humble little space opera about a (moisture) farm boy, out in the desert near a town called Nefta in Tunisia. His crew scouted for locations and built some sets, they did their thing and left.
The film was moderately successful, and about 20 years later they came came and did it all again for a prequel series – hoping to repeat the success. Some of the sets had to be tidied up and given a new lick of paint, and some new locations had to be found too. When they left this time, the locals saw an opportunity and ran with it, setting up little stalls in the souks, collecting props that had been left behind and generally help to relieve any passing tourists of their money!
Since then, one of those sets in particular has been left to the ravages of the desert. The entrance to the Lars Homestead, affectionately dubbed ‘The Igloo,’ was last seen (at least chronologically) with two smouldering skeletons on its steps as Luke learns of his destiny and begins his quest to restore peace and order to the galaxy.
Mark Dermul is a man with his own quest, linked very closely to Luke’s. Just after the first of the prequels were released, he traveled from his home in Belgium to Tunisia with the intention of seeking out as many of the sets and locations as he could find. After his return, he wrote a blog about his adventures which captured the imagination of many fans and he soon found himself becoming an unofficial tour guide, taking fans from all over the world on a “Trip To Tatooine” and even writing a few Star Wars travel guides about their adventures.
On what he thought was going to be his last tour in 2010, some of the ‘Pioneers’ on the trip remarked on the poor state of the Lars Homestead and a crazy idea was born. Upon his return home, he started up the ‘Save The Lars Homestead’ project on Facebook and got a fabulous response from the fans, who start donating towards the $10,000 goal to cover the costs of an expedition to rebuild the iconic set. The project received a blessing from Lucasfilm, mentions from all over the internet and Mark started negotiations with the Tunisian government who own the site to try to get the permits he’d need to complete the work.
In December a slight hiccup in the form of a little revolution in Tunisia put the negotiations on hold, but the donations kept coming in and the goal was reached by May 2011. After the new government was elected in October, the negotiations started up again and by December the permits had been authorized and the trip planned for May 2012.
Mark assembled his team – Terry Cooper and Mark Cox from the UK, Robert Cunningham from the US, Imanuel Dijk from the Netherlands and Michael Verpoorten from Belgium — and the six of them set off the day after the 35th Anniversary of the release of Star Wars, most of them having watched it at Mark’s house the night before!
Day Two of the expedition was spent traveling by land, sea and air and they only reached their final destination at nightfall. The team needed to meet with the local tourism office and builders before work could commence properly and that wasn’t until the Monday, so Day Three was mostly spent visiting the Homestead and other Tatooine locations nearby, including the Jebel Krefane mountain range – also known as Star Wars canyon – where Artoo was captured by the Jawas and the Tuskens attacked Luke and Threepio. (It’s also where Indiana Jones threatens to blow up the Ark!) Mos Espa was also close by and for lunch they returned to Nefta, where a local businessman has recreated Watto’s Junkyard by salvaging pieces from the Episode I sets and there’s also a small Star Wars stall in the souk.
After the meeting with the officials was over and terms agreed with the local builders, the hard work began in earnest on the afternoon of Day Four, with the removal of the non-salvageable parts and digging the sand out of the steps. The ‘Saviours’ as the team named themselves soon found out why the locals mostly work between 6am and midday as the temperatures regularly hit 50°C. Day Five started at 5am and consisted mainly of fixing new panels around the base of the igloo and covering them with chicken wire ready to be plastered. In the afternoon, when the heat got too much for them, they paid a visit to another nearby location – the Tanis Dig Site from Raiders, and ‘discovered’ a relic of their own – a piece of set dressing from the movie.
Day Six saw the cement and plaster being applied to the outside of the igloo, with help from the local crew as they’re the ones with the experience of mixing it in the high temperatures. Terry set about installing a replica of the door entry code panel that he had made back in the UK. Day Seven was the final day and the work had to be completed as Day Eight was needed for the journey home. The local crew finished the plastering while The Saviours cut and fixed 300 blocks of wood to the archway to match the decoration of the movie and erected a commemorative plaque. After a break from the heat they returned in the afternoon with a paintbrush each and gallons of white paint to finish the job and by 7pm they were done.
Even after celebrating their success into the early hours, the team still woke at 5am on Day Eight so they could have one last look at their handiwork before setting off for home. The blinding white igloo could now be seen from seven kilometers away across the sands. After a final round of photos they started their journey though the desert and made good time, arriving at a place called Matamata around lunchtime. Here they visited a hotel called Sidi Driss, which is better known to Star Wars fans as the interior of the Lars homestead. The owners know they’re on to a good thing and have kept all the of the set dressings from the filming. Once they found out what The Saviours were doing in Tunisia, the owners offered them the chance to have their lunch at the very table where Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru and Luke drank their blue milk! The final part of the adventure in Tunisia brought them team back to the island of Jerba, where they were able to visit Obi-Wan’s home, the Cantina and Tosche Station, before retiring for the night and leaving the next morning at 4am.
Kudos to Mark and all of the Saviours, including everyone who donated to the project, for keeping this little bit of history around for a while longer. You can read, see and watch more about the expedition over on the Save The Lars Homestead site and they’re currently hard at work creating a book documenting the project, with all proceeds going towards the maintenance of this historical site for future generations to enjoy.