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Chebika

OVERVIEW

Site:  Ancient Chebika

Location: Tozeur Governorate / Southwest Tunisia

GPS: 34.321577, 7.938975

Description: Ruins (Roman era)

Recce: Episode IV Tunisia (1975)

Source: Original concept sketch

Potential set concepts:
Mos Eisley Cantina (exterior)
Mos Eisley square
Mos Eisley security checkpoint

Accessibility: Very easy; highland terrain; paved roads; parking area (34.320475, 7.939072) directly at the site.

LOCATION

Modern Chebika (alternately: Sebikha, Shabikah, As-Sabikah) is a sparsely populated mountain oasis village located in the Tozeur Governorate directly along the P16 highway approximately 53 km northwest of Tozeur city, the provincial capital. The modern village, engulfed by a large palmeraie to the east, was established in the aftermath of intense flooding in 1969 caused by 22 days of torrential rainfall throughout southern Tunisia. The catastrophic weather event, which reportedly killed more than 500 people, overflowed wadis in the region, forcing extensive property damage. Many settlements were left abandoned, to include ancient Chebika.

SITE

Fortified as the Roman outpost Ad Speculum (Latin: “from the mirror”), ancient Chebika, perched on a rock platform at the foot of Jebel el-Negueb less than 500 meters northeast of the modern village, was utilized as a mountain stronghold in the arid Djerid region from which to send signals by mirror to track caravans traveling to/from Tozeur. In the post-Roman era, the settlement was converted into an Amazigh mountain refuge alternately known as Ksar el-Shams (Arabic: “castle of the sun”) due to its openly exposed position. Remains of narrow streets and brick and mud structures blend the ancient village into the surrounding jagged peaks on all sides (except to the south). A steep ravine filled with date palms injects contrasting greenery to the east/southeast.

The elevated position of ancient Chebika offers sweeping views of the Chott el-Gharsa salt flats, located some 20 km to the south. A marked trail, running along the tiered retaining wall built on the eastern perimeter of the site, leads to a small waterfall tucked inside the canyon to the northeast. The 40-minute walk to the waterfall following a spring-fed stream with several pools of clear blue water is a popular tourist attraction, especially during the winter months when the spring is most active. According to tradition, the spring was formed at the point where a wandering camel carrying the body of a marabout named Sidi Sultan came to a halt. Sidi Sultan Marabout, located near the ravine, enshrines the tomb of the Muslim holy man.

IDENTIFICATION

In his monumental work The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (2007), J.W. Rinzler published several original concept sketches drawn by John Barry (production designer) from late 1975 to early 1976 in conjunction with the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. One of the sketches contains a detailed caption that clearly identifies Chebika as the illustrated location: “CHEBIKA – in mountains near TOZEUR. Alternative town to AJIM – near salt flat location.”

Barry likely relied on at least two vantage points—southeast and southwest of the ancient village—to draw the sketch. The distinctive multi-level mudbrick reinforcement wall located on the east edge of the Chebika ruins paired with identifiable elements of the buildings above the tiered wall are unmistakingly featured in the drawing. The mountains in the sketch seem to resemble a conflated perspective of real-world peaks situated both north and east of the ruins. Barry added landspeeders, villagers, rooftop small domes, and futuristic antennas to complete the fictional Tatooine cityscape, mirroring the unique Ibadi/Amazigh architecture ubiquitously present on Djerba island. Post-1975 tourism developments on the south side of the ruins (viewing platform, cafe, shops) restrict the ability to exactly match Barry’s original sketch position(s) at the site.

Barry’s identification of Chebika as an alternate to Ajim indicates that the site was under consideration as a possible location for the Episode IV Mos Eisley city center scenes involving the stormtrooper security checkpoint and cantina exterior. Several geographic factors bolstered the case for Chebika. For example, Chebika’s proximity to the three Episode IV film site areas in the Tozeur GovernorateChott el-Djerid, Gour Beni Mzab, and Maguer Gorge—offered the possibility of centralizing almost all filming activity in the same general region. Moreover, the rugged mountainous landscape surrounding Chebika (unlike Ajim) matched the screenplay concept for a “bluff overlooking Mos Eisley spaceport,” initially introduced in the third draft (1 August 1975). Lastly, the compact size and post-1969 abandoned state of the Chebika ruins created the potential for enhanced flexibility to film both landscape-enriched wide shots and street-level close-ups. In the end, Chebika’s remote mountainous setting seemingly presented more logistical challenges than advantages and budget constraints rendered the option of dressing an entire village with set decor as highly unrealistic. The decision to film Episode IV Mos Eisley scenes in Ajim (rather than Chebika) proved to be both practical and economical, shaped in part by Djerba’s position as the primary travel hub to/from southern Tunisia.

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Ksar Ouled Debbab

OVERVIEW

Site: Ksar Ouled Debbab

Location: Ksar Ouled Debbab village (Tataouine Governorate) / Southeast Tunisia

GPS:32.869731, 10.381757

Description: Amazigh fortified granary (mid-18th century CE)

Recce: Episode IV Tunisia (1975)

Source: Original recce photographs & concept sketch 

Potential set concept: Mos Eisley slums street

Accessibility: Very easy; foothills terrain; paved roads; spacious parking area (32.869657, 10.381198) directly at the site entrance.

LOCATION

Ksar Ouled Debbab (alternately: Dabbab) is a small Amazigh village situated in the southern foothills of the Jebel Dahar mountain range approximately 9 km southwest of Tataouine city via the P19 highway in the Tataouine Governorate. The modern village shares the name of the ancient ksar, which forms the southern perimeter of the village.

LOCATION

Ksar Ouled Debbab (alternately: Dabbab) is a small Amazigh village situated in the southern foothills of the Jebel Dahar mountain range approximately 9 km southwest of Tataouine city via the P19 highway in the Tataouine Governorate. The modern village shares the name of the ancient ksar, which forms the southern perimeter of the village.

IDENTIFICATION

In his monumental work The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (2007), J.W. Rinzler published negatives (Kodak Tri-X panchromatic film) of various location scout photos taken by John Barry (production designer) during the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. No names or clear identifications were provided for any of the negatives. Multi-faceted research confirms that five recce photos combine to depict the northeast wall and north corner of the Ksar Ouled Debbab original courtyard. Comparisons with historical photos taken prior to the major structural renovations of the original courtyard proved to be critical in the process of verifying this location. The post-renovation architecture renders the Ksar Ouled Debbab recce photos otherwise unrecognizable.

An original concept sketch drawn by Barry during or shortly after the mid-November 1975 location scout provides additional evidence to identify Ksar Ouled Debbab as a recce site. The sketch depicts ghorfas on both sides of the divided original courtyard from a vantage point approximately 40 meters southeast of the perimeter of the courtyard. The distinctive archway of the courtyard and outline of the mountain range west of the Ksar Ouled Debbab village are also visible. Five groups of Jawas and a moisture vaporator cluster represent the fictional elements in the sketch.

The sketch caption labels the illustrated location as: “Adjim Djerba. Foume Tatahouine. Ghorfa Hotel.” “Ghorfa Hotel” is a reference to the business previously in operation at Ksar Ouled Debbab, proving that the hotel was functional as early as 1975. “Foume Tatahouine” (Arabic: “mouth of the water springs”) is the antiquated name formerly used for nearby Tataouine city, which, as the only major city in the vicinity of Ksar Ouled Debbab, likely served as the base location to explore the Tataouine Governorate during the mid-November 1975 location scout. The reference to “Adjim Djerba” links the Mos Eisley Cantina set location in Ajim to this recce site, which, according to a pre-production Tunisia shooting schedule (made prior to late January 1976), was slated to function as the Mos Eisley slum dwellings exterior for a scene—first introduced in the second draft (28 January 1975)—in which Luke stops his landspeeder to ask a group of Jawas directions to the cantina.

The Mos Eisley slums street scene was replaced in the fourth draft (1 January 1976) with scene 48 [Ben: “These are not the droids you’re looking for”]. Gary Kurtz (producer) confirmed in a department heads meeting on 23 January 1976 that this script change was final, eliminating the scene of the “landspeeder approaching the town with the Jawas gathered around a solar heater” intended to be shot at “Foum Tataouine.”

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Abu Miswar Mosque

OVERVIEW

Site: Abu Miswar Mosque complex

Location: Hachan outskirts (Médenine Governorate) / Djerba island (Tunisia)

GPS:33.862203, 10.821254

Description: Ibadi complex (late 9th century CE)

Recce: Episode IV Tunisia (1975)

Source: Original recce photographs

Potential set concepts:
Anchorhead perimeter
Tosche Station (exterior)

Accessibility: Very easy; flat terrain; paved roads; close proximity to airport; parking area (33.862514, 10.821451) directly at the site entrance.

LOCATION

Hachan (alternately: Hachene, Hashan), located in the northwest sector of Djerba island, is a small village spanning roughly 6.25 km² in total area. Part of the medieval-era network of densely packed rural Djerban settlements, the village is populated predominantly with historic menzel complexes, some of the oldest on the island. The “center” of the village is situated some 3 km southwest of Houmt Souk. The main access road (C116) that connects Houmt Souk to Ajim divides Hachan more or less in half.

SITE

Located along the Hachan northwest perimeter less than 100 meters south of Rue Boumessouer/Airport Road (C116E) and roughly 500 meters east of neighboring Mellita, the Abu Miswar Mosque complex (alternately: The Great Mosque, El Kebir Mosque, Miswariyya, Abi Maswar/Abu Masour/Aboumessouer Mosque) marks the approximate midpoint between Djerba-Zarzis Airport (5 km to the west) and Houmt Souk (4 km to the northeast). Documented as Djerba’s oldest mosque, the Ibadi place of worship was founded in the late 9th century CE by the charismatic Muslim teacher Abu Miswar Yasja, who migrated to Djerba from the Jebel Nafusa mountains in neighboring Libya. Abu Miswar solidified Djerba’s status as the uncontested center of Ibadi learning during the 10th century CE, a tradition continued by his son Abu Zakaria Fasil, who is credited with completing construction on the mosque. Despite the attributed name “Great Mosque,” the Amazigh structure, categorized as one of the inland fortified mosques on the island, is no bigger than any other Djerban mosque (ca. 18 x 17 m) and typical in appearance with windowless whitewashed walls, a protruding box-shaped mihrab niche (southeast wall), and a fort-like mini-minaret. A historic sundial in the courtyard was used to determine daily prayer times. A series of small rooms were used to house Ibadi students studying at the mosque.

IDENTIFICATION

In his monumental work The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (2007), J.W. Rinzler published a behind-the-scenes photograph of George Lucas (director) and John Barry (production designer), presumably at EMI-Elstree Studios (Borehamwood, England), reviewing in late 1975/early 1976 the makeshift studio recce wall, composed of an an assortment of pinned photos (organized by location) taken primarily by Barry during the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. Multi-faceted research confirms that three recce photos grouped together on the wall (second column from the left, lower panel, top left-hand corner) depict the Abu Miswar Mosque complex from three different camera angles, two from the northeast section of the mosque courtyard (near the current gated entrance) and one from a vantage point some 50 meters southeast of the complex. The mosque is visible in two of the three camera angles.