Gour Beni Mzab
Site: Gour Beni Mzab dune system
GPS: ~33.871125, 7.759225
Location: Nefta dunes area (Tozeur Governorate) / Southwest Tunisia
Description: Linear dunes surrounded by desert vegetation
Star Wars film:
Episode IV — A New Hope (1977)
Set construction start: Late March 1976
Production: 24-25 March 1976
Star Wars location | Film sets:
Western Dune Sea | lifepod crash site
Western Dune Sea | krayt dragon skeleton
14 [C-3PO and R2-D2 argue about which way to go] — Filmed: 24-25 March 1976
15 [C-3PO and bleached bones of beast] — Filmed: 24 March 1976
B32 [Stormtroopers find evidence of droids] — Filmed: 25 March 1976
Final cut: 3
Shifting sands: Only Star Wars film site in Tunisia rendered nearly impossible to precisely pinpoint due to the ever-changing wind-blown dune landscape and the removal of all verifiable krayt dragon pieces from the area by collectors from 1993 to 2002, concluding with a full-scale professional dig utilizing an excavator.
La Grande Dune: Star Wars tourism pioneers in the 1990s labeled the film site as “La Grande Dune,” a term no longer promulgated. Historical maps and local bedouin refer to the area as Gour Beni Mzab.
Windy chill: Despite the desert setting, crew wore jackets and eye goggles to protect against chilly temperatures (avg: 57°F/14°C) and frequent wind gusts (max: 11.4 mph/18.3 kph).
Desert sweep: Crew members pulled grass tufts from the flat areas surrounding the rolling dunes to ensure scenes shot in this open landscape resembled a vast barren desert.
Legacy: Six Tunisian extras from the Tozeur region, to include Taher Khawa (TK-1), suited up at this “Dune Sea” location to become the first-ever filmed stormtroopers in the Star Wars franchise.
Dewback: Background beast of burden (not listed in the screenplay) was a large fiberglass/latex skin prop with a big stick attached to the head to allow a crew member to replicate head movement while sitting alongside the prop.
Recycled dinosaur: Crew repurposed the enormous fiberglass prop from Disney’s One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975) as the krayt dragon skeleton (screenplay: “bleached bones of a dinosaur-like beast”) in the Dune Sea.
Dune walk: Anthony Daniels struggled with limited mobility in the C-3PO costume over the sandy terrain, a fact easily visible in the film.
Wise men: During a certain scene 14 take, the remote-controlled R2-D2 unit malfunctioned, failed to stop after disappearing behind a dune, and reportedly wandered onto the set of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977), coincidentally filming desert sequences of the biblical wise men caravanning toward Jerusalem on a neighboring dune.
Dune Sea pick-ups: R2-D2 unit experienced problems rolling on the sloping dunes, prompting the decision to finish scene 14 with pick-ups filmed during mid-January 1977 post-production shooting in Death Valley (Mojave Desert, California, USA) at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes with the Death Valley Buttes in the background.
Reshoot: Lucasfilm reworked/extended scene B32 for the Episode IV Special Edition (1997) with digitalized dewbacks and new content from a one-day live-action reshoot (11 August 1995) filmed with five stormtrooper extras (four U.S. Marines paired with Ted Gagliano, Post-Production Executive at 20th-Century Fox Studios) on the Imperial Sand Dunes (Buttercup Valley) in southeastern California (USA) near the Mexican border.
Accessibility: Intermediate; desert terrain; paved roads lead to dune system turn-off point (33.865623, 7.778686); 4×4 vehicle, off-road motorcycle, camel, or trek by foot required; impeded by heavy rainfall; non-mechanical transport is best to avoid damage to the natural landscape.