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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

Leads on set:
Anthony Daniels / See Threepio (C-3PO)
Kenny Baker / Artoo Detoo (R2-D2)

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
Deleted: 0

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.

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Site: Ajim neighborhood (Al-Hunit Mosque district)

GPS: 33.723964, 10.750016

Location: Ajim city center (Médenine Governorate) / Djerba island (Tunisia)

Description: Bakery (abandoned) plaza two side streets 

Star Wars film:
Episode IV — A New Hope (1977)

Set construction start: Mid-February 1976

Production: 2-3 April 1976

Star Wars location | Film sets:
Mos Eisley | Cantina (exterior)
Mos Eisley | Docking Bay 94 alley
Mos Eisley | plaza
Mos Eisley | stormtrooper checkpoint

Leads on set:
Alec  Guinness / Obi-Wan Kenobi
Mark Hamill / Luke Skywalker
Anthony Daniels / See Threepio (C-3PO)
Kenny Baker / Artoo Detoo (R2-D2)
Anthony Forrest / stormtrooper patrol lead
Jack Purvis / robot
Peter Diamond (stunt supervisor) / cantina patron

48 [Ben: “These are not the droids you’re looking for”] — Filmed: 2 April 1976
49 [In Luke’s landspeeder, they approach cantina] — Filmed: 3 April 1976
ZA50 [Droids in front of cantina] — Filmed: 3 April 1976
A50 [Ben tells Luke he’ll have to sell his landspeeder] Filmed: 3 April 1976
59 [Mos Eisley: stormtroopers watch Millennium Falcon blast off] —  Filmed: 2 April 1976
Final cut: 5
Deleted: 0

Party: Cast/crew celebrated Alec Guinness’ 62nd birthday on set in Ajim (2 April 1976). 

Architecture: Djerban architecture (Amazigh/Ibadi Islamic blended style)—the combination of (1) simplistic domes, (2) barrel-vaulted roofs, and (3) weight-bearing external buttresses that directly shaped “Tatooine” design—is readily visible in Ajim, both inside the small city and on menzel complexes in rural outskirts.

Mos Eisley: Crews added set dressings to a now-abandoned bakery (cantina exterior) with a domed side section on Avenue Abou el Kacem Chabbi, an adjoining rectangular plaza (landspeeder and pedestrian traffic) once lined to the north and south with domed grain storage ghorfas, and two intersecting side streets (stormtrooper patrol activity focused on Rue Habib Thameur) just north of the plaza to create the Mos Eisley film site area in Ajim.

Spaceship: The “roller” machine used to make sandcrawler tracks at the Lars Homestead set on the Chott el-Djerid salt flats was repurposed as the elongated tail of the unnamed crashed spaceship (not the Dowager Queen) constructed to cover a large tree (since removed) near the cantina set and city buildings in the background, particularly the Ajim Primary School complex.

Jerba prop: Two shaggy-haired, fiberglass/latex skin beast-of-burden “jerbas” (named after Djerba island; call sheet: “cow with pack and saddle”) were positioned close to the cantina set faux entrance.

Stormtroopers: Anthony Forrest, sunburned from Djerban beachfront lounging while waiting to film Tosche Station scenes at Sidi Jemour Mosque after the Ajim location shoot, was cast last-minute as the the ranking stormtrooper (joining six local Tunisian stormtroopers on set) to fill the need for an English-speaking patrol lead at the security checkpoint to fluidly interact with the Jedi mind trick dialogue.

Torn pants: For the last C-3PO activity filmed in Tunisia, Anthony Daniels’ shuffle in scene 49 from the parked landspeeder toward the cantina set faux entrance was hampered by a visible split down the seat of his pants.

Controversy: Removing the “orange blob” visible under Luke’s motorized landspeeder while driving across the plaza (created by smearing vaseline on the camera lens in Ajim to disguise the landspeeder wheels) and expanding the overall vision of Mos Eisley (hindered by location shoot realities in Ajim) were key factors that prompted The Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition revisions decades later, sparking the enduring “original version” debate coupled with the #ReleaseTheOriginalTrilogy campaign. 

Cantina: Identified in screenplay versions either as the “spaceport cantina” or “Mos Eisley cantina,” the term “Chalmun’s Cantina” (not a screenplay reference) was first introduced in the roleplaying sourcebook Galaxy Guide 7: Mos Eisley (1993).

Modernization: Community-wide construction/improvement projects in addition to ownership neglect have altered, replaced, or left derelict almost all film site reference points in the Ajim neighborhood.

Invader: Paris-based French artist Invader in November 2019 attached the stormtrooper mosaic to the abandoned bakery exterior (on the northern face under the dome where crews constructed the cantina set faux entrance) as part of a 15-day project to install 58 pre-made “space invader” mosaics around Djerba island.

Accessibility: Very easy; flat terrain; paved roads; parking area (33.723813, 10.750087) directly at the site.