RECCE: EPISODE IV — TUNISIA (1975)
The principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia occurred in mid-November 1975. Robert Watts (production supervisor) and John Barry (production designer) spent most of the first week of November 1975 in Morocco comparing potential filming locations to known sites in Tunisia. The duo determined Tunisia was the better (1) artistic option for the envisioned Star Wars landscape and (2) logistical option with a developed infrastructure and easy access to a densely situated range of diverse geography for filming. Watts/Barry reported this decision to George Lucas (writer/director) and Gary Kurtz (producer) to arrange a joint recce to Tunisia, a destination especially familiar to Barry from his work in the country during filming for Stanley Donen’s The Little Prince (1974) coupled with his solo pre-production recce one month earlier in October 1975.
Watts/Barry flew to Djerba from Casablanca (Morocco); Lucas/Kurtz flew from London (England) to Djerba. The foursome spent most of the second week of November 1975 scouting sites in southern Tunisia. The group visited all of the locations used months later as film sites for Episode IV principal photography (late March/early April 1976). In addition, several locations were toured as potential film sites, but not used for Episode IV production.
Lucas solidified the selection to film in Tunisia on the first day of the recce after seeing the unique mix of Amazigh and Ibadi Islamic architecture on Djerba island, characterized by lime-covered rectangular structures with (1) simplistic domes, (2) barrel-vaulted roofs, and (3) weight-bearing external buttresses. A combination of coastal and inland mosques along with historic menzel complexes particularly grabbed Lucas’ attention. The unique setting created by the subterranean dwellings in the Matmata region proved to be another key factor in choosing Tunisia to represent the fictional desert planet envisioned for Episode IV. During the trip, Lucas also made the logistically challenging decision to split Lars Homestead location shoot filming between the Chott el-Djerid salt flats for exterior scenes and pit 2 at Hotel Sidi Idriss (Matmata al-Qadimal), situated 265 km to the east, for underground living quarters interior scenes.
Seeing the name Tatahouine (old alternate spelling for Tataouine) on road signs and maps during the recce, Lucas developed the fictional name Tatooine as a slightly modified rendering of the Tunisian location. (Tataouine Governorate is the largest and southernmost province in Tunisia, sharing extensive borders with both Algeria and Libya. Tataouine city is the governorate’s capital). Shortly after the recce, the previously labeled desert planet of Utapau was renamed as Tatooine in the fourth draft (1 January 1976). Other key recce-influenced screenplay changes included the (1) identification of a deserted rebel base planet named Dantooine (variant of Tatooine), (2) placement of the Lars Homestead directly on the Tatooine “salt flat” and (3) transformation of the homestead complex into three underground pits with one domed entry blockhouse on the surface.