Star Wars trek: Tunisia to Norway - May 26 to June 26, 1999

Star Wars stories
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...OK maybe it wasn't so long ago, but it was pretty far away. Jared and I traveled together to visit Star Wars film sites from Tunisia to Norway. The trip lasted for a month, covered thousands of miles, and cost more then we had planned, but it was worth it. I returned home with the memories of a wonderful vacation, a few small props, and some dirt from distant worlds.
The whole thing started in February of 1999. I was checking the daily Star Wars news at when I saw a posting from Jared describing his upcoming journey. He was looking for someone to travel with, which I dismissed at first, but over the next couple of days I thought about it more and more. I had the free time, being unemployed and all, and I had the money so why not? We emailed back and forth to work out all of the details and get to know each other. Then soon after it was time to begin our adventure.

On May 26, 1999 I flew to Detroit and met Jared for the first time. The next day we were on a plane to Rome, Italy. The only reservations we made for the entire trip were for our flights, which always made it a challenge to find a place to stay or transportation to our next destination. After locating a hostel in Rome with vacancy we did all of the normal tourist activities for the next two days as well as seeing an opera called Aida. We planned to see Naples next but after arriving in the city and checking the port we discovered that the Tunisia ferry would be leaving in ten minutes so we hopped aboard. It was lucky that we did because later we found out that the ferries only run twice a week.

Once we arrived in Tunis we began to work our way through the city towards the bus station. Along the way we saw a familiar hotel. It looked almost exactly like the sandcrawler that was used in the movie by the Jawas. Our bus took us to Tozeur where we checked into a hotel for the next couple of days. At sunrise we rented a car and went to look for a guide. Before leaving the USA, I had read about a man that worked in the Tozeur tourist office. We received a few strange looks when we walked in and asked for Hamida Chebi, but he came out to meet us after a minute. He agreed to show us around and surprised us by pulling out a Star Wars movie storybook as well as some pictures taken on the Episode I set during filming.

Soon after we were on a dirt road that stretched to another galaxy. Along the way we passed a camel shaped rock formation that was in the English Patient and the area where Darth Maul landed on Tatooine. A little farther was Mos Espa, but we were quickly reminded that we were on Earth, in the Sahara Desert, when our car got stuck in the sand. We were unsuccessful in dislodging our vehicle so we proceeded on foot. Our walk to Anakin's hometown was short. On the left we saw the landing area for the Queen's starship and on the right was the small Mos Espa set. The desert was beginning to reclaim this land, but it was in amazing shape for being two years old. This was where Anakin built his Podracer and Jar Jar got his hand stuck in one of the engines. While there I collected a sample of Tatooine sand and some plaster used to build the set.

The force was with us when another group of tourists arrived and helped us get our car unstuck. A few minutes later we stopped at the large Mos Espa set. Several scenes were filmed here since this is where Qui-Gon and his group walked into town and where Watto's junkyard was located. The set was huge and I wish that I had more reference images to line up my pictures. Many items on the set had either been removed by the film crew or by previous visitors, but there was still some things left. The souvenir that we ended up grabbing was a plastic piece of molding from a doorframe. Jared was experiencing some ill effects from the heat so we returned to our hotel for a siesta and agreed to meet Hamida later.

That afternoon we drove to Sidi Bouhel to see Star Wars canyon. A lot of scenes were filmed in this small canyon. By composing the shots differently it made the scenes look like new places and far away from each other when in fact they were right next to one another. Mother Nature built these sets and they were still easily recognizable after twenty-three years. I especially liked seeing the rock that the Jawas hid behind so they could capture R2-D2.

The following morning we picked up Hamida and went in search of the Lars homestead. We found it still intact out in the middle of a salt flat. Only the exterior shots were filmed here which is strange because the inside and the outside of the house are hundreds of miles apart. My favorite scene was captured here, when Luke is dreaming of far away places and adventure as the twin suns of Tatooine are setting. So much of his character was explained in that one instant and not a single word was spoken. It is truly one of those times where a picture is worth a thousand words.

Right across the road were the sand dunes that R2-D2 and C-3PO crash landed on. Jared and I caught a camel ride to the dunes and wandered around a bit. The dunes seemed bigger in the movie and I'm not sure if they have broken up over the years or maybe they just seem larger on film. While looking around, Jared found a small fiberglass piece of the Krayt Dragon that the film crew deserted in the desert decades ago. A Berber kid recognized it and led us to his house where he had more pieces. After bartering with the Berbers we left with four pieces of the beasts skeleton. While here I also collected another sample of sand.

After thanking and paying Hamida, we drove to Matmata and checked into the Sidi Driss hotel. This is the same hotel that was used for the interior of the Lars homestead. It was still early so we got back in the car and went to Jerba, which is a small island right off the coast. Tatooine was a barren desert world, but some of the scenes were filmed just feet from the sea. Ben Kenobi's house, the entrance to Mos Eisley, and the lost Anchorhead scenes were all shot on beachfront property. We had to ask for directions in the city of Ajim before we were able to find the inside of Mos Eisley. All of the city scenes were filmed in a small area so all you have to do is look round at different angles to see them. The city has changed a lot since the seventies, but many things are still very recognizable. One thing that was completely obvious was the cantina. It is in the center of the street and other then some garbage heaped up it looks exactly the same as it used to. Even a fiberglass dome used as set decoration was still just lying there after all of these years.

Back at the hotel we had dinner with a large tourist group before retiring to our rooms for the night. Since the hotel was underground it was cooler then the surface and we got a great nights sleep. In the morning we explored around the hotel for awhile. Some of the set decorations were still installed and the ceiling painting in the dining room was still there. Standing in that room I could almost hear Luke whining to his Aunt and Uncle about going to the academy.

Later we drove to the city of Tataouine to mail some postcards and then continued on to Ksar Hadada where the slave quarters were filmed. This was another place where I wished that I had more reference images, but I did the best that I could. Quite a few doors and doorframes were still up from the movie two years ago. I wish that we could have returned with a door, but we didn't want to carry it around for the next three weeks.

The next morning we returned the rental car in Tozeur and caught a bus back to Tunis. From there we got a louge (group taxis) to Tabarka where we spent the next two nights. There is nothing Star Wars related in Tabarka, but it was relaxing and we were able to go scuba diving while there.

We finally boarded a ferry to Sicily from Tunis after having problems finding anyone who knew the schedule or anything at all about the ferries. Once in Italy we headed back to Naples where we stored our bags in a locker before going on two short trips. The first was to Caserta where all the palace scenes were filmed in The Phantom Menace. The shots here were easy to line up because not much was changed when they filmed. Add a desk, chairs, and a few wall panels and it would be Naboo all over again. Our second trip was to Pompeii. I never really knew much about the city besides it being buried in ash, so I was surprised to find so much intact and still being uncovered today.

That evening we took an overnight train to Venice and Jared's video camera was stolen somewhere around Rome. There wasn't anything that we could do so we just continued on. A lot of great footage was on that camera and now it is gone forever. In Venice we did the normal tourist things before beginning the long journey to Norway.

Two days later we arrived in Finse, Norway or maybe I should call it Hoth. Looking around I almost expected to see a Tauntaun run by or maybe a snowspeeder flying overhead. Finse is a very small town and as we approached the hotel we saw the sign stating that June was the only month of the year that they were closed. There were two people on duty at the train station though so we asked them about the film sites. They gave us some strange looks and pointed us in the right direction, but said all of the trails and roads were closed this time of year. We decided to explore anyway since we had come so far and couldn't leave until the next train came in a couple of hours. The movie was shot about 4 miles out of town and after 45 minutes we made it as far as we could, about a half of a mile. Further on there were no trails and we didn't have the equipment to continue on so we returned to the station to wait for the next train. It was very easy to see the planet Hoth while walking around. I bet the only difference between where we made it to and the actual film site would be that you couldn't see any signs of civilization if you went farther out. The entire journey to Finse wasn't a waste though since some scenes were filmed right behind the hotel when weather prevented the crew from reaching the film site. Before leaving I took some Hoth glacier water for my collection.

We arrived in Paris a day and a half later and proceeded to act like normal tourists again. Over the next three days we saw the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Catacombs, Sacre Coeur, Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame, Versailles, and Rodin's home. I had been to this city before, but I was able to see many things that I missed a few years ago.

A nice 100 mph Eurostar train ride later and we were in London. Ah, finally a country where everyone speaks English! After locating a place to stay we boarded another train to go see Hever Castle where Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Jar Jar surfaced in their Gungan submarine. I got another sample of water from "out of this world" while we were there. The next day we visited Leavesden Studios where many shots were captured for Episode I. The guards wouldn't let us in, but they posed for pictures and told us about what they knew about the movie. A few miles away is Whippendell Woods where the Gungan Forrest was filmed. We wandered around for over an hour, lost our way somewhat, and were never sure if we found the exact site. Without specific directions, it was impossible to find the right place since most trees look alike, but several areas were very similar to the movie. I didn't leave totally empty handed though since I took some of the Naboo dirt. Another mile away was Cassiobury Park and the canal that Jar Jar and the Jedis jump into.

The final Star Wars segment of our journey came the next morning when we met Garrick Hagon for coffee. Mr. Hagon played Biggs Darklighter in the original Star Wars. He was Luke's best friend and was killed by Darth Vader in the final battle against the Death Star. It was great to talk to someone who was actually there in Tunisia when they filmed the movie. He had a lot of stories about it and helped us resolve a few issues that we were confused about.

We spent four days in London so along with all of the Star Wars parts we were also able to see all the regular sites. We visited the British Museum, Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Salisbury Cathedral, St. Paul's Cathedral, a few pubs, and saw Julius Caesar at the Globe theatre. Our trip was approaching its end as we finished up in London and soon we were back on a train.

It took a day to reach Pisa, Italy and we went over to see their leaning tower before continuing on. Our next stop was Florence and we spent half a day there. Florence was my favorite Italian city last time I was in Europe and it was still very nice, but more crowded then I remember. Of coarse the final stop of our trip was Rome, the place where this whole thing began.

We took it easy while in Rome, but still saw quite a few things, such as the Circus Maximus, Coliseum, Forum, and all those other smaller things that I can't remember the name to. Two days later it was time to return home and after some delays with customs procedures on both sides we arrived in the USA. I had one night at Jared's house and then boarded a plane to the west coast. Once I arrived in my apartment I was glad to be home in a comfortable bed, but I was already starting to wish that we had more time to explore sites that we had missed or scenes that we couldn't line up right before leaving. I guess I'll just have to travel some more in the future. There are even a few locations that are close to home so I won't have to travel as far for my next trip.

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