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Road Trip: Tatooine or Bust - April 8th, 2000

(l to r) Kahunna, Steve Cote and Peter Genovese
(click for larger image)

If you got the newest Star Wars Insider, you might've read the great article entitled Star Wars Road Trip, where the Insider staff visited Star Wars filming locations located in the US. It is surprising, as well as exciting, to find out that many sequences originally believed to have been filmed in Tunisia were actually pick-up shots filmed in Death Valley, California.

With a few days notice, I organized an "expedition" or sorts out to Death Valley on Saturday to search for a few of the filming locations. Although our main goal was to experience the excitement of standing on the exact spot used for a SW movie, it would be nice to win some SW booty. The "booty" is a butt-load of SW collectibles that the SW Insider would award to the first person/team to send in pictures proving they found the filming site called "Artoo's Arroyo." (We found out before we left that another team might have found it already). Even if the location was indeed found earlier, we felt it was our duty as Star Wars fans to visit this newly-inducted Star Wars filming location only a few hours drive from our homes in Los Angeles.

A trip to our "Mecca" was about to begin...

On Saturday morning at 4am, with only 3 hours of sleep, Pete Genovese, Steve Cote, his wife Amy and baby child Dana and I headed out to (on average) the hottest place in The United States: Death Valley. We supplied ourselves with detailed maps, gallons of water, and 2 hand-sketched screenshots from ANH which Pete drew (we couldn't locate any good screenshots on the web before we left.) We headed off into the desert full of high hopes and bottled excitement.

click for larger image

After driving through seemingly endless desert, we arrived at our first location around 10am: Dante's View. In the Star Wars Universe, Dante's View is known as the cliff overlooking the valley containing Mos Eisley Spaceport. It is here where Ben Kenobi warns young Luke Skywalker of what awaits them in Mos Eisley. It was near impossible or us to stand there overlooking the valley without saying the famous line: "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." The wind tugged at our hats and shirts on top of the 5,475 foot high point, but the worst weather was yet to come...

We drove down into the Valley and stopped by the Furnace Creek Inn, the 70-year-old hotel in which the LucasFilm staff stayed while they were out there filming the pick-up shots. We got out of our car and the hot wind blasted our faces. It wasn't hard to picture what it might be like to live on Tatooine. Other than entering our car or a building, we would not find comfort from the harsh weather until we arrived back in Southern California.

It was only a week ago where I spent countless hours online trying unsuccessfully to find clues to the filming location. Just as the Insider did for their article, I called Ranger Charlie Callagan for help in finding this elusive location. The Insider understated how nice Charlie was in their article - this man's happiness and willing to help was as genuine as it could get. After talking with him for 20 minutes on the phone, he gave me a general direction to go in order to find Artoo's Arroyo.

Death Valley, the lowest point on dry land in the Western Hemisphere, is renowned for its high temperatures and heavy winds. Combined with the surrounding scenery, we expected to look up and see two Tatooine suns in the sky. The thermometer in the shade of the country store read 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the winds were whipping up to 40 miles an hour.

After we adapted (somewhat) to the harsh climate, we stopped by the ranger station to see if we could meet Charlie. Unfortunately, he wasn't due in until 3pm, some 4 hours away, so we took what info he gave us on the phone and began our search through Death Valley. Although we immediately found the correct canyon in which Artoo traveled before being captured by Jawas, our goal was to capture on film the EXACT camera-angle as seen in ANH. Our excitement was so great, we momentarily forgot how hot it was. We pulled out Pete's "treasure map" of a drawing and analyzed it. We would like to think that we could find it without ANY type of screenshot, but Pete's detailed pictures helped us out just enough to locate the shots. After hours of searching and dehydration beginning to set in, we found the first angle: the first shot of Artoo entering the canyon at Sunset. (It's interesting to note that all of the sky and mountains in the background of that shot in SW is the wizardry of a CG artist. If we knew that before we left, I believe we might have found the location sooner.)

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After finding the first shot, the second shot of Artoo rolling away from the camera came a little easier. All it required was for us to match up the background with the foreground. General rule of thumb: Match up the background FIRST and THEN try to match up the foreground.

Due to the life-threatening dry heat and powerful winds, we didn't stay to find the other filming sites: Artoo's dunes and the Tusken Raider's Canyon. But there's always next time, right?

All in all, it was the best Star Wars trip of my life.

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(If you want to view more pictures from our trip, go here.)

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Pictures on this page copyright (c) Peter Genovese