CHOTT EL-GHARSA III
MOS ESPA LAYOUT

Only a short drive away was the expansive outdoor Mos Espa street set. There'd been plenty of pictures of it on the internet and in magazines so we knew what to expect. Even so we were suprised at how real it looked, even without costume-clad extras, droids, vehicles and decor adorning the set. The picture below shows the scale of the production: costume, prop and shelter tents bottom middle, production lorries carrying equipment and water in the bottom right right, the small slave quarters set in the top right corner, the viewing platform from which Shmi, Padme, Jar Jar and Qui-Gonn watched Anakin during the podrace way off in the distance near the top left edge of the photo, and the majestic Mos Espa set in the middle.

Mos Espa map Slave Quarters IV All gone All gone All Gone All gone

OK, we didn't take the photo; those tricky German journalists from "Cinema" magazine had hired out a hot air balloon from Aeroasis in Tozeur (who have reasonable rates of 50 (US$75) per hour) - I just found the picture on the internet and liked it. But it does show the size of the production though. Everything but the main street set had been stripped and removed by the time we arrived. All but a few large steel pipes (remnants of Watto's junkyard) were left. We did get a good look around, spending nearly 2 hours here, and found all the spots where various lines of dialogue were uttered.

As you can see what remains of this site is the main Mos Espa set. And it's huge - some soap operas have smaller sets. It took us a good two hours snooping about to discover all the right spots. You can cut down the length of your visit by using the image map, which covers most of the pictures. Or consider scrolling on and seeing more photos that didn't fit into any one category.

Gragras Fruit Stall Sebulbas Cafe Qui-Gons Alley Storm Warning lady Mos Espa gates Wattos Shop Wattos Junkyard Landspeeder Parking

ASSORTED PHOTOS

Prior to it's release The Phantom Menace was the subject of many magazine articles. Probably the best photos came from Lucasfilm and were shown in the fanclub magazine The Insider. These provided excellent research material and points reference. Compare the library piccies to those taken on my recent visit:

I have on several occasions wondered what this shop was for. It was positioned at the corner of two main roads in central Mos Espa so it must be important. And then I hit upon it - this is Mos Espa Shop! All you have to do is compare the awning over the main door with that on the website. It must have been a Sunday when I visited "Mos Espa" because it was all shut up. I am of course joking.

The slightly tilted picture on the left shows the same building as that in the right-hand picture. This building, situated beween Qui-Gon'a Alley and Sebulba's Cafe, had no known purpose in the film. But it's location next to the bazaar and on the main street suggests it's a shop of some kind. But that's just speculation.

The two pictures below show the construction of the set - just chiken wire, plaster and wood (left), and the damage being done to it by thoughtless visitors (right).

Here we have a shot of one of those edge-of-set areas that you never got to see long enough to tell what was back there. Remember the scene when Qui-Gon and party were walking through Mos Espa (same shot as those snap-happy alien tourists)? The arch that they cross in front of was quickly passed by, so here's a shot of the area. Pretty dull.

There's plenty of areas like this in the set. Half the fun of wandering around Mos Espa is exploring all the nooks and crannies that George never let us see. You'd be amazed how many buildings there are here - the set could easily house 100 people (if the buildings had roofs!).

To show you how much the set has changed in the 2 years since it was built have a gander at the before and after shot I composed:

MOS ESPA MARKET

I remembered seeing a production photo released by Lucasfilm of a building that looked remarkably like Obi-Wan Kenobi's hermitage so I went off in search of it. I soon found it at the back of the set and to my surprise it now housed another sort of recluse - the Mos Espa's guardian.

I don't know if he is paid by the Tunisian touirst authority to live there, or a local Berber who happened to pick the only building with a roof to settle down in, but he found me just as quickly as I found him. Soon enough he was next to me asking why I had been looking at his stuff, if I touched anything and where my car was. It was OK though - as soon as he found out that I'd only come to take pictures he was happy.

The strangest thing about this encounter is that it took place exactly where Gragra, the fish and fruit merchant, had stood when he bellowed at Jar Jar!

Talk about coincidence, huh? This was the spot where Jar Jar thieved some lunch and unwittingly started the chain of events that brought him face to face with Anakin's chief antagonist - Sebulba. You can see in the pictures below where the fruit stall was and where the set's guardian stood. The furthest arches in the picture on the right was where the fish landed - right on a certain Dug's face.

I don't know what kind of fish they have on Tatooine, but they're pretty aerodynamic. The distance from the fruit stall to Sebulba is around 20 metres.

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SEBULBA'S CAFE

This street-side cafe is known locally as a hang-out for Podracers, and pays host to the galaxy's greatest racer - Sebulba the Dug. Whilst enjoying a relaxing moment surrounded by his entourage Sebulba's day was disrupted by a piscine projectile launched by that clumsy Gungan, Jar Jar Binks.

It is easy to see the arches in both pictures. The right-hand archway in the picture on the right is the one where Jar Jar encountered Sebulba. Looking at the furniture in the background of The Phantom Menace picture I'd say that they bought it in Tozeur - a cheaper option than designing some spacey seats and tables and shipping it all the way to Tunisia.

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QUI-GON'S ALLEY

"As soon as he found a quiet spot, Qui-Gon called the ship on his comlink. He explained the problem, then said, 'You're sure there isn't anything of value left on board?'

Obi-Wan shook his head. 'Not enough for you to barter with. Not in the amounts you're talking about.'

'All right,' Qui-Gon said. 'Another solution will present itself. I'll check back.' He put his comlink away, and started back out onto the main street."

And wasn't it lucky that a high-stakes podrace was only a couple of days away. Otherwise who knows how long they'd be stuck there.

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JIRA'S STALL

Old people always have interesting stories and skills don't they? Well Jira is no exception. She was able to predict the coming of a sandstorm with prophetic timing - probably something to do with feeling it in her bones, or her waters, or something even more offputting. Her timely warning to Ankain allowed the Jedi and Queen to take shelter with the Skywalker's.

What follows is another one of those great Lucasfilm tricks of bending time and space. It only seems like a few feet to the Skywalker's hovel in the slave quarter, but the locations used are hundreds of kilometres apart; the set near Tozeur and Ksar Medenine in the Ksour. They bred slave boys with long legs back then didn't they?

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THE GATES OF MOS ESPA

They came strolling in like a bunch of desperados from a 1950's Western didn't they? Even though they lacked horses, Smith & Wesson's and stetsons they still cut dashing figures in the sand. And did they ever stir up trouble! (And I agree with you, making a composite picture from 3 video frames is not the best way to do it, but we'd run out of film for the camera.)

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WATTO'S SHOP AND ENVIRONS

The domain of everyone's favourite Toydarian - Watto the spare parts dealer - was on the western side of the city, just next to where we'd parked our car (unwittingly in the middle of what was left of his junkyard - no comment on the state of our hired VW!). It was one of the first buildings I came to on my circumnavigation of Mos Espa. I didn't realise what its significance straight away, but the fact that it was the only building with any set furniture in it (the counter top just visible in the bottom left picture) made me wonder. Once I'd got closer I recognised that set of the door frame and then the penny dropped.

I had a good look around inside but it was much the same as all the other buildings; just bare wire, plaster and wood. Worth noting is that it had a side entrance just to the right of the two chimneys. In The Phantom Menace Anakin comes running down a set of steps when he hears his master calling for him. The door had the same shape and it was in the same position. Though the interior scenes were filmed at Leavesden Studios back in the United Kingdom this mocked up building had the same basic layout. Apart for the fact that this door led outside and to an arch that allowed access to the junkyard.

Before we left for Tunisia I was sent a British newspaper article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph during the summer of 1999 by my two greatest fans (that's my parents). It was about the impact of Star Wars tourism on the Jerid and went on to discuss what happened to the set decorations from Mos Espa.

"In the film Jedi knights free Anakin Skywalker from the clutches of his evil slave master, Watto, a duck-footed, pot-bellied scrap dealer who runs a spare parts service in Mos Espa for visiting space craft. Life imitates fiction in the person of Kamel Souilah, 38 years old, Nefta resident and scrap merchant. He is cleaner and nimbler than Watto, but he does have a ready supply of spare parts for visiting Star Fleet enthusiasts.

Kamel has an agreement with the CTV to cart away the tons of discarded set and props that visiting film crews leave behind. All around his home on the edge of Nefta lies booty from film productions: aircraft engines, sections of old starship cockpits, missile heads, robots, and no end of electronic paraphernalia.

After Lucas and his army left, it took Kamel three weeks to "clean the desert" with 20 helpers and some heavy lifting machinery. He hopes now to clean up financially among collectors of memorabilia and visiting film fans. "

So it came neither as a surprise or a disappointemt when we found all that was left of the junkyard was three massive steel drums (possibly parts from a power station?). We translated the old saying of "when one door closes another opens" to our benefit and set aside some Tunisian Dinar in order to purchase some left over props from Kamel.

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When Lucasfilm started releasing publicity pictures for their forthcoming film one of the shots showed a green landspeeder parked next to an anonymous Mos Espa building. The question on everyone's lips at that time was "Is that Luke's landspeeder?" It became apparent that those wiley chaps at Lucasfilm had wheeled out the old SoroSuub X-34 from its resting place at the Lucasfilm archives warehouse and flew it to Tunisia to make a reappearance. No news there then. But what building was it next to? I can confidently reveal that it was parked next to Watto's shop. Which poses the question - is it Watto's own speeder, or is he buying it for junk? I like the idea of the crafty Toydarian having his own personal chaufeur just to give his stubby little wings a rest!

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That more-or-less covered every scene filmed in the streets. Because we had to pick up a new roll of film from our hotel our visit was cut short so we didn't get a chance to explore the dunes to find the podrace platform. Maybe I'll get to discover it on another trip. So it was off again and the three of us headed to Sidi Bouhlel - the famed "Star Wars canyon" - via Tozeur.

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