SIDI BOUHLEL
STAR WARS CANYON
-or-
THE JUNDLAND WASTES

Running along the northern edge of the Chott el-Jerid is a ridge of craggy hills, the Jebel Krefane, that abound with the shrines of Muslim saints and narrow, steep-sided gorge. Just off the causeway to Kebili is the Marabout of Sidi Bouhlel. This small white, domed building sits atop a hill and overlooks a very familiar valley. Famous for its portrayal of the Jundland Wastes on Tatooine, it was also used for scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark and The English Patient. This valley, known also by the LFL crew's nickname "Star Wars Canyon", is set back from the main road and protected from tour buses

(but not from sandcrawlers) by a series of hills and loose ground. The valley of Sidi Bouhlel is in two parts; a narrow gorge walled by two hundred foot high cliffs and a wide, flat wadi that runs from the Jebel Krefane down to the chott. In the gorge we saw Luke being attacked by Tusken Raiders and his first meeting with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Just outside the mouth of the gorge Imperial Stormtroopers attacked and massacred the Jawas who sold the droids on to Uncle Owen.

We headed straight to the gorge and within a hundred paces we had enough visual references to keep our eyes very busy! Immediately to our left we could look upon the rock next to whicht R2-D2 was captured by those scavenging Jawas.

Check out the pictures below. The still on the right shows the Royal Starship sitting in front of a huge dune. Compare the dune with the photo on the left - the angle isn't quite the same and the hard edge of the ridge has been softened by the Saharan winds but you'll agree that it is the same one.

The yardangs and humps of sand in the foreground of the stills on the right aren't evident in the top left photo. I promise you that they are there - the angle of the photograph and the lense of the camera conspired to make me out to be a liar.

The picture on the left is the boarding ramp of the Royal Starship. It was built onto a scaffold in the desert while the rest of the ship was a computer generated image. In the scene when Captain Panaka and Padme catch up with Jar Jar, R2-D2 and Qui-Gonn it is from here that they descended.

JEDI DUEL

On the right-hand edge (just out of frame) of the large sand dune in the background are a couple of yardangs. It was here that Qui-Gonn and Darth Maul dueled. Embedded into the base of one yardang is a metal frame that housed the springboard that launched Ray Park into his somersault.

The top two shots are more or less taken from the same place. The one on the right is a screen capture from The Phantom Menace and the one on the left shows the frame at the base of the yardang. The positioning of the camera kept the springboard from being seen, but you can just make out the curve of its metal frame at the yardang's base. The springboard and associated paraphernalia had been removed by the time we arrived.

The pictures on the bottom row are pretty close to each other. The clump of sand on the right of both photos are the same. Worth noting is the cluster of small buildings in the background of the bottom right picture. They are the small set that was used in the scenes when Anakin is working on his podracer. This picture comes from a Lucasfilm publicity shot. I'd guess that it was a digital still taken from the onsite editing gear and the lightsabers were added back in California. Curiously someone forgot to smudge out the set that can be seen poking out from the dunes.

One thing that is worth noting - can you see the small knoll-like yardang in the middle of the picture of Qui-Gonn and Darth Maul dueling? This is the same yardang that is in the forefront of the picture of the Royal Starship boarding ramp (above picture). You can just make out that they have the same flat top and angled side. Evidentally the duel was filmed after the scaffolds were taken down.

Whilst in the yardang field, as you can see in the still on the right and the photo below, I stumbled across the place where Qui-Gonn rode his Eopie with hyperdrive replacement in tow. It was pure luck that my wife got this photo (you can see my silhouette in the middle of the picture). I checked around but there were no strange tracks in the sand. While I was wandering around the yardangs I found a small clay ashtray. I later told my father that it was George Lucas' cigar ashtray and gave it to him for Christmas. He was very confused to say the least!

Our next point of interest was the small cluster of wood and plaster buildings that we could see a couple of hundred metres away. As Hamida walked on we jumped in the car and roared off to have a look at "Anakin's Body Shop and Podracer Repair."

SLAVE QUARTERS IV
PODRACER YARD

Within easy reach of the yardang field is the small reproduction of Ksar Hadada built by Luasfilm's hammer technicians for the ground level scenes in the slave quarters of Mos Espa. Only a short segment of the film was shot here, but it was one of my favourites. I still chuckle at the memory of Jar Jar and his "nung tung".

The set was built as two wings positioned either side of a small courtyard (if this was a Tunisian house it would be the menzel) where Anakin kept his podracer. In the picture above you can see the embayment with the two arms either side. This was where the podracer was parked. Prior to the set being built all the decorations had been made in Levesden Studios out of old aircraft parts, pipes, fibreglass, plywood and airconditioning spares. A colleague of mine claimed that his brother worked for the studios and had been sent out to Tunisia to help make the set more Tatooine-esque. Lucky him. So, PJ if you're reading this could you drop me an e-mail - I'd love to here about it.

The set was built by local carpenters out of plywood, chickenwire, plaster and nails. In the intervening years since it was constructed the set has taken a beating - both from sand-ladden winds and souvenir hunters (see below).

There is alot of evidence of vandalism at this and the main Mos Espa set. Doors have been ripped out, walls smashed, names carved into the plaster, and camp fires and rubbish left laying around. It's a crying shame too - between the elements and the less caring tourist this set will be lucky to survive another five years. It was at the request of the Tunisian tourist authority that the two Mos Espa sets were left intact in order to pull in the tourists. I feel that it is high time that they take responsibility for these sets before they are destroyed. I myself would like to revisit them and not expect to see nothing but a few planks and chunks of plaster sticking out of the desert sand. For shame Tunisia, for shame.

You can see the effect of the wind in these next two pictures as well. The top one was taken by Lionel Noetzlin in 1997 - the colour is still pretty bold and the base of the set is visible. Compare it to the one below, taken in 1999, which has lost most of the colour to the sun and wind, and the bottom two foot of the set has been buried by a sand drift.

In stills released to the media this small back set was seen to have the tops of doors in the ground level arches to give the impression of height.

The back set was built as a reproduction of Ksar Hadada, where the slave quarter balconies were filmed and was used to fill in the background of this slave quarter set and create the impression that the balconies were just behind the arches. If you take a close look at the still from The Phantom Menace (below left) you will see a small window through the left arch. This tiny window is the window on the right of the steps on the back set.

Compare the style of architecture, the red, browns and whites used to paint the walls and the curve of the arches. Now look at the shot of Shmee and Qui-Gon on the right - when they look on while the podracer is fired up for the first time. It plainly obvious that the arch that this shot is filmed through and the right arch in the picture next to it are meant to be the same. Odd that they are +400 km apart! (Ahh, the magic of the cinema.) Actually George Lucas did a good job with this set as it bears an exact likeness to Ksar Hadada, which both my wife and Hamida remarked up.

The last secret that this slave quarters set had to give up was the location of the vaporator field. Remember when R2-D2 and the partially "clothed" C-3PO (who's idea was it to let him out naked anyway?) were comparing notes on Jar Jar just after he'd stuck his tongue in the energy binders? We found the right spot in the chott by simply turning around! All that needs adding to the photo above is a couple of ten foot tall fire hydrants and we'd be set. Then it was back into the car and we were off to the main Mos Espa set a mere kilometre away.

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