Tunisia battles to save Star Wars desert set from sand

April 8, 2014
Fans line up at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York 06 May 1999 to be the first to see the movie, "Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace" that is scheduled to open on May 19, 1999

Tunisia on Tuesday announced a new international fundraising campaign to reclaim the set where numerous Star Wars scenes were filmed from the encroaching desert.

The set for Mos Espa—hometown of Anakin Skywalker, the protagonist in the blockbuster film series who later becomes Darth Vader—was built at Ong Jmel in southern Tunisia in the 1990s for the filming of "Star Wars Episode One - The Phantom Menace."

The ministry has teamed up with several organisations to launch the "Save Mos Espa" campaign, aiming to raise 300,000 Tunisian dinars (137,000 euros) for the restoration of the site, which has been damaged by shifting .

"Mos Epsa is located in a very windy region, threatened by sand dunes which the wind moves by around 15 metres a year. One dune has already buried 10 percent of the site," said Nabil Gasmi, from one of the tourism groups involved in the campaign.

"We managed to remove 8,000 cubic metres of sand in 12 days. Unfortunately some of the set has already collapsed," he told reporters.

The Tunisian state has allocated 160,000 dinars to the project, with an appeal launched on Monday on a crowdfunding website (www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-mos-espa) to raise $45,000 (33,000 euros).

The ministry hopes to secure the rest of the money from sponsors and private donations.

Fahmi Houki, an official at the ministry, explained that the clearance was a temporary operation, because the dunes are constantly moving, and would save the set for another eight to 10 years.

The North African country's vital tourism industry suffered from the violence and political instability that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled a decades-old dictatorship.

The new tourism minister, Amel Karboul, said last month that she wanted to improve Tunisia's image as a holiday destination by raising awareness of areas away from the coast like Ong Jmel, which have previously attracted little attention.

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