Jar Jar Binks walking though an open-air market in "Mos Espa" in the film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Photo: Reuters
Tunisia has 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.
Set to return in new Star Wars ... Chewbacca, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
The tourism ministry has teamed up with several organisations to launch the "Save Mos Espa" campaign, aiming to raise 300,000 Tunisian dinars ($204,540) for the restoration of the site, which has been damaged by shifting sand dunes.
"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 per cent of the site," said Nabil Gasmi, from one of the tourism groups involved in the campaign.
"We managed to remove 8000 cubic metres of sand in 12 days. Unfortunately some of the set has already collapsed," he told reporters.
The Hollywood Reporter today claims Star Wars: Episode VII director J.J. Abrams and Disney are planning to build out an extensive re-creation of Mos Espa in Tatooine in a Morocco-like environment.
The Tunisian state has allocated 160,000 dinars to the dune project, with an appeal launched on Monday on a crowdfunding website to raise $US45,000 ($48,700).
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 sand 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.
Meanwhile Peter Mayhew has been recast as Chewbacca in the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII. He will be among original cast members Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher believed to be reprising their roles, yet the trio of leads has yet to be announced.
Last week, Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn revealed filming had begun and most of the cast had been assembled. Among those is Girls' Adam Driver, who is reportedly playing a villain.
AFP, with Aja Styles