An international Star Wars treasure hunt

Back before the Internet and GPS, movie location information was usually discarded as soon as a production wrapped. George Lucas filmed the desert scenes of his first Star Wars movie in 1976, turning the landscapes of Tunisia into those of his fantasy planet "Tatooine." Almost 20 years after Star Wars premiered, the exact sites of the these desert locations had become lost.

In 1995 I was about to complete my Ph.D in archaeology, and I undertook to find the lost Star Wars locations as a personal quest. I intended to test my skills as an archaeologist—and, as a fan, I wanted to set foot in the cinematic world that Star Wars made so compellingly real to me on the movie screen. 

With one comrade as my cameraman I set out to pit myself against the unknown expanses of an entire foreign country on the edge of the Sahara desert. 

My search spanned the entire breadth of Tunisia, from an island off the Mediterranean coast to the dunes deep inland on the Algerian border. 

I crisscrossed Djerba Island seeking distinctive architecture of the style that had become Mos Eisley spaceport. I traveled inland to the underground dwellings of Matmata, where the interior of Luke Skywalker's home was filmed. I explored rocky highlands in search of "Star Wars Canyon," where Luke  confronted the dangerous Tusken Raiders and was rescued by Ben Kenobi. 

The location of the Lars Homestead exterior was somewhere out on the salt flats of the Chott el-Djerid, but hardly any traces remained—how could I find one low crater in all this vast expanse? And as if that were not hopeless enough, in the end I tackled the open Sahara in search ofStar Wars' Dune Sea.

Each of the six search zones presented a challenge of a  different nature, requiring me to use new search techniques in my quest for increasingly difficult targets. But the astonishing discoveries kept me going in the face of impossible odds. 

Ultimately I succeeded completely in my quest to feel that I had set foot on the planet that I had seen on the movie screen when I was just a kid. But this was not the end of the story. 

What I found in Tunisia helped Lucasfilm return to Tunisia to shoot the Prequels, and my adventure launched an industry of Star Warstourism in Tunisia that has seen many thousands of people follow in my footsteps. But back in 1995 I was the first and only Star Wars fan who had set foot on Tatooine. 

The Arab town of Tataouine inspired George Lucas to name Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine.

The Arab town of Tataouine inspired George Lucas to name Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine.