Tunisia looks to ‘Star Wars’ sites as ‘a new hope’ for tourism

BY Justin Scuiletti  April 30, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT
"Star Wars" fans dressed as Darth Vader, Imperial Guards and other favorite  characters on April 30, 2014 on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis. Photo by Fethi BelaidAFP/Getty Images

“Star Wars” fans dressed as Darth Vader, Imperial Guards and other favorite characters on April 30, 2014 on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis. Photo by Fethi BelaidAFP/Getty Images

It was not that long ago nor very far, far away when “Star Wars” landed in Tunisia.

Seven Tunisian cities have been used as the desert planet Tatooine in five of the six “Star Wars” films between 1977 and 2005. Since the films’ releases — the first three of which featured rebels fighting against the oppressive Galactic Empire — Tunisia had an uprising of its own: kickstarting the Arab Spring by overthrowing longterm President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

While the fight of Tunisia’s people to give life to democracy in their country, it nearly killed its tourism industry — which was responsible for around 400,000 jobs and 7 percent of national GDP. In that time, the original film sets in the Tunisian desert were under threat of being lost as they continued to be covered and eroded by sand.

One of the original Tatooine sets in Tunisia. Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

One of the original Tatooine sets in Tunisia. Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

Now Tunisia is teaming up with “Star Wars” fans in the hope they can use the force of the films to lure tourists back to the African nation.

The Tunisian National Office for Tourism, together with Tunisia’s Star Wars fan club, launched their tourism campaign in March using a “Star Wars”-themed version of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” The video went viral on YouTube and has reach nearly 1.8 million views.

Tunisia’s tourism board launched their “Star Wars” tourism campaign with a movie-themed version of Pharell Williams’ song “Happy”

Wednesday, Tunisia hosted the first “Star Wars” encounter near the original sets. People dressed as Imperial Stormtroopers, bounty hunter Boba Fett and Darth Vader took to the streets in a parade, and all of the films are planned to be screened over the course of the upcoming days. In addition, a crowdsourcing effort is underway to raise $188,000 to restore the set of Mos Espa from 1999’s “The Phantom Menace.”

“We did this campaign to take advantage of these sets, which are unique in the world — the only sites from the movies remaining,” Zied Chargui, director of the National Office of Tunisian Tourism, told the Associated Press.

The tourism office says that these events are just the first of many to come in the ongoing campaign.