You may well have heard the growing rumours that Star Wars Episode VII is going to be filming in our very own Abu Dhabi. Naturally, we've been on the case from the get-go, combing the sands (Spaceballs style, with a giant comb) to find out if the Force is indeed out there. And as it turns out, it is.
Last week, our long-lensed snappers caught what looked distinctively like the first stages of a set being put together out in the Liwa desert. Trusty sources have hinted that the famed Empty Quarter will be standing in for Tatooine, the native home of the Skywalkers, Hutts, Jawas, Tusken Raiders and occasional performances by a baldheaded Jizz and Jatz band. Given that millions across the world will next year be looking at the sand dunes of the UAE and going “Ooh, Tatooine” (probably), it’s worth knowing a few more things about this iconic desert planet.
Tatooine theme park?
The original Tatooine for the earlier Star Wars films was almost exclusively shot around Tunisia (although there were a few scenes filmed in Death Valley in California). You can still visit much of the sets used, including Luke's igloo-like house and the whole of Mos Espa, which have mostly been left to the elements and enterprising tour guides. For the ultimate Star Wars pilgrimage, you can even sleep like the Skywalkers, with Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata used for the interior of Luke's home. But the question on our lips is whether the Episode VII set will remain in the Abu Dhabi desert for future generations to enjoy? What's that, a Star Wars-themed hotel, water park and shopping mall? Doesn't sound very UAE, does it?
Art Dubai coincidences
The set for Mos Espa can be found at Onk Jemal, out in Tunisia's Sahara, near Tozeur. On discovering the site, the French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed painted "I will never be your son" in Arabic calligraphy on one of the walls in response to Darth Vader's parental skills regarding Luke Skywalker. A photo of the artwork can be found in eL Seed's book Lost Walls, which was launched at this year's Art Dubai. The March event – in collaboration with Comic Con – also featured 20 Stormtrooper helmets decorated by local artists. And just think, this was all merely a couple of weeks before we knew the actual film would be shooting here.
Arabian-esque desert forts
Among Tatooine's most memorable natives were the Jawa, the short, hooded scavengers and dodgy mechanics who would happily flog you a faulty Speeder bike exhaust without so much as a flinch. Their main base was the Jawa Fortress, which only ever featured in the online video game Star Wars Galaxies. From the few images available (the game shut down in 2011), this desert stronghold displays a certain Arabian look and feel, and should it make it into Episode VII, location managers might well have considered the Qasr Al Sarab resort. Funnily enough, this happens to be where the cast and crew are rumoured to be staying.
According to the Star Wars history books (written by actual, proper, bearded history professors, of course), Tatooine is believed to be one of the oldest planets around. Fossil records (yes, that's right), apparently suggest it was once a lush, green land. Coincidentally, recent excavations in Saudi Arabia's Nafud desert revealed that much of the Arabian Peninsula was also watery and fertile before a bit of prehistoric global warming came along and changed all that. J J Abrams, known for his acute attention to detail, must have studied these reports when choosing shooting destinations.
Double the suns
As everyone knows, Tatooine orbited not one, but two suns – Tatoo I and Tatoo II – something that must have played merry hell when it came to finding a shady spot on the beach. Naturally, having two blazing hot balls of hydrogen continually circling overhead would have made life on the planet somewhat harsh, and only a small area was habitable. Indeed, due to the climate, humans showed signs of accelerated ageing (Obi-Wan was actually just 25 in Episode IV). Interestingly, the trailer for the sci-fi film The Son of Two Suns that premiered at last year's local Comic Con had three survivors looking for shelter in a futuristic Dubai that had been ravaged by the presence of an extra sun. Spooky, eh?
History of the Hutts
The story of the large, slug-like gastropod race known as the Hutts – of which Tatooine-based Jabba was undoubtedly the most famous – is almost as long as that of humankind (I dare anyone to read their whole, heavily detailed 26,000-year history in one sitting). But did you know where the name originally came from? Like several terms relating to Tatooine and its inhabitants, George Lucas derived the word “Hutt” from the Arabic word “hawt”, meaning “whale”. Tatooine itself came from the Tunisian city of Tataouine, while there’s also Admiral Ackbar (“great”), Queen Jamillia (Jamilla is Arabic for “beautiful”), Senator Meena Tills (Meena means “heaven”) and Darth Maul (“crazy red-faced frightening man”). OK, we made the last one up.