Massive Sand Dune Threatens To Destroy Tatooine

A team of scientists says a huge sand dune is on course to sweep through Tunisia’s Mos Espa film set.

Massive Sand Dune Threatens To Destroy Tatooine

The force is strong with this one. A sweeping, crescent-shaped sand dune is to collide with Mos Espa, the fictional stomping ground of Anakin Skywalker. The town is actually a film set of a dozen or so structures built for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Its (partial) destruction is nigh, say scientists, who have authored a paper that charts the movement of said sand dune, called a “barchan,” and outlines its travel across the Tunisian desert.


Since 2009, American and Tunisian researchers have used the set as a reference point to monitor the migration and speed of barchans, reports CNET. According to the scientific paper, awesomely titled “Dunes on Planet Tatooine: Observation of Barchan Migration at the Star Wars Film Set in Tunisia,” the present barchan is storming Mos Espa at a rate of 50 feet a year.

But like Yoda, the seeming slow rate of movement belies great strength. When it sweeps through town, the sand dune is expected to significantly damage what’s left of city landmarks such as Watto’s junkyard. And though the barchan, which is some 21-feet wide at its front, is not expected to lay complete waste to the iconic structures, it has local officials worried. The Independent reports that the site may be spared with the intervention of Tunisian Jedis authorities, who want to safeguard the future of Tatooine. In recent years, the remains of the fantastical spaceport have drawn considerable numbers of fans and tourists on pilgrimage to the home planet of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.

In May, we covered the state of Tunisia’s Tatooine ruins, skillfully documented by photographer by Rä di Martino. She visited the Mos Eisley, Mos Espa, and Lars Homestead sets in late 2010, and her photographs depict a crumbling world of sci-fi and Hollywood B-movie storytelling.

In an interesting turn of logistics and movie-like timelines, di Martino arrived at Tozeur, where many of the sites are located, just one year after the scientists had set up shop in Mos Espa. The latter also toured the Lars Homestead ruins, which had succumbed to sand dunes in 2003. (When asked about the kind of damage the latest sand assault might incur on Mos Espa, the researchers pointed to the case of the homestead set.) Di Martino’s lens captures the wreckage of the younger Skywalker’s mythical home, revealing its MDF core. A couple years after she visited the site, a group of fanboys raised funds to save the homestead and restore it to its original glory. They completed their renovation last summer.

Let’s wish Mos Espa a similar happy ending.

See more of Rä di Martino’s photos of the film set here.

[Image: Tatooine via Shutterstock]

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.