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Tuesday July 17th 2018

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace | 1999

The Phantom Menace filming location: Avenue 7 Novembre, Medenine, Tunisia
The Phantom Menace filming location: Anakin Skywalker’s home: Avenue 7 Novembre, Medenine, Tunisia

OK, Episode I: The Phantom Menace gets a bit po-faced and doesn’t match up to the original trilogy, but there’s no denying the sheer spectacle of the films, in part due to the fantastic locations around Tunisia and Italy.

It’s back to Tunisia for the ‘Tatooine’ scenes, this time at Tozeur – also a location for Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient.

Young Anakin’s slave-quarter home is a ksar (originally a grain store) in Medenine, about 35 miles southeast of Matmata in southern Tunisia. The last remaining square of this once-vast complex has been turned into a bustling bazaar at avenue 7 Novembre in the centre of the town.

The narrow street, in which Anakin says goodbye to his mother, runs behind the square.

The Phantom Menace filming location: the Hotel Ksar Hadada, Ksar Hadada near Ghomrassen, Tunisia
The Phantom Menace filming location: The rear of the slave-quarters: the Hotel Ksar Hadada, Ksar Hadada near Ghomrassen, Tunisia

The rear of the slave-quarters, where Anakin works on the pod racer, and where his mother reveals portentous hints about a virgin birth to Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), is the Hotel Ksar Hadada, Ksar Hadada near Ghomrassen, south of Medenine toward Tataouine.

No longer used as a hotel, this complex maze of crazily-angled ksar still bore traces of the plastic tiled set-dressing when I visited.

You’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and probably a guide, to visit the site of ‘Mos Espa’ among the dunes of Chott el Gharsa. The Chott is north of Nefta, an oasis town across the dry salt lake of Chott el Jerid in western Tunisia, near the Algerian border.

The sets famously survived a tropical storm during filming in July 1997. I was there two years later to take photographs, and the structures were pretty much intact.

The Phantom Menace filming location: the dunes of Chott el Gharsa, Tunisia
The Phantom Menace filming location: the ’Mos Espa’set, among the dunes of Chott el Gharsa, Tunisia

If the sets are gone, you can still see the strange, windblown, angular rock formations used as the backdrop to the desert fight with Darth Maul (Ray Park). The site is near to the location of the desert camp in The English Patient.

The Phantom Menace filming location: Palazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy
The Phantom Menace filming location: Queen Amidala’s palace on ’Naboo’: Palazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy

The look of ’Naboo’ couldn’t be more different. The style is classical European, and though the exteriors are largely computer-generated (there are a couple of sets), the interior is real enough, and can be found not far from Naples, Italy.

The staterooms and staircases of Queen Amidala’s ‘Theed Palace’ on ‘Naboo’ are the overwhelming marble interior of Palazzo Reale, the Royal Palace, Piazza Carlo III, in Caserta, about 15 miles north of Naples.

The baroque palace, built in 1752, for King Charles III of Naples to rival France’s Versailles, is open to visitors. Indeed, it was used to represent the ‘Parisian’ palace of Louis XVIII (Orson Welles) in Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1970 epic Waterloo with Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as the Duke of Wellington.

More recently, you might have seen the palace masquerading – twice – as the ‘Vatican’, infiltrated by Toms – twice: by Tom Cruise’s crew, in Mission Impossible III and by Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) in Angels And Demons. A regular rail service runs from Naples, and the palace is directly opposite the station at Caserta.