Inside the Middle East
July 12, 2012
Posted: 1137 GMT

Fans of the late-1970s "Star Wars" movies probably know that Luke Skywalker, a reluctant hero battling his way through the film's evil Galactic Empire, was raised on the windswept plains of Tatooine, a desert wasteland planet located on the outer rim of director/writer George Lucas’ fictional galaxy.

In reality, Skywalker’s house - known as the Lars homestead - is actually located in southern Tunisia. The whitewashed ranch was constructed on an outdoor movie set in a desert region known as Tozeur.

And after more than three decades of blowing sands and extreme Saharan heat, Skywalker’s domed home was beginning to fall into disrepair.

That’s where "Star Wars" superfan Mark Dermul comes in.

Dermul, who lives in Belgium, noticed that Skywalker's "Star Wars" home was crumbling while he was on holiday in Tunisia in 2010.  The 42-year-old banker has experience in the region; over the past decade, he has moonlighted as a tour guide to Tunisia's multiple Star Wars set locations for around 50 fans.

"When we were there in 2010, I saw that the Lars homestead was decaying," Dermul told CNN via telephone Thursday. "Some of us joked about putting up a restoration campaign on Facebook."

But Dermul and five of his friends decided to actually launch a campaign.  And legions of die-hard "Star Wars" fans didn't think they were joking.

Dermul said they managed to raise $10,000 in just 10 months on their website, Save the Lars Homestead. More than 400 fans contributed to the effort.

“'Star Wars' fans are a tight-knit community.  We had someone from Texas donate $600 just because he wanted to show his grandchildren (the Lars homestead in Tunisia) someday,” said Dermul.

For Dermul, it was also about preserving an important part of cinematic history.  He also wanted to be able to take his own son, a 9-year-old fan of the movie classics, to Tunisia to visit Tozeur, Tataouine and other sites.

So Dermul and his colleages - another Belgian, an American, two Brits, and one Star Wars fan from Holland - set off for Tunisia in May 2012 to restore the Lars homestead.

"I had been to Tunisia a couple of times and thought it was only natural that I go back to do this myself," Dermul said.

The team left for Tunisia on May 26.  Dermul and the crew recorded a day-by-day account of the reconstruction process.  Below are a few of their before and after pictures, courtesy of the Save the Lars homestead website.

Restoration work on the "igloo" was completed by June 2.

Dermul said Tunisian authorities and residents were ecstatic that his plans - which had been discussed for more than a year - actually came to fruition.  Tunisia's economy depends heavily on tourism - a sector that has struggled to revive itself following the tiny nation's turbulent uprising in December 2010/January 2011.

"They were flabbergasted that we actually wanted to go out there and restore it for no other purpose, like financial reasons, (rather) than preserving it for future generations.  They gave us a lot of support," said Dermul. "The only requirement was that we bought our tools locally."

Lucasfilm, the production company that made the "Star Wars" films, is happy too, according to Dermul. The company apparently invited Dermul to present a one-hour panel on the restoration process at the  Star Wars Celebration convention in Orlando, Florida later this summer.

Dermul said he has not heard from Lucas directly, much as he would like to.  He hopes to one day have a coffee with Lucas to discuss the director's design of the Lars homestead, an old home still close to his heart.

"Getting this restoration work done was the most satisfying thing I've ever done in my life," said Dermul. "Well, I mean the most satisfying thing as a 'Star Wars fan,' of course."

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Filed under: Culture •General •Science & Technology •Tunisia

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Mark Dermul   July 12th, 2012 3:24 pm ET

Nice article, Jon, and a nice chat we had. Thanks! I will not be heading out to Florida myself for the presentation, though. Mark Cox, one of the six Saviours, will be taking care of that. And my own son, Kobe, is 9 (not 7). But indeed a Star Wars fan, much like his father.

saywhatyoumean   July 13th, 2012 2:17 pm ET

I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a little kid and I think that this is a good idea. If the local economy in Tunisia benefits from this, more power to these guys.

Jeff   July 13th, 2012 2:33 pm ET

This home has fared amazingly well after being destroyed by the Death Star. The amount of decay is minimal considering the amount of firepower that was focused on its destruction. I'm concerned now that a policy of isolation and sanctions was not utilized against Darth Vaders imperial forces since his weapon of mass destruction caused no more than "decay" to Luke's home planet. We can all learn from this and apply these lessons learned to a country much nearer and much less far away...North Korea. If we simply appear at the DMZ dressed as Luke with light sabers this hermit kingdom delimma will work itself out. No need for intervention and anymore loss of our best pilots. Im sure Yoda would agree.

cacalips   July 13th, 2012 4:53 pm ET

G4Y bewt sewks goes down in that cantina.

cacalips   July 13th, 2012 4:57 pm ET

Funny so many fans that dont study film or understand that in the movie industry there is no new concept in western films when it comes to Sci Fi. They all derive from WW2, mix in the typical themes and bam, educated lacking masses eat it up. Sadly the ironic twist in all this is that this kind of film set up the dark side to all movies that came out after. Including that diahreah fest called Prometheus. OR the eye and ear diahreah of jar jar binks.

cacalips   July 13th, 2012 4:58 pm ET

CIA undercover job.

cacalips   July 13th, 2012 4:58 pm ET

This place just had a war and now western culture agents going in to brain wash the eastern culture with USA propoganda

Brandon   July 13th, 2012 5:51 pm ET

That is really cool that Mark and his crew went out there and did that. Its such an iconic movie and I didn't know how valuable it was for tourism for Tunisia. Maybe Mark's crew will someday fix up the rest of the sets.

Joe   July 13th, 2012 6:19 pm ET

Cool! Now let's restore the Mos Eisley Cantina on Djerba!

Darth Vader   July 13th, 2012 6:38 pm ET

Whoooooo whoooooo. I find this very troubling. Do not underestimate the power of the Dark Side of the Force. Whoooooo whoooooo. That is all.

Joe Sullivan   July 13th, 2012 7:49 pm ET

I think that's great that someone did that. I would like to visit sometime.

For the rest of the complainers, some people would complain about Paradise.

Jeremy   July 14th, 2012 12:42 am ET

Cool. I like that it's all still there and newly restored! Great job! Starwars fans around the world will appreciate this immensely.

JC   July 14th, 2012 12:32 pm ET

In fact, the iconic "igloo" did not stand there for "more than three decades". The original, built in 1976, degraded to the point that it totally vanished. It was rebuilt in 2000 for the shooting of "Attack of the clones". It is this "new" structure that was restored.

It would be good if we could preserve other iconic "Star Wars" structures, like Obi-Wan's house and the cantina's exterior in Ajim, Djerba. I'm afraid they might be be demolished by developers.

sinanju   July 15th, 2012 5:46 am ET

Did they finally bury the charred bones of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru?

I never understood why Luke just ran away from the scene without giving them a decent burial.

egoing   July 15th, 2012 6:06 am ET

Dpn't worry cacalips. The Islamic faction of Tunisia will destroy this "Western Idol", that is an affront to their religion.

Alcides   August 17th, 2012 6:09 pm ET

It seems weird to me that they keep changing stuff in the oaiignrl trilogy. There were a few changes in that special VHS release in the late 90 s, now they are changing even more things (to match the prequels, I guess). People LOVE the oaiignrls; they ought to offer that, too and maybe they will, in five or ten years (not now, 'cause this way they can get people to buy BOTH sets).

Gavin Donnelly (UK)   September 16th, 2012 5:09 pm ET

As die hard Star Wars fans, my son and I are so happy these guys committed themselfs to restoring such an amazing piece of Star Wars memorabilia to share with all the other fans on the planet. We shall be admiring their hard work in person next summer. Nice one!!!

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