In anticipation of the release of The Force Awakens on Dec. 18, Uproxx will be taking a weekly look at some of the real-world destinations that inspired the classic films, as well as sharing tips on how to create a Star Wars travel adventure of your own.
This week, The Star Wars Travel Guide heads to the galaxy’s favorite hive of scum and villainy: Tatooine.
Tatooine: Home To Bantha Milk & Worm Monsters!
Besides the lava planet where a mid-emo, pre-robot Anakin did his best impression of a melted candle in Revenge of the Sith, there is no worse place in the Star Wars universe than Tatooine. Here’s a quick recap of the awfulness:
Endless expanses of sand? Check.
Enormous goddamn worm monsters in said sand? Check.
Blue milk? You better goddamn believe they have some blue milk.
But as much as Tatooine sucks in the movies, the real-life destinations that inspired this planet are beautiful, interesting and best of all, not quite so far, far away.
The City of Mos Eisley
This city is like the worst parts of Baghdad and the worst parts of Coachella wrapped in one tight, dusty bundle. But while visiting actual Mos Eisley would be a bummer (because of the murder, and the murder, and the scrotum chinned townies hassling Luke Skywalker), the Qasar Al Sarab Desert Resort in the United Arab Emirates will give you similar architecture and beautiful desert vistas as the space port without a single laser-gun fight [Uproxx legal team does not endorse this statement].
The Qasar Al Sarab also offers (and this is what it’s actually called) a “Precious Ruby Gemstone Facial by Shiffa” in the hotel spa. Not that there’s anything particularly Star Wars-y about a “Precious Ruby Gemstone Facial” — it just sounds like a delightful way to spend the afternoon.
If you’d like your Tatooine experience to be a slightly more authentic (i.e. with fewer precious-stone-based spa treatments), then why not visit some locations where Star Wars was actually filmed?
Uncle Owen’s Moisture Farm
The filming location for Luke’s childhood home has been converted into a hotel/Star Wars museum. Unlike the movies, this hotel is not a working moisture farm (because even in a universe with space bears, a moisture farm seems silly) and the TripAdvisor reviews range from “a once in a lifetime experience” to “smells like putrid chicken.” Still, this hotel gives you the unique dual experience of staying in an actual Star Wars filming location that’s also a traditional Berber cave dwelling.
Mos Eisley Cantina
To be clear, visiting any bar where a bloody dismemberment only warrants a temporary pause from the house band is a pretty bad idea, but there are still a few travel destinations that evoke the feel of the Mos Eisley cantina without any of the pesky graphic violence and droid discrimination.
On Dec. 16, The Whistler in Chicago will convert their bar into a replica of the Mos Eisley cantina, complete with a house band covering the sanity-shattering “Cantina song,” and galactic-themed cocktails with “bright blue, green and red drinks; lots of dry ice, oddball garnishes and so on.”
While you’re in Chicago, Barrelhouse Flat is serving up a clever duo called the Cantina Brawl comprised of the Han Shot First (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Cynar, lemon juice, salt, egg white) and the Greedo Shot Second (Green Chartreuse, egg yolk). By themselves, the shots are unbalanced but taken one shot after the other (in either order), they work. The bar also serves Bantha Milk (Beefeater Gin, Blue Curacao, Cocchi Americano, pineapple juice, cream); or you can make your own with this recipe.
If you’d prefer to go to a bar that has the feel of the Mos Eisley cantina (sans murder) every day of the year, visit La Kiva in Terlingua, Texas — an iconic bar built inside of a cave. From all reports, the bar also serves a pretty decent steak. But even the worst cave meat would still be better than most of the food in Star Wars.
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Hut
As a rule, men who live in the desert under an assumed identity to hide from the authorities tend to let themselves go a bit. And in most cases, “a bit” means a mobile home crammed full of old TV guides and (mostly living) cats. But once Obi-Wan Kenobi successfully evaded the combined manpower, technology and space magic of the Empire by changing his name to “Old Ben Kenobi,” he apparently spent the ensuing decades focusing on landscaping and interior design — because his hut is positively tidy.
If you want to experience Old Ben’s hut for yourself you have two options. First, you can go to the actual filming location in the Tunisian desert like this guy — but, unlike the Hotel Sidi Driss, this set has not been preserved in any way, so the bathroom situation has to be at least marginally worse by comparison.
The other option is to visit the Al Bidya Mosque in the United Arab Emirates. The building has the same simple but beautiful architecture as Obi-Wan’s hut, and is also the oldest operating mosque in the UAE.
As it turns out, the city they visited in The Phantom Menace was not actually Mos Eisley. This detail was mentioned in the film, but most viewers were likely too distracted by the goddamn Rastafarian bunny-duck-thing (and possible Sith Lord) loping across the screen for that detail to sink in.
Mos Epa is almost identical in look, feel and awfulness to Mos Eisley — just a tiny bit smaller in scale. Not unlike Bakersfield’s relationship to Fresno.
Ali Touareg offer tours of the set of Mos Epa (along with other filming locations) from The Phantom Menace, and will even pick you up from your hotel in nearby Tozeur, Tunisa. And if you’re going to be staying in a hotel in Tozeur anyway, why not stay somewhere awesome like the Eldorador Ksar Rouge?
If you’re on the Tatooine tour, you’ve already spent the night in a subterranean movie set from the 70s that smells like bus tourist and old chicken, so you’ve earned a little pampering. (Sadly, the hotel website does not offer any “Precious Ruby Gemstone Facials” as spa treatments, and emails to confirm this have been met with angry silence.)
But if you want to visit the Mos Epa set, you better move fast. The Sahara desert is steadily reclaiming the buildings, and soon the entire set will be covered under a mountain of dunes and lost to time. Which, seems a particularly apt metaphor for how most people want to remember The Phantom Menace.
The Pod Racer Course
For many of us, seeing The Phantom Menace in theaters was one of the most disappointing moments of teenage-hood (next to basically every other moment from that time period), but one of the least terrible moments from the film was the pod race on Mos Epa.
In the scene, a young (and thankfully mostly silent) Anakin piloted a hovering chariot through stunning rock formations to win his freedom in an exhilarating homage to Ben Hur. There was also a two-headed announcer. This was neither homage nor exhilarating. It was just really stupid.
But the pod racer scene was also clearly inspired by one of the most iconic locations in movie history: Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah.
Monument Valley has been featured in storied classics of cinema like The Searchers, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Transformers: Age of Extinction. The valley is on protected lands of the Navajo Nation, and as such you cannot recreate the pod racer scene on your ATV or pack donkey of choice — but the surrounding area is also so beautiful that you won’t mind taking it slow.
Say Farewell To Scenic Tatooine!
Once you strip away the details of the desert planet — both the awesome (pod racers, laser swords, British robots) and the horrible (murder, sand monsters, murder) — the vast, dry, beautiful expanses of Tunisia, the Sahara and Monument Valley are the core of the Tatooine experience.
In fact, considering that for much of his time on Tatooine in A New Hope, Luke Skywalker was escorted through the beautiful, desolate, and dangerous landscape by his wise mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, when you hike past beautiful rock formations or sloping dunes, and learn each particular region’s history from your knowledgeable guide, in a very real way, you are just like Luke Skywalker.
So go ahead and hum the Star Wars theme and pretend your Nature’s Valley granola bar is a light saber. Your guide is in the service industry. Chances are they’ve seen worse.
**Thanks to Art by Steve Thomas and Lucasfilm/Disney for Tatooine Travel posters.**