In Star Wars (or Episode IV if you want to be like that), Luke Skywalker spends the first 15 minutes whining about his misfortune for having been born on Tatooine. He can’t go to Beggar’s Canyon to shoot womp rats with pals because he has to work his uncle’s moisture farm. Then he has to clean the new droids before suffering through a perfunctory family meal that ends in a storm-out, his ego bruised and dreams momentarily crushed.
Of course, fate (or destiny, in Lucas’s lexicon) would provide Luke with an escape. The cost would be tragic, and the 17-year old Jedi-to-be would never see his home again. Neither would the filmmakers. Lucas and his crew left the Lars Homestead set to rot after filming wrapped more than 35 years ago. In that time, the domed shell of the homestead sat unprotected from the desert winds, its location known to only a few locals. That is, until recently, when Luke’s erstwhile home was rediscovered by New York-based photographer Rä di Martino.
She found it by accident, she tells Co.Design. A few years ago, when Di Martino was working on a project on the Chott El Jerid, a salt lake in Tunisia, she was scanning the site on Google Earth. “I saw a tourist photo on Google Earth of a ruin used for the Star Wars films that was attached to the location.” She tracked the structure to somewhere near Tozeur, an oasis city in the country’s central region close to the Algerian border.
Tozeur and the surrounding region, it turns out, have served as the backdrop to many Hollywood’s memorable epics, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, another Lucas romp, and The English Patient. Yet, there’s little glamour to be excavated at these abandoned sites. They sit in perfect stillness, at the crest of the Sahara Desert, eaten away by dust and sand.
When she traveled to Tunisia in September 2010, Di Martino had only a printout of a satellite image with imprecise markers indicating where the mysterious ruin was supposed to be. Upon arriving, however, she found it nearly impossible to track it down. “I ended up having to ask some frontier guards close by [in Tozeur] and showed them pictures of the site.” Luckily, one of the guards recognized it and delivered her to the doorstep of the Lars Homestead.
Di Martino found the fictional birthplace of the Rebellion’s savior in tatters. She preserved Luke’s humble digs for posterity in a series of photographs entitled “No More Stars.” Di Martino discovered several more Star Wars sets, which she documented in “Every World’s a Stage.” In the latter, Di Martino’s lens finds a nomad in the rubble of Mos Espa, a circle of mud-hewn habitations–really, cement-covered MDF–whose walls are festooned with coiled aluminum probosces signifying high-tech gadgetry. Passing through these non-ruins, di Martino says, was surprisingly moving. These places “have existed only in our imaginations for so long for a lot of us,” yet here they were, “only now biologically decayed.”