In the "Star Wars" universe, the barren planet of Tatooine, illuminated by twin suns, is a fringe player in George Lucas's grand space opera of dark emperors, Jedi knights and giant orblike weapons of planetary destruction. That sense of remoteness was reinforced by the Tunisian landscape where the first "Star Wars" film was shot in 1976 — a pock-marked desert realm of dunes and a few sun-baked dwellings that made a young Luke Skywalker wistful for whatever else was out there.
But a CNN report claims that the area in southern Tunisia where Lucas filmed three installments of his series ("Star Wars," "The Phantom Menace" in 1999, and "Attack of the Clones" in 2002) is now part of a real conflict and a "way-station for jihadists." The town of Tataouine (which retrospectively gave Lucas the name for his desert planet) is close to the Tunisian border with Libya, where battles between a whole array of militias, including factions allied to the Islamic State, have led to a full-blown civil war.
After last week's terrorist attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, there's far greater scrutiny on networks linking militants operating in Libya with cells across the border. Near Tataouine, authorities recently uncovered large caches of weaponry supposedly looted from Libyan arsenals, including 20,000 rounds of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. A local official told CNN that a number of men from the area were arrested and taken to Tunis for questioning on suspicion of having links to Libyan terror networks.
(Leave all your jokes about "hives of scum and villainy" in the comments section below.)
To be sure, the Islamic State is not operating in a Star Wars set -- nor does the extremist organization have any actual foothold in Tunisia. Its base of operations in Libya is far from the border with Tunisia, in the country's east.
But the fears of jihadist radicalization and infiltration are a worry for Tunisia's vital tourism sector, which is already reeling from last week's attack. Last year, in a bid to boost flagging tourist numbers, Tunisia's government joined the YouTube trend of making videos set to American artist Pharrell's song "Happy" (see above). The version it sponsored involved actors dressed up as "Star Wars" character prancing around parts of Tunisia, including the sets where the films were shot.
It's not just prospective visitors who will need far more persuading to make the trip. The "Star Wars" reboot, currently being overseen by director J.J. Abrams, already chose to relocate Tatooine to the wealthy Persian Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi, far from the land that gave it its name.