Pop Culture
1:08 pm
Sun July 1, 2012

Fans Restore Luke Skywalker's Boyhood Home

Originally published on Mon July 2, 2012 10:28 am

Mark Dermul is a serious Star Wars fan. He was just 7 years old in 1977 when the original movie hit the theaters. As soon as the huge Star Destroyer flew across the opening scene, he was hooked.

"It hasn't left me," he says. At 42, Dermul now guides tours throughout North Africa, visiting sites that were featured in the blockbuster films.

On one 2010 trip back to planet Tatooine — OK, Tunisia — he and his tour group noticed that Luke Skywalker's boyhood home was decaying. They jumped into hyperspace — OK, the Internet — to save it.

They sent out a call on Facebook to restore the sandy igloo first featured in Episode IV: A New Hope. Fans from around the world responded at light speed with donations, shooting past the goal and raising more than $11,000. Then, war threatened.

The Arab Spring put the project on hold, but by October 2011, Tunisia's newly instated government provided the permits necessary for the renovation to begin.

Though much of the hut was past saving, Dermul's group reinforced, plastered and painted what was left. Luke's old homestead is now back to its original desolate glory.

The renovation may bolster more than just fantasy; when he first started visiting landmarks from the movies, Dermul says, the local Tunisians thought he was crazy. But tourism has received a boost from Star Wars fans in recent years, and now, he says, locals are coming around.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

Most of you probably remember that as a young man, Luke Skywalker could not wait to leave the Lars homestead where he grew up on Tatooine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "STAR WARS")

MARK HAMILL: (as Luke Skywalker) It just isn't fair. Oh, Biggs is right. I'm never going to get out of here.

ANTHONY DANIELS: (as C-3PO) Is there anything I might do to help?

HAMILL: (as Luke Skywalker) Well, not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest or teleport me off this rock.

SULLIVAN: That rock is actually the desert of Tunisia where George Lucas filmed much of "Star Wars" and where he left many of his sets behind. And while Luke Skywalker may have been desperate to leave, "Star Wars" fans trek regularly far out into the dry salt flats to see, among others, the famous igloo of Tatooine. But in 2010, on one of those treks, a Belgian named Mark Dermul couldn't believe what he was seeing.

The Lars homestead where Dermul often led guided tours was crumbling into pieces. So he did what any good "Star Wars" fan would do: He started a Facebook page to save Tatooine, and that is exactly what he has done.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "STAR WARS")

SULLIVAN: So, Mark, you've been taking people on tours to this movie landmark for more than a decade now. When did you first notice that there were problems at Luke Skywalker's home?

MARK DERMUL: When we went back in 2005, that's when we saw the first deterioration. And then five years later, in 2010, I went back. And by then, it was a lot worse. The plaster was completely crumbling.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hmm. So Tunisia is a pretty far away place. What made you think that you would be able to go in there and fix it?

DERMUL: When we went back in 2010 and saw it in such a state of disrepair and kind of as a joke launched a Facebook group saying what would you think if we were going out there to save it, again we were overwhelmed with people saying, you should actually do this. How can I help you? The budget was the easy part, actually. The hard part was negotiating with the Tunisian government, because as you probably are aware, there was the Arabic Spring that erupted in December 2010. And all of a sudden, there's no government in Tunisia to negotiate with.

In October 2011, a new regime in Tunisia is installed. And luckily, they immediately approved the plan and tell us the permits are in order. You can come over and do this.

SULLIVAN: How do the Tunisians feel about this landmark? I mean, do they understand American's obsession with "Star Wars" and Luke Skywalker?

DERMUL: They are starting to. When I went out there in 2000 and 2003, they were flabbergasted. They did not know what we were doing going to these locations that were used in the movie. But now, they begin to understand. They also see an increased tourism for the Mos Espa, the big one that you see in episode one. And that is already being maintained by the Tunisian government.

SULLIVAN: How did you become such a "Star Wars" fan?

DERMUL: When "Star Wars" opened here in Belgium, I was a 7-year-old kid. So like every kid my age, when that huge Star Destroyer starts crawling over the silver screen in the opening sequence, I was blown away. I was hooked.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "STAR WARS")

DERMUL: And it's never left me.

SULLIVAN: Mark Dermul is a "Star Wars" fan and saved Luke Skywalker's home in Tunisia.

Mark, thanks so much for joining us.

DERMUL: Pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC, "STAR WARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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