Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Does the Planet Jakku Exist Because of the Arab Spring?

[Warning: In this post, I do talk a little about Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. While my post is only about one of the film's location and doesn't reveal anything from the plot, those who are hyper-sensitive to spoilers might want to skip this one]

One thing that has long annoyed me about the Star Wars series, especially after the prequel trilogy entered the canon, is the centrality of Tatooine. It is supposed to be a backwater nothing planet. And yet, it keeps appearing again and again. It is in four of the first six movies. Aren't there other desert planets in a galaxy-spanning setting? And why the hell would the rebels hide baby Luke from Darth Vader on Tatooine when that is Tatooine's home planet?!?!

So I was pleasantly surprised that the desert planet a the beginning of The Force Awakens is not Tatooine but Jakku, a planet I had never heard of before. (According to the Wookipedia, the first appearance of Jakku was in a pair of novels both of which were published in September 2015). Then last night I saw the movie and was struck by how Tatooine-like the planet was. I could even see moisture vaporators in the background a few scenes, suggesting that the local economy is pretty similar to Tatooine  And for the purposes of the story, there really is no reason those early scenes could not have taken place on Tatooine  So why didn't they use their standard desert planet for this film like they did for so many others?

One difference between Tatooine and Jakku, perhaps the only real difference in terms of scenery, is that Jakku doesn't have any of the weird Tatooine architecture. When the credits rolled, I noticed the desert scenes were filmed in Abu Dhabi, not Tunisia, where is where all the Tatooine shots were filmed. That explains the missing Tatooini  architecture. Those strange buildings are really the so-called troglodyte houses of Matmata, Tunisia. (Hey everyone, look at my holiday photos from Matmata!)

Tunisia had the first and most successful Arab Spring revolution. It is the only one that produced a functioning democracy. Tunisia has also already had a peaceful transition of government from one elected government to another since they overthrew their Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Still, there is more violence in Tunisia than there was before the revolution, and Libya right next door is a total mess. The state department current has a travel alert for Tunisia. The film crew might not have felt safe to return to Tunisia to film the latest one.

Is that why the first scenes of The Force Awakens take place on Jakku and not Tatooine  Is that why they invented the planet Jakku for this film?