California Filming Locations #4: Star Wars Traveller – Tatooine (a.k.a. Death Valley)


Having been to see the Star Wars filming locations of Tunisia, Italy, Spain and England I thought that was the end of the ‘Star Wars Traveller’ series but not so as I couldn’t go to the USA and be so close to some locations without checking them out. Admittedly, Yuma and Redwood Forest featured in ‘Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’ but there’s not much to be seen there.

On the other hand Death Valley in California is a different matter and parts of this vast national park were used to portray Tatooine in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ and ‘Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’. Tunisia is of course more famous for being Tatooine’s true home but scenes were shot in Death Valley and inserted and blended in with those shot in Africa.

Ethan and I were very tired when we arrived in Death Valley one evening last month. Whilst having our burgers at a roadside cafe we debated where to stay that night. In the end we decided to stay in the car all night to save a bit of money. We parked the car on the most quiet of side-roads near the Death Valley sign and, despite being really tired, we ended up drinking a 6-pack of beer each as we got excited by the nothingness of the situation. Despite being in the middle of nowhere in pitch-black darkness we were still able to get phone reception so we skyped a mutual friend back in the UK which was a laugh not that we remember too much about the call!!


Our day started early the next morning and first stop was Stovepipe Wells which is where we briefly see R2D2 wheeling his way across the sand dunes (10:23 mins on the special edition dvd) following an argument with C3P0. The sand was absolutely baking hot while we were there and it was painful on the feet at times (I’d discarded my sandals earlier on as we crossed the dunes) as I lined up the shots seen below by matching up the mountains in the background with particular reference to the peaks.


Desolation Canyon was next where the film crew did a couple of pickup shots in the vicinity of this place. The first is the sandcrawler station (13:08 mins) and inevitably can only be matched up using the mountains in the background and the directions given on this article. A 1.6 yard-long radio-controlled model was used for the wide shots. Whilst I brought my droid figures with me I never gave it a thought to bring my sandcrawler toy which would have been a good idea. Oh well! On top of that I later noticed a mark on the camera lens which is now in a lot of my photos such as the one below. 


Moving a little into Desolation Canyon is where the Bantha (a large native Tatooine animal with a long furry tail) filming took place (28:01 mins) which was basically just an African elephant in a costume! As the name implies this place was completely desolate.


Artist’s Palette was next and it was there that I found the path that Artoo rolled down (11:21 and 11:29 minutes for the respective screenshots below) before he was attacked by the jawas. This was probably my favourite Death Valley shot as it was one that I remember vividly without having to get the dvd out and it only lasts for about two seconds as indeed do all of these Death Valley locations!

  Screen Shot 2012-04-20 at 14.53.02       

The next location was one I was looking forward to purely for the fact that it was to my first ever ‘Return of the Jedi’ scene. The dirt road for Twenty Mule Team Canyon was used way back in December 1982 where we see the two droids approaching the palace below. Of course CGI was used to add Jabba’s palace into the background which appears on screen after 05:14 mins. Sadly I don’t have figures of C3P0 and R2D2 which are the same size so my recreation is not perfect but are they ever?!!

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 17.33.34     

Dante’s Inferno was the final destination on this Star Wars tour and by far the easiest to track down as its a major sightseeing spot in its own right. We were of course there as it was the overlook where Ben Kenobi famously introduces Luke Skywalker (as they stand on the cliff edge in Sidi Bouhlel in Tunisia) to Mos Eisley spaceport by telling him “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy“. The screenshot is below and the views were naturally way more impressive than what was described by Ben Kenobi.


Overall the vast area is a beautiful scenic location as it is and our trip was just further heightened by the six Star Wars locations shot there. After Dante’s Inferno it was then time to leave our great memories of Death Valley (the night spent in, and indeed out of the car was one of the highlights of the whole American journey) behind and make our way to Las Vegas for some very different landscape!

Thanks to the following site:

You can see other Star Wars Traveller entries by clicking on the following:

About tokyofox

A Leicester City fan teaching English in Japan
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26 Responses to California Filming Locations #4: Star Wars Traveller – Tatooine (a.k.a. Death Valley)

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