July 12, 2012
Posted: 1137 GMT
Fans of the late-1970s "Star Wars" movies probably know that Luke Skywalker, a reluctant hero battling his way through the film's evil Galactic Empire, was raised on the windswept plains of Tatooine, a desert wasteland planet located on the outer rim of director/writer George Lucas’ fictional galaxy.
In reality, Skywalker’s house - known as the Lars homestead - is actually located in southern Tunisia. The whitewashed ranch was constructed on an outdoor movie set in a desert region known as Tozeur.
And after more than three decades of blowing sands and extreme Saharan heat, Skywalker’s domed home was beginning to fall into disrepair.
That’s where "Star Wars" superfan Mark Dermul comes in.
Dermul, who lives in Belgium, noticed that Skywalker's "Star Wars" home was crumbling while he was on holiday in Tunisia in 2010. The 42-year-old banker has experience in the region; over the past decade, he has moonlighted as a tour guide to Tunisia's multiple Star Wars set locations for around 50 fans.
"When we were there in 2010, I saw that the Lars homestead was decaying," Dermul told CNN via telephone Thursday. "Some of us joked about putting up a restoration campaign on Facebook."
But Dermul and five of his friends decided to actually launch a campaign. And legions of die-hard "Star Wars" fans didn't think they were joking.
Dermul said they managed to raise $10,000 in just 10 months on their website, Save the Lars Homestead. More than 400 fans contributed to the effort.
“'Star Wars' fans are a tight-knit community. We had someone from Texas donate $600 just because he wanted to show his grandchildren (the Lars homestead in Tunisia) someday,” said Dermul.
For Dermul, it was also about preserving an important part of cinematic history. He also wanted to be able to take his own son, a 9-year-old fan of the movie classics, to Tunisia to visit Tozeur, Tataouine and other sites.
So Dermul and his colleages - another Belgian, an American, two Brits, and one Star Wars fan from Holland - set off for Tunisia in May 2012 to restore the Lars homestead.
"I had been to Tunisia a couple of times and thought it was only natural that I go back to do this myself," Dermul said.
The team left for Tunisia on May 26. Dermul and the crew recorded a day-by-day account of the reconstruction process. Below are a few of their before and after pictures, courtesy of the Save the Lars homestead website.
Restoration work on the "igloo" was completed by June 2.
Dermul said Tunisian authorities and residents were ecstatic that his plans - which had been discussed for more than a year - actually came to fruition. Tunisia's economy depends heavily on tourism - a sector that has struggled to revive itself following the tiny nation's turbulent uprising in December 2010/January 2011.
"They were flabbergasted that we actually wanted to go out there and restore it for no other purpose, like financial reasons, (rather) than preserving it for future generations. They gave us a lot of support," said Dermul. "The only requirement was that we bought our tools locally."
Lucasfilm, the production company that made the "Star Wars" films, is happy too, according to Dermul. The company apparently invited Dermul to present a one-hour panel on the restoration process at the Star Wars Celebration convention in Orlando, Florida later this summer.
Dermul said he has not heard from Lucas directly, much as he would like to. He hopes to one day have a coffee with Lucas to discuss the director's design of the Lars homestead, an old home still close to his heart.
"Getting this restoration work done was the most satisfying thing I've ever done in my life," said Dermul. "Well, I mean the most satisfying thing as a 'Star Wars fan,' of course."
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