Where was Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Filmed?

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Okay, we know. The Phantom Menace tends to be everyone’s least favourite film of the Star Wars saga, but it should still get plenty of love for its incredible filming locations!

Read on as we tell you how to search every nook and cranny for all evidence of ties to The Phantom Menace!

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Where was The Phantom Menace Filmed? A General Overview

The Phantom Menace was filmed throughout Italy, Tunisia, and England.

According to IMDB, filming began on June 26, 1997 (tweet evidence here!) and ended on September 30, just three months later.

The very first scene to be shot was the one with Darth Sidious speaking to Darth Maul in Coruscant (see below for the scene). Pretty crazy to think that this was the scene that reignited the saga after a 14-year hiatus!

Via Star Jedi 951

Pick-ups were shot from August 1998–February 1999 after Lucas screened a rough cut of the film for friends and colleagues in May 1998 (source: IMDB).

It was the final Star Wars film (until The Force Awakens) to be filmed on 35mm film.

Did you know? In the first week of the release of The Phantom Menace‘s trailer, many theaters reported up to 75% of their audiences paying full price for a movie, then walking out after the trailer was shown (source: IMDB).

Via Star Wars

On November 1, 1994, George Lucas began writing the script for The Phantom Menace… by hand, with just a pencil and paper (source: Star Wars)!

Did you know? Jar Jar was originally designed to have green skin, like Yoda! The design team quickly realized that it wasn’t realistic to have green-hued aquatic creatures, so they changed his skin color to orange.

Lucas intended for The Phantom Menace to be driven by technology, especially since Episodes IV–VI were carefully created on a budget.

His vision for The Phantom Menace was a breakthrough in the film and SFX industry at the time, and editing took a whopping two years to complete!

Via Lucas Legacy

“[It would be] richer and more like a period piece, since it was the history leading up to A New Hope.”
–Doug Chiang (ILM art director in 1994)

For a full history on the filming of The Phantom Menace, check out this article from the official Star Wars site. For an ultimate collection of behind-the-scenes photos, check out this gallery!

So grab some popcorn, throw on your makeshift Jedi robes, and get ready to explore the real-life versions of your geek fantasies!

The Phantom Menace Filming Locations: A Full List!

While a bulk of filming was done in Leavesden Studios in England, cast and crew also traveled to Tunisia and Italy to film footage of other planets. Onward ho to the destinations!

Tunisia

Tunisia has appeared in three Star Wars films thus far (Episodes I, II, and IV). Below, we break down the specific locations where scenes were filmed (there’s a lot!).

Oung Jmel (Nefta)

Oung Jmel (Nefta or Nafṭah) is the site of Tatooine and Mos Espa in The Phantom Menace.

When Qui-Gon and co. arrive to search for replacement parts for their hyperdrive, Nefta is the real-life backdrop.

The houses from planet Tatouine – Star Wars film set,Nefta Tunisia.

Nefta has many small mosques and is an important Sufi centre, where shrines and tombs of many local holy figures are located. It’s also a trans-Saharan transport centre, most famed for its palm wine, made from dates (source: Britannica)

This Reddit user found a goldmine of 150 behind-the-scenes photos here, mostly all taken on set in Tunisia. Praise the geeks!

A construction crew took eight weeks to transform the desert into believable sets for The Phantom Menace (source: Visa Tunisia).

Did you notice? The costume design team specifically designed palettes that reflected each planet. Gray, brown, and black for Coruscant; green and gold for Naboo; and sun-bleached sandy colors for Tatooine.

You’ll definitely need to hire a guide in a 4WD vehicle if you intend to trek out here, since this area is just north of a dry salt lake (covered later in this section) that borders Algeria.

If you look closely, you might even be able to spot the same rocks that were used in the background of the infamous desert fight with Maul! Check out this tweet of the filming location.

Did you know? The three Wookiees in the Galactic Senate all wore the same Chewbacca costume! Hmm, budget cuts? The actor was filmed three different times, each time with slight adjustments to the hair.

Here’s some fun pieces of knowledge for you: A 30-hour rave music festival, Les Dunes Electroniques, is an annual music festival in southern Tunisia… held, you guessed it, on previous Star Wars turf!

Along with dozens of DJs, they also hold Star Wars makeup tutorials, sunrise yoga, and plenty of dancing that would make Jar Jar envious. Watch the video below for more info if you ever wanna get your rave on in Tunisia:

Via NowThis News

Ksar Medenine (Medenine)

This is another location of Tatooine, specifically when Anakin, Qui-Gon, and Padmé arrive at the slave quarters where Anakin lives.

Truthfully, Medenine doesn’t have many sights to see… except for this important connection to Star Wars! Its ksar (fortified granary) is what most fans will recognize in a heartbeat from the film.

While everywhere around the courtyard seems to be swarming with souvenirs on sale for tourists, there are still picture-perfect spots for you to wield your lightsaber proudly.

Check out a behind-the-scenes tweet of Ewan McGregor on location here!

Ksar Hadada (Tatouine)

The Hotel Ksar Hadada was used as the back of the Slave Quarters where Anakin works on his pod racer, when he takes Qui-Gon and Padmé back to the slave quarters to meet his mother.

This is a village in southeastern Tunisia located in Tatouine (no, not Tatooine, but the resemblance is a bit uncanny).

Much like the filming of The Rise of Skywalker in Abu Dhabi, the weather was semi-arid and quite difficult for cast and crew to shoot in.

After all, the Sahara Desert is only about 30 miles away from here!

Via Giphy

Sidi Bouhlel (Tozeur)

Also known as “Star Wars Canyon,” Sidi Bouhlel (Tozeur) might be the most famous Phantom Menace set location in Tunisia.

This was the main site of the podrace in Tatooine and an unfortunate sandstorm that destroyed a heavy number of sets and props on location for Mos Espa. Production was rescheduled to allow time for repairs, and the crew was still able to stick to the filming schedule.

Sand-Tunisia
Via Karim Ben Van, Unsplash

Fun fact: Ewan McGregor made lightsaber noises when he dueled. It was noted and fixed in post-production, but we somehow think they should have been kept in! Extra sound effects to enhance the atmosphere!

The Tunisian army even helped rebuild the set! Thankfully, the Naboo Royal Starship was the only set that was left intact, so production wasn’t delayed (source: Star Wars).

Welcome to moviemaking, right? The show must always go on! Watch a video of the storm’s after effects from the official Star Wars site here.

While here, make sure you keep an eye out for Camel Rock (aptly named for its similar look to a sitting camel). This was where Darth Maul lands on Tatooine and then duels Qui-Gon (see a cool behind-the-scenes tweet here and a photo from Reddit here).

Fun fact: The crew went through 300 aluminum lightsaber blades while filming The Phantom Menace. General Grievous would have a HAYDAY at the thought of all of these being disposed!

After filming was done, the sets were left to rot in the desert (see photos from The Guardian here). Pretty gnarly, right? If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to see limited dune remains of the actual set!

Via Maxsanna, Unsplash

Sidi Bouhlel was also featured in A New Hope, when R2-D2 is abducted by Jawas (combined with some shots in Death Valley). This is also the canyon where Tusken Raiders attack Luke.

Fun fact: Some of the noise from the audience at the podrace are actually from a San Francisco 49ers game. Sound designer Ben Burtt recorded crowd reactions at the football game himself and mixed them with their sound recordings (source: IMDB)!

To research the “look” of the podrace vehicles, VFX crew visited a jet aircraft junkyard outside Phoenix, AZ and explored the remains of four Boeing 747 engines. They then built life-sized replicas of the engines and sent them to Tunisia as reference use – that’s a lot of precious cargo!

The entire podracing scene is computer-generated, except for Jake Lloyd (young Anakin) being inside a hydraulically controlled cockpit and a few practical models of podracers (source: IMDB).

SFX teams also studied NASCAR crash footage extensively to ensure that podracing crashes were realistic enough.

Did you catch that? In the Galactic Senate scene, when Queen Amidala is asking for a vote and the Senate is up in arms, there are visible E.T. species dancing (maybe?) in the lower left corner. Lucas purposely inserted these in honor of Steven Spielberg, his longtime friend, and also wanted to show that these species coexisted in the galaxy. Check out the clip below (around 0:15):

Via All About Life

For an epic overview of the podracing set, check out these tweets here of the miniature scale models used!

If you look closely, you’ll notice that some audience members in the Boonta Eve Classic crowd are actually just colorful cotton swabs. Movie magic, right?!

Also, check out this tweet from Star Wars Holocron that shows an overview of the Boonta Eve Classic set.

Chott el Djerid

Chott el Djerid is a salt-flat basin of about 1,900 sq. miles that was used for scenes of the Lars homestead. The lake is covered with water only in the lowest areas, except after periods of heavy rains.

salt-flats
Via Nace Škoda, Unsplash

Nearby, just west of Nefta, lies La Grande Dune, which are sand dunes used for the landing spot of R2-D2 and C-3PO’s escape pod (source: Globotreks).

Ksar Oueld Soltane (Tatouine)

Ksar Ouled Soltane was also used as one of three locations for the slave quarters, where Anakin and his mother lived.

These stacked, grain-holding buildings were constructed by Berbers, the ghorfas, and have mightily survived hot climate since the 15th century.

Although they’ve now been abandoned for many years, the Ksar was built for protection from raids, and designed to remain cool during arid weather because of its proximity to the Sahara Desert (source: Atlas Obscura).

The entire complex can be toured if you visit Tatouine in the future!

Via Rando Loisirs Travel

Matmata

No, don’t get this confused with Matamata in New Zealand (used for Hobbiton)!

Matmata is a tiny hamlet near Tunisia’s southeastern coast, used as a stand-in for the Lars homestead (where Luke was raised by his aunt and uncle).

Exuberant geeks can take in the farm buildings used for exterior scenes. You can even stay in the Hotel Sidi Idriss, the location of Luke Skywalker’s home in A New Hope.

The hotel consists of five pits. Four of them are reserved for lodging, while the fifth is now known as the Star Wars pit. Here, you’ll find the Lars family dining room, which is now the hotel’s restaurant (source: Visa Tunisia).

Via Run the Atlas

This pit still conserves some of the original set designs from the movie!

While were removed after filming in 1976, they were replaced in 2000 to film scenes for Attack of the Clones, and fans have cited that they’ve been there ever since (source: Globotreks).

Check out this video from Ewan McGregor’s 2007 road trip documentary below – he revisits the hotel around the 6:50 mark:

Via TunisianRocksBlueIce

Fun fact: Jabba the Hutt is listed in the end credits as being played by “himself!”

For a full rundown with side-by-side comparisons to scenes, check out this 2012 post from Tokyo Fox.

Ajim (Djerba)

Djerba is the town used for exterior shots of the Mos Eisley Cantina, and an old mosque here served as exterior shots of Obi-Wan’s home in A New Hope.

Did you notice? The word “lightsaber” is never uttered in The Phantom Menace, so it might be the only film in which no one mentions it. Anakin simply calls it a “laser sword” to Qui-Gon.

Djerba is also seen as the landscape of Sidi Jemour in A New Hope deleted scene with Luke and Biggs Darklighter, showing Luke’s landspeeder heading towards Mos Eisley.

djerba-castle
Via Ben Lescure, Pixabay

Tunisia has obviously inspired Star Wars tours that you can find here on Viator.

For a detailed rundown of all the filming locations in Tunisia, check out this article from the official Star Wars blog!

Italy

In stark contrast to Tunisia, Italy was used for the classical European style of Naboo. Read on for the specifics!

Caserta

Theed Palace in Naboo was filmed in Caserta, just 15 miles north of Naples. While the exterior views are mostly CGI (ah, remember the uproar of fans ripping apart the prequels because of this?), the interior is very much Italian.

Scenes were shot on location for four days when the palace was closed to the public.

grand-staircase
Via tirex22, Pixabay

Did you catch that? Famous director Sofia Coppola appears in The Phantom Menace! Here’s a list of 35 cameos in the film.

More specifically, the grand staircases and staterooms of Theed Palace are the baroque interiors of Palazzo Reale, the Royal Palace (source: Movie-Locations).

This Versailles-esque palace was built in 1752, and it’s fully open to visitors!

Via Open Roader

Remember to take videos descending the grand staircases, for these were the ones used when the Trade Federation makes an entrance.

You can always edit in the army of battle droids following you once you return from your adventures!

Did you know? This same palace was used in many other films, such as Mission Impossible III and Angels & Demons. The cascading waterfalls of Naboo were also just salt!

England

As usual, pre and post-production always takes place in England. However, some new locations (aside from the studios) were used for filming. Explore on!

Whippendell Woods (Watford)

Whippendell Woods in Cassiobury Park, Hertfordshire were used for Naboo Forest. This is where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bump into Jar Jar Binks and end up saving his life a couple times.

Additionally, the woods were also used as the sacred space of Gungans (Jar Jar’s people).

Via Giphy

Hever Castle

Unfortunately, this castle was only used for a deleted scene (when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan arrive in Theed and struggle to get Jar Jar out of the submarine).

Watch the video below (the first scene) to spot the Italian Gardens of Hever Castle:

Via Yoda11

Nonetheless, it’s a cool Phantom Menace location we should still discuss!

Hever Castle was built in the 13th century. Anne Boleyn, the infamous second wife of King Henry VIII of England, grew up here.

At one point, it was even owned by millionaire William Waldorf Astor, who used the castle as his private residence and added the Italian style garden (which are visible in the scene above).

hever-castle
Via Yanny Mishchuk, Unsplash

Check out this article from the official Star Wars blog to see how you can be the ultimate galactic backpacker across England!

Leavesden Studios

If this studio sounds familiar, it’s because all the Harry Potter films were shot here!

Leavesden Studios was leased for 2.5 years to Lucasfilm Ltd. so they could leave the sets intact and return after principal photography had been completed (source: Polygon).

While no public tours were allowed during the filming of The Phantom Menace (as per usual uber strict Lucasfilm Ltd. code), watch this video below for a glimpse into what the studios looked like in 1997:

Via studiotour

Fun fact: Natalie Portman (Padmé/Queen Amidala) missed the premiere party in New York City because she had to study for her high school final exams. So honorable, both on and off screen!

The studio was large enough to accommodate many of the film’s sets, including the expansive one for the staircase of Theed’s Royal Palace (built to replicate the shots done in Caserta, Italy).

Most interior shots were completed at Leavesden Studios, with sets being designed for Naboo, Tatooine, the Royal Starship, and Coruscant (source: Star Wars).

The sets that were built here were extremely complex and advanced for anything in the ’90s.

Production crew kept a binder with the film’s storyboards to reference shots that would be filmed in front of a chroma key blue screen.

Easter egg: When the end credits finish, Darth Vader’s breathing is audible.

From there, VFX supervisor John Knoll developed software to remove any blue reflections from shiny floors. What detail, right?

Sets were only built up to the heights of actors, so 6’4″ Liam Neeson (who was cast afterwards) struggled a bit because he towered over the sets.

Ultimately, he actually cost them an extra $150,000 in construction!

Cameras were also fitted with data capture models to provide technical data for CGI artists (source: IMDB). These two tweets even show how the crew brought C-3PO to life on set!

Via Not Exactly Normal

According to IMBD, they used the B stage to film Qui-Gon’s death scene (we wish not to relive this).

A huge wardrobe department was set up in these studios to create 250+ costumes for the main actors and 5,000+ for extras (source: Empire). That’s a lot of fabric!

Additionally, according to the behind-the-scenes featurette, Lucas would block CGI characters using their voice actors. The actors were then removed and the live-action actors would perform the same scene alone.

This seems like quite a lot of work, since a CGI character would only be added into the shot later to complete the conversation. Again, this was state-of-the-art filmmaking back then!

Did you know? Just for this film alone, nine R2-D2 models were built! Two featured wheelchair motors capable of moving 440 lbs., and one was built with a fancier motor drive system to navigate over sand.

Any Naboo scenes with explosions were filmed on replica sets here, since they obviously couldn’t blow up parts of Italian history!

Check out this tweet that shows a miniature model of Naboo being constructed, as well as the replica set for the pod racer garage.

The scene where toxic gas is released on the Jedi is the only scene that doesn’t utilize CG (source: Wookieepedia).

This Reddit user found a behind-the-scenes photo of the duel between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul in front of a blue screen.

Fun fact: The virtual effects of The Phantom Menace were astonishing! There were 2,500 set-ups and 2,100 shots, 95% of which used a digital element; that’s roughly 1,950 shots! (source: Empire)

If you want to see some behind-the-scenes photos on set at the studios, check out these tweets here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. This tweet also proves that the amount of practical models for The Phantom Menace was pretty staggering!

Did you catch that? The blue-haired slave girl beside Jabba before the pod race is wearing Leia’s same slave costume from Return of the Jedi!

For some comedic fun, check out this tweet showing Ahmed Best without his Jar Jar head on, along with Jake Lloyd (young Anakin). Also, this tweet shows Darth Maul looking through film footage to ensure that his best angles were captured.

And finally, being the true geek tripper that you are, you surely know by now that Leavesden Studios was purchased by Warner Bros in 2010 and redeveloped to provide a public Harry Potter studio tour that opened to the public in March 2012.

Here a photo of the entrance:

Elstree Studios

Elstree Studios was listed by IMDB as a filming location for The Phantom Menace, but there is no additional information to confirm this. According to other sources, Episodes II–VI were filmed here (as well as Rogue One), but no mention of Episode I.

If you happen to know if this is factual or not, let us know in the comments!

Easter egg: The starship Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) can be seen briefly flying around Coruscant. Check out this article from Looper for even more unique hidden gems in The Phantom Menace!

Did We Miss Any Key Filming Locations of The Phantom Menace?

We hope you enjoyed our ultra geeky guide to The Phantom Menace filming locations! If you spot any mistakes or have any locations to add, feel free to drop a comment below.

Via Giphy

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