CNN appears to have bungled the biggest Star Wars-nerd news story of the year.
“Tunisian town near ‘Star Wars’ backdrop now features in battle against ISIS” reads the headline on the report that went up on the news giant’s site on Monday and is still there, uncorrected, five days later.
It is true, probably, that ISIS is active near the town of Tataouine, in eastern Tunisia, and it is also probably true that the town is, in CNN’s words a “way-station for jihadists crossing the Libyan border 60 miles to the east.”
It is also true, as Star Wars fans know, that George Lucas named Tatooine, the planet where Luke Skywalker lives with his aunt and uncle at the beginning of Star Wars: Episode IV, after Tataouine.
The problem is that the famous Tatooine movie set is not in or near the town of Tataouine. The Tatooine movie set everyone knows is near Tazeur, which is in western Tunisia, some four-and-a-half to five hours away from Tataouine by car.
Thanks to the internet ripple effect, CNN’s story spawned more hysterical reports that are also wrong. Wrong-er than CNN. TechTimes says “‘Star Wars’ Town Of Tatooine Is Now Overrun By Terrorist Group ISIS”—no, that’s wrong. Popular Mechanics says “The Real Life Tatooine is Under Siege by ISIS”—no, that’s wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The hubbub has led journalists and Star Wars fans to contact experts on the Tatooine sets—people like Mark Dermul, who led a restoration effort in 2012. He tells the Daily Beast he is “annoyed, to put it mildly, by people who contacted me to ask me what I planned to do to protect the movie sets from the terrorists.”
“Not only is that a strange question—for what could I possibly do?—but it also shows a strange frame of mind,” he continued. “Hundreds of people are suffering from these terrorist activities and people are worried about movie sets? I think we need to focus on what is really important here. And it is not the safety of brick-and-plaster buildings that were once seen on the silver screen.”