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In a village far, far, away, 'Star Wars' stirs debate

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"Star Wars" fans received a boon Monday with the announcement of the title of the next installment in the cinematic series. "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" is due for release next year.

The news set online chatrooms abuzz.

And, in a remote village in a country far, far, away, it's likely to reignite debate over how much to emphasize a connection to the hugely successful cinematic saga.

When location scouts in 1976 asked to rent a section of the Sidi Driss Hotel in Matmata, Tunisia, for an American science-fiction movie, owner Touhami Jemni quickly agreed, glad for the income.

A film crew spent two months shooting at the hotel, made up of traditional Berber homes carved into cavern walls. It's now familiar to millions as the sunken desert homestead where Luke Skywalker chafes against a dull farm life with his Uncle Owen Lars and Aunt Beru. ("If there's a bright center to the universe, you're on the planet that it's farthest from," Luke complains to droids C-3PO and R2-D2.)

"I don't know why they decided on my hotel," says Mr. Jemni in fractured French. "[But] I was very happy.... It's given Matmata great publicity."

That publicity may be in for another boost. Film crews were back last year, filming scenes for "Attack of the Clones."

But as tourism has increased in the past two decades, replacing agriculture as the main source of income, some in Matamata blame the trade for an erosion of traditional culture and values. And in a village where almost no one (including Jemni) has seen any of the "Star Wars" movies, many are reluctant to credit a film created by an American, for a predominantly Western audience, for their success.

Director-producer George Lucas used other Tunisian sites as well in creating the desert planet Tatooine (there's a town called Tataouine not far from Matmata).


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