Star Wars, Tatooine Fennel and a Parallax View of American Cuisine
Principle photography for Star Wars began in the Tunisian desert in March of 1976. Just as location scouts were tasked with finding an other worldly landscape here on Earth to transport us to a galaxy far far away, some clever prop master was given the task with creating prop food for Luke’s Aunt Beru to prepare for lunch. Instead of imagining some out landish vegetable and trying to make a realistic model that could be broken up by hand without giving away the game, they wisely chose bulbs of fennel. As a ten year old kid, growing up in Suburbville, USA it sure looked like a vegetable from Tatooine to me, as I’m sure it did to countless others. Real fennel was far more realistic than what a model maker could have crafted, while completely unfamiliar. I doubt Aunt Beru’s soup seemed quite so intergalactic to French audiences, but it says a lot about the transformation of American cooking in the intervening years that fennel was sufficiently exotic at the time to be cast in the role of representing Tatooine cuisine. In the background, you can also see some root vegetables that looks like salsify, a vegetable that remains largely and sadly unkown, four decades later.
In the US in 1976, fennel might have been on the menus of Chez Panisse or the Four Seasons. It would have been found in recipes on those rare kitchen bookshelves with the odd tome by MLK Fisher, James Beard, Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David or Julia Child, but it would have been nearly impossible to find in American supermarkets at the time. Today, fennel is easily found anywhere and shaved fennel salads are a staple of stylish middlebrow restaurants.
If asked what fruits and vegetables today could fill that role today, I can think of a bunch that could pass as delectables from the Degoba system. Looking over the list though, the beauty of fennel was that it was unfamilar and ordinary looking at the same time. And while these earthly delights might seem too exotic for a humble moisture farmer’s lunch on a desert planet, they could still be familiar to viewers of any number of Food Network or Travel Channel shows. Given the role Asian markets play in the decision making that goes into planning today’s blockbusters, I’m not sure how you would cast a fruit or vegetable from another planet there days.
Buddha’s Hand (edible eden )
Enoki Mushrooms (squirmelia)
Morels (Rebecca Siegel)
Bitter Melon (Robert Couse-Baker)
Mangosteens (Matt Saunders)