Imperial stormtroopers are set to march through Tunisia's capital tomorrow as part of a new effort to attract tourists and burnish the image of this North African country. The Tunisian National Office for Tourism has teamed up with the country's own Star Wars fan club to stage its first Star Wars encounter that will also feature film screenings and events in Tunisia's deep south—home of sets from several Star Wars movies. Their parade ground will be downtown Tunis' stately, tree-lined Bourguiba Avenue, where young activists fought riot police in 2011 during their Arab Spring revolution.
"We did this campaign to take advantage of these sets which are unique in the world—the only sites from the movies remaining," says the tourism office's director. Tourist numbers have been gradually rising since the industry nearly collapsed in 2011, but the 6.2 million arrivals in 2013 still represented a 9% drop from 2010. The campaign began in March with a music video of Pharrell Williams' wildly popular "Happy," featuring Star Wars characters dancing around Tunisia's sand-covered desert movie sets. The video has been viewed 1.7 million times. "It created a global buzz which makes us very happy," said the tourism director. "We will try to keep working on this idea up until the release of the 2015 film."