Tusken Raiders: Meet Tatooine’s Menacing Desert Dwellers

Learn the origins and history of the galaxy's most frightening nomads.

Tusken Raiders are one of the most identifiable character groups in Star Wars. Threatening. Mysterious. Iconic. In this post, StarWars.com looks at everything from their origins to known, individual Sand People.

The Tuskens and the Skywalkers…

 

Tusken Raiders by McQuarrie

Tusken Raiders concept art by Ralph McQuarrie.

The name Tuskens goes back to the second draft of Star Wars from January 1975, which mentions them as soldiers of the Empire. The third draft (August 1975) already names the Tusken Raiders as desert dwellers who ride on banthas and who attack Luke. The Sand People, as they are also called, were designed by Ralph McQuarrie, who envisioned them as mutated humanoids. Their goggles, mouthpiece, and filter were an evidence of their mutations, according to McQuarrie. The unique sound of the Sand People, derived by Ben Burtt from barking mules, certainly added to the popularity and the mystery of the species.

There is more about the memorable Sand People ambush in A New Hope than meets the eye. In the hero’s journey, the Sand People are threshold guardians that Luke must face in order to break free from his life as a farm boy on Tatooine. Despite the presence of his benign guardians, uncle Owen and aunt Beru, Luke still has to confront the dangers that are lurking in the wilderness, far away from his familiar surroundings. The Sand People are an obstacle that Luke cannot pass unaided, but with the help of Ben Kenobi, Luke is able to take another step in his journey.

The Tusken Raiders just made one appearance in the original trilogy, but they had a more prominent role to play in the prequels. In The Phantom Menace, we see them shooting at Podracers, and that might even explain why they wanted to shoot down Luke’s landspeeder in Episode IV. In Attack of the Clones, a Tusken Raider tribe plays an important role in Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side. Even in Revenge of the Sith, there is an echo of their existence when you hear a soft wail, as Palpatine reminds Anakin aboard the Invisible Hand of what happened to his mother in the Sand People camp.

Dangerous, but easily startled

Luke Skywalker first mentions the Sand People when he was searching for the runaway astromech droid that his uncle had purchased from Jawas. The next morning, C-3PO and Luke ventured out far beyond the boarders of the Great Chott Salt Flat Community where they picked up Artoo’s trail in the Jundland Wastes. Luke didn’t have a clue that they’d been spotted by Sand People. One of them even tried to target Luke’s X-34 landspeeder before another Tusken convinced him otherwise. When Luke and C-3PO found R2-D2, his scanners had picked up several creatures approaching from the southeast. Luke did indeed see two banthas, but he never saw the approaching Tusken coming…

Tusken_Classics

Meet the Tuskens

Tribal leader URoRRuR’R’R is a skilled marksman and a hunter. He leads his tribe on raids to moisture farms for water and searches the Jundland Wastes for travelers. He doesn’t fear the colonists or their machinery. RR’uruurrr tends to the banthas used in the tribe and he’s also an expert in using the traditional Gaderffii stick. It is RR’uruurrr who attacks and defeats a surprised Luke Skywalker. Ur’Ru’r is a violent warrior who likes to talk with his Gaffi Stick. He goes out far beyond the tribe’s domain to raid moisture farms near Mos Espa. Even his fellow Sand People consider him too rash for leadership. Another member of the tribe is Rrr’ur’R, who’s not a Tusken Raider but a bantha. Before he was taken into the tribe this bantha was the alpha male of a herd. He’s been trained by URoRRuR’R’R. Most likely, the three Tusken Raiders were accompanied by a fourth, unnamed companion. As soon as the Sand People hear the cry of a krayt dragon they run away, leaving the X-34 and their unconscious victim behind.

Prequel Tusken Raiders

Several Tusken Raiders took a strategic position on the Canyon Dune Turn during the Boonta Eve Classic in 32 BBY. According to legend, they did this because the Mos Espa Grand Arena had been built around one of their sacred rocks. The Sand People managed to shoot down the Veknoid racer Teemto Pagalies in the second round. Among the marksmen skilled with the Tusken Cycler, were Orr’UrRuuR’R, Orr Agg R’orr, and RuuR’Ur. UrrOr’RuuR was also present, but was armed with a Gaderffii. (The Phantom Menace is also the first movie that mentions the name “Tusken Raiders” instead of Sand People.)

Tusken_prequels

Right before the start of the Clone Wars, a tribe of Tusken Raiders was utterly destroyed by an enraged Anakin Skywalker. The tribe kidnapped Anakin’s mother Shmi, and when she died in his arms, Anakin was immediately filled with nothing but hatred for these “animals.” Despite a warning of the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin left the Urtya (Tusken tent) and killed all the Sand People, including the females and Uli-Ah (children). Anakin’s actions became a ghastly legend in Tusken folklore.

Tusken Camp

The Tusken camp, briefly before Anakin’s arrival.

A GS-100 Salvage Ship called the Raider featured stylized artwork of a Tusken Raider on its nose when it was operated by Ratch during the Clone Wars.

The Sand People in “Legends”

Throughout the years there have been many books, novels, and comics (all part of the Legends imprint) to expand the story of the mysterious Sand People. According to these sources, the name Tusken Raider is derived from the fact that Sand People once raided Fort Tusken, an old colonial settlement, in 95 BBY. Sand People and Jawas even seem to share a common ancestor: the Kumumgah. And an earlier sedentary Sand People culture was known as Ghorfa.

Republic 7: Outlander, part 1(cover by Ken Kelly)

Republic 7: Outlander, part 1 (Ken Kelly)

The Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide (2001) from Ben Burtt even teaches us how to communicate with Tuskens. “Yaa-yaah” is a standard greeting of peace, but always try to lower the pitch of your voice as much as possible. “I come in peace” translates as “Ru rah ru rah” and “I surrender” as “Hu raka.” A few individuals actually tried to communicate with the Sand People, such as Shi’ido anthropologist Mammon Hoole, who infiltrated a Tusken tribe in The Illustrated Star Wars Galaxy (1995). And in the anthology Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina (1995), a moisture farmer named Ariq Joanson tried to improve the relationship between the Tuskens and the moisture farmers.

Terry Brooks’ novelization of The Phantom Menace (1999) has an interesting chapter that features a Tusken Raider. In this side story, Watto orders Anakin to trade with Jawas in the desert, but the young slave and C-3PO stumble upon a wounded Tusken Raider. Anakin doesn’t listen to the horrible tales about the Sand People and he helps the wounded Tusken. He keeps him company through the night and when he wakes up, he’s surrounded by the tribesmen of the Tusken. Instead of attacking Anakin, the Sand People just leave with their wounded member. This story shows the kindness that resides in young Anakin and indicates that he’s free of prejudice.

The Jundland Wastes are not to be traveled lightly

The Jundland Wastes are not to be traveled lightly. Tuskens in A New Hope stalk Luke Skywalker.

Dark Horse Comics created two special Tusken Raiders for their Republic-series: Sharad Hett and his son A’Sharad Hett. Sharad was a Jedi who took refuge among the Tuskens after a personal tragedy. After he was killed by Aurra Sing, his son A’Sharad was trained as a Jedi by Ki-Adi-Mundi. A’Sharad fought in the Clone Wars and survived Order 66. He returned to Tatooine where he was exiled after being defeated by Obi-Wan Kenobi. After many decades, A’Sharad Hett returned stronger than ever as Darth Krayt in the Legacy comics.

A recent book featuring Sand People is Star Wars: Kenobi (2013) by John Jackson Miller. In this novel, A’Yark, a female Tusken war leader, plays a prominent part. A’Yark is the aunt of A’Sharad Hett and she has several encounters with Ben Kenobi and the Pika Oasis community led by Orrin Gault. It was the first time that a female Tusken had been depicted as a warrior and war leader.

... as Luke finds out

Tuskens with a captured Luke Skywalker.

When looking at all this from afar, it’s clear that Tuskens have had a surprisingly large role in the Star Wars saga. They’re a unique kind of obstacle for our heroes: dangers yet random. And still, their mystery remains…

Sources:
Bounty Hunter: Prima’s Official Strategy Guide
– CCG
Star Wars Gamer 7
Star Wars Visual Dictionary: Attack of the Clones
The Magic of Myth
The Making of Star Wars
– Young Jedi Collectible Card Game

Tim Veekhoven (Sompeetalay) from Belgium is president and co-founder of TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub. He has contributed to Star Wars Insider (Rogues Gallery), is an administrator for Yodapedia and has written four character back stories in “What’s the Story?”.

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