The Nightsisters have inspired some of the scariest Star Wars stories!
Green mist swirls through the air, and thorny vines scratch at the dirt. This is Dathomir, the world of the Nightsisters, and as far as Halloween stories go, it’s one of the richest sources in the Star Wars galaxy. The Nightsister witches keep to themselves, but if tales of their powers and rituals spread across the galaxy, these would be most likely to keep frightened beings up at night… (Spooky Spoiler Warning! This article discusses details and plot points of various stories.)
Witches and Zombies, Oh My!
The Nightsisters hang the bodies of their dead kin in pods suspended from the trees. With their enduring loyalty to one another, the fact that they keep the bodies could be seen as a sign of respect to the dead and a way to connect them to the forest in which they live. They also have a more violent use: These pods let dead sisters serve their kin in death, as seen in The Clone Wars episode "Massacre." Magicks can raise them from death like zombies, turning them into a powerful force capable of standing up to droid soldiers.
The Nightsisters’ pact with death gives them other powers, too. Whether it is an application of the Force not seen elsewhere, an alchemical science, or an affinity with the dark life and strange properties of Dathomir itself, the Nightsisters can also strengthen the weak. Both Asajj Ventress and Darth Maul have felt the effects of the Nightsisters’ healing. It’s a gruesome process, with mist rising and the body of the subject contorting in the air. Their strength is recovered through the use of the Water of Life, which itself has a dark origin.
In order to gain all the ingredients for this potion, the Nightsisters have to show their devotion to the cause by taking a piece from a creature known as the Sleeper. In the novel Dark Disciple, Asajj Ventress commands the Jedi Quinlan Vos to fight it as part of his dark side training. Quinlan initially resists killing the Sleeper, as Ventress tells him to do, but in the end he does kill the rare beast, pushing him further toward the dark side. Nightsister magicks make him suffer even as it draws him closer to the dark side.
The Stolen Children
Quinlan’s struggle fits with one of the central moral underpinnings of Star Wars: the dark side can be easy, but it also takes a toll on its practitioners. The Nightsisters are unique and fascinating, an isolated culture interacting with the Force in a way almost unknown to people of the wider galaxy. It would be tempting to think of them as a curiosity, but their actions put them purely in the realm of the villainous. As seen in The Clone Wars episode "Monster," the Nightsisters enslave their planet’s male Zabrak population and force these “Nightbrothers” to fight one another. The Nightbrothers’ compound is a nightmare of cages and broken families, and its cruelty sends effects rippling into the lives of characters like Asajj Ventress and Darth Maul. One of the cruelest stories of the Nightsisters is the death of Feral, the brother of Darth Maul and Savage Oppress, who died at his brother’s hand as part of Savage’s transformation into a brainwashed servant-apprentice under Ventress.
A Dark Alliance
The Nightsisters’ darkness also has a connection to some of the most fearsome forces in the Star Wars universe. Mother Talzin once allied with Darth Sidious, but was betrayed when he stole from her the child who would become Darth Maul. In the comic Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir, she says, “We exchanged secret wisdom -- mingled dark side abilities with Nightsister magicks.” We can see several things from this: first, Talzin sees her magicks as distinct from the dark side, and, second, she thought that she could ally with Sidious and failed. It’s a Gothic partnership, the Dark Lord and the witch learning abilities that have no room for mercy or kindness, only power and death. She tries to bring Count Dooku into her plans as well, by telling him that Sidious will betray him and offering a stronger alliance. In the end, though, the attempt to create an alliance between dark side devotees fails. Individually, they are too power-hungry.
The imagery used for Talzin in the comic incorporates many elements that emphasize the horror of the moment. Talzin floats on a cloud of green smoke. The smoke twines around Maul’s legs and behind his back, like a reminder that Talzin’s power allows her to control the situation. Because she can appear and disappear at will out of the smoke, she is difficult to fight. Maul’s expertise in acrobatics and lightsaber combat is weak in comparison.
Beyond the Grave
Ultimately, the Nightsisters hold a relatively small position on the galactic stage; their work on Dathomir is wild and hidden, mostly confined to that planet. After Talzin, the Nightsister with the most connection to the outside world is Asajj Ventress. At the end of the novel Dark Disciple, she is laid to rest in the pool where the Sleeper once swam. No ghost rises from the water, but the Jedi present there hear “the whispers of women’s voices.” The word “sister” seems to float out of the water. After allying with the makers of zombies and brewers of potions, Asajj Ventress is now embraced by ghosts.
The mysteries of Nightsister magicks run deep. In Star Wars Rebels' "Visions and Voices," Maul takes the Padawan Ezra Bridger to the Nightsister altar on Dathomir. There, he hopes to use their powers to unlock answer that he and the boy were seeking. In the process, Nightsister spectres are awakened, and they seek payment for use of their magicks. Two spirits possess the bodies of Ezra's friends, Kanan Jarrus and Sabine Wren, and only the destruction of the altar stops the phantoms for good.
Megan Crouse’s work has appeared in Den of Geek, FangirlBlog, and Star Wars Insider. She podcasts on Western Reaches and Blaster Canon and can be found on Twitter at @blogfullofwords.