Book of Boba Fett's Tuskens: Star Wars' History with Native Rep

The Tribes of Tatooine shows a new side to the character, but also allows for a new perspective on the Tusken Raiders. The nomadic people of Tatooine have always been influenced by Indigenous cultures, but the latest Star Wars series is taking them beyond the stereotype and providing genuine representation.

I never imagined that it would happen with the Star Wars stories, which seemed to let the Tuskens maintain the "savage" stereotypes. Let alone did it well. Most things try to maintain the status quo in franchises that have become so ingrained in pop-culture to the point of reaching modern mythical status. This is true of lore for background characters.

Before I go on, I want to make sure I'm clear. It is important to remember that we are not monoliths, even as I speak from the perspective of a Native American. I do not claim to speak for all tribes or for the majority of my tribe. This is not the definitive Native Opinion on Boba Fett. It is important to acknowledge that the influences behind Tuskens are pulled from many Indigenous cultures across the globe. There is a lot of Mori in there, stemming from actor Temuera Morrison's own background.

The Bedouins, an Indigenous Arab tribe from the desert regions of South Africa, were the inspiration for the look of the movie. One of the driving ideas behind the initial Star Wars designs was to take something recognizable and change it into something new. Lucas explains in A Gallery of Imagination: The Art of Ralph McQuarrie, that you look at the painting of the Bedouins and say, "Oh yeah..." Those aren't Bedouins, and what are those creatures back there?

I wouldn't try to speak to those aspects in case I lied. The majority of the perspective you will see from me is connected to my Native heritage. This does not mean I am forgetting about the others.

In the beginning.

From the beginning, Star Wars integrated Native American culture into its stories. It is something I have talked about before. Many Native influences have found their way to the galaxy far, far away. The general Native influences on the overall character designs could be seen in the Tales of the Jedi run of comics. The idea of those comics was to show a side to the Jedi order that was more submissive. The tribal nature/clan structure of the Mandalorians has its roots in these comics before being expanded in Knights of the Old Republic. The women carried younglings in papoose carriers and the race was based on Indigenous culture. In the story they are introduced in, Anakin begins a vision quest of his own, guided by an elder shaman with hair wraps evocative of Native fashion.

Over the years, the influences have been many, but they weren't always for the best. Such is the case with Tuskens. The genre of Star Wars has long been a heavy influence on the franchise, taking on most of the familiar tropes in the process. John Ford's The Searchers is one of the most recognizable films that influenced the original Star Wars. John Wayne's character returning to a burned out homestead in Attack of the Clones is very similar to the one he played in the movie. The abduction of Shmi by a band of vicious Tuskens is a story that is similar to the abduction of the niece of the man in The Searchers.

Native Americans are the antagonists in older Western stories. The savages are making trouble for the heroes who want to tame the wild countryside. The Tusken Raiders embodied this in A New Hope and the Prequels. They fit the stereotype of raids on the settlers, wantonly kidnapping people, and even animalistic behavior. Many different creatives on the books and comics side of things have worked to change how people view the Tuskens. John Jackson Miller gave a more nuanced look into their culture through the lens of Obi-Wan coming to a better understanding of them.

The comics gave us a glimpse of him in the latter part of the ‘90s. Hett was a Jedi Knight who was exiled to Tatooine. His time with the Tuskens uses a number of Native American elements to deepen their lore. The idea of orphans being adopted into their tribes was introduced by it, as well as the idea of "Foundlings," kids who were made orphans because of the raids on settler camps. Native American tribes would do the same thing with their children who had been attacked. This idea was usually done as an act of mercy by the Tribes. They saw killing kids as a terrible practice, unlike those who came onto their land and drove them out. The Natives stealing children and indoctrinating them into the tribe made for a great plot device in Western stories. Tom Hanks' News of the World takes advantage of it.

In these Star Wars comics, Hett falls in love with another Tusken named K'Sheek. One of the settlers, K'Sheek, gave birth to A'Sharad Hett, a Jedi who went on to fight against the Yuuzhan Vong and eventually became Darth Krayt. It has been cool to see how the Native cultural elements have become important to the history of the Tuskens. We are finally seeing that play out on the screen. The first two seasons of the show were helped by the Mandalorian. We get to see them interact with people other than being raiders. The Tuskens communicate on screen for the first time thanks to a specially crafted form of American Sign Language. The simple act of giving Tuskens the ability to communicate with others goes a long way towards humanizing them in the eyes of viewers.

We got to see some of their personal struggles in the second season. They are also struggling with the Krayt dragon and know they can't defeat it on their own. The audience is able to shift their perspective on Tuskens from brutal savages to regular sentient beings through the viewpoint of the citizens of Mos Pelgo. The Book of Boba Fett is an amazing representation of what is possible. Anything that has come before is far beyond.

Diversifying the animals.

I think the thing I like the most about the Tuskens in Book of Boba Fett is how different they are from other people. It is clear from the way they dress and the types of tents they use that they are not the same kind of Tuskens that any of our heroes or villains have dealt with. At one point, the Chieftain mentioned other tribes who use more aggressive tactics to survive. They all share the same cultural aspects, but they are different and unique, just like the many Native American tribes and other Indigenous communities around the world.

It is easy to lump all Natives into a single category when there is a government that wipes everyone off the face of the planet. It is something movies, shows, and books have been doing for a long time, and it perpetuates the idea that all of us are the same. The truth is more complicated than any other race. Many tribes share similar cultural aspects, but each of them is different. Based on the history we have, we know of at least 200 different languages, not including dialects, utilized across the country. The early history of the Americas is not as similar to the European history we learn about in school. The same kind of wars fought between tribes were considered barbaric by those, and they were taught to be romanticized. The mindset is to treat all Natives as a singular group rather than being from a different part of the world.

The earlier Expanded Universe attempts to flesh out the Tuskens resulted in them being treated as a single group. All of them were depicted in the same way in comics and books, sharing the same rituals, and all of them being referred to as a singular entity. One could end up with the same experience if they encountered the Tuskens on opposite ends of Tatooine. The Book of Boba Fett shows the diversity of the tribes. We see the Chieftain explain a bit about their own history and explore rituals we have never seen before. They do things differently than other tribes, and they share many of the same core elements.

It may seem small, but the result is opening up the Tuskens to a new world. Some can be barbaric and dangerous, but they are not indicative of the entire people. Our perspective has changed so that we can acknowledge multiple unique peoples. This is something that is rarely seen in modern movies and shows.

Land back.

The Book of Boba Fett provides the Tuskens with a more clearly defined existence beyond being brutal, underdeveloped, savages, as well as expanding their overall presence. The tribes of Tatooine have existed since the time when water flowed freely on the planet. Everyone is an offworlder, which is a typical colonial story to them. People come from other places, meet others they deem primitive, and then claim everything for themselves in the name of civilization. It might not sound bad on paper, but the reality is a lot of relocation and genocide. Any attempt at pushing back against this forced civilization is seen as being ungrateful and aggressive, and a justification for committing more atrocities.

This is what the Tuskens have been dealing with for thousands of years. They are the bad guys for it all the time. It is not a new idea for Star Wars. During your missions on Tatooine, the first Knights of the Old Republic game dealt with this very deeply. If you complete the right sidequests, you can explore the enclave and speak with the tribe's Storyteller. Through this, you can see a clear picture of their history and how it has led to their current outlook. In the films The Book of Boba Fett and the films The Descendants, their desire is not to get back ancestral lands, but to keep what they have left. They know that the chances of Tatooine being reclaimed are not likely. They just want to live out their lives without fear of being killed by crime syndicates because they are close by.

Book of Boba Fett puts the story in the proper context, even though it isn't necessarily doing anything new. They are not mindless brutes, but people with their own history and culture who want to protect it from outsiders who don't care. Fett had never thought about it. He lost his home as a child and has a connection to the Mandalorian heritage through his father, which is why he wants to help the Tuskens. His time in captivity and observing their culture has given him a new purpose.

Showing off.

Fett is accepted into the tribe, crafting his own weapon, and even embarking on an old-fashioned vision quest in "The Tribes of Tatooine". The best scene came at the end. A dance around the campfire is initiated by Boba, which eventually brings the tribe together in celebration. The Mori Haka is the biggest influence on this. The ceremonial dance is a way to show off a warrior's pride, strength, and overall unity with one another. During his first return in The Mandalorian, Temuera Morrison talked about including his Mori heritage into his portrayal of Boba Fett.

Morrison said that he wanted to bring the spirit and energy of the Indigenous people of New Zealand and the Down Under Polynesians to the show. Fett's fighting style was influenced by his prior training with the taiaha, a traditional Mori weapon. It is a point that feels more special now that Boba Fett has been granted full acceptance into the tribe. Morrison explained in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment how he felt a sense of responsibility to ensure his Mori heritage was treated correctly. It is a great opportunity for me as a Mori from New Zealand to put us on the world stage again. I feel like I have a responsibility.

Morrison put the name of one of his ancestors on his chair, changing room and parking space during the filming of the series. When I pulled in, there was a name that I knew: my ancestors name was Tama-te-kapua, one of the captains that traveled the Pacific and arrived in New Zealand. It gave me a sense of pride and responsibility for the people back home who will get to watch some of this stuff. His heritage is a major part of his life and he wants to honor it in all the work he does. It is thrilling to see the Indigenous influences on the screen without feeling watered down or changed to be more acceptable for other audiences.

The final scene in "Tribes of Tatooine" felt like a Native American powwow. It is not surprising to see that Indigenous cultures share many similarities. I was floored by the way it played out. The people of the tribe have been celebrating iwks for as long as they have existed. Forced relocations and genocide in the 19th century caused many tribes to come together and share in certain rituals. Most ceremonies and customs were banned during the "Reservation Period". The dances were the only thing allowed because they were a social gathering.

The Powwow turned into what it is today. Every tribe handles it their own way. The Oklahoma Ponca is basically three days of partying. Families come together on the campgrounds, camping out and setting up pavilions filled with wonderful food and all manner of authentic crafts to buy. The main dancing arena is the center of it all. The drummers and singers are at the center, with the dancers working their way around them in a circle as they play. The circular nature of the dance was familiar to me.

Over the years, I have danced at many a owawow and every time I do it is a learning experience. Every song is open to the entire tribe to join, even though there are contests in the Powwow. You don't need to know the song or the steps of the "grass" or "fancy" dances to participate. There are very basic steps that can be used in any song. It is meant to be an inclusive experience. The dancing in the owawow links you to your tribe. Even if you don't know the people you're dancing with, there's a sense of community as you dance. I was blown away by the way it was presented in the show. I have not stopped thinking about it since I was brought to tears.

The script is being flipped.

This is not the first time Native cultural influences have been used in a Star Wars movie. There is a world of difference between those elements being appropriative and being representative. Prior to Star Wars, the stories mostly stuck to the stereotypes of Indigenous people, keeping them in the villainous role. Shmi's kidnapping in Attack of the Clones is not a good idea, aside from the fact that she was tortured for it. The idea is that Tuskens walk like men, but are vicious, mindless monsters.

The term "Tusken Raiders" was created by a story in Galaxies. One of the first settlements by people from other planets was on the sands of Tatooine. It came under constant attack from the Native tribes. It is easy to make a real-world historical connection there. The depictions of the Nelvaanians didn't do much to change from what most audiences expected to see out of Native cultures. Even the better examples still present the Indigenous cultures through the viewpoint of outsiders.

The difference is night and day with The Book of Boba Fett, as the Tuskens get a change in perspective on screen. There are a lot of mentions about how people suddenly find themselves sympathetic to the Tuskens, when they were only looking at them as hostile. It is a dramatic change. It shows the power of representation. The representation of our culture in one of our favorite franchises is special for those of us with Indigenous background. This type of representation goes a long way towards shifting the conversation.

We should tell our own stories.

The Book of Boba Fett Chapter Two provided the most genuine look at Indigenous cultures in a galaxy far, far away to date. I can't explain how excited I was to see it, it changed the perspective on a significant group within the universe. It is frustrating to see what the storytellers decided to do in the third episode of the show. The decision to kill off Boba's friends is disappointing. The previous episodes were intended to be more of a departure from the norm.

It makes little sense as Boba already has a renewed purpose and has already been through the trauma of losing a family. It felt like the rug was pulled out from under me, even though I wasn't entirely surprised at the choice. It doesn't take away from the amazing things "The Tribes of Tatooine" gave us, but it comes across as a step backwards. It makes it clear that representation on the screen needs to be backed up by a rep behind the screen as well. I think a storyteller who has seen a lot of tribal destruction on screen for a lifetime could come up with a story that didn't involve killing off the Tusken tribe.

Resistance Reborn is a tie-in to The Rise of Skywalker and is written by Rebecca Roanhorse. The inclusion of the Pueblo into the novel was exciting, but we haven't seen that extend into any of the stories being told on the screen. There is no one else in the writer's room who can lend their voice to the story. I am thankful for the things Book of Boba Fett have done in terms of representation of Native and Indigenous people. The way my heart swells at seeing the haka performed in Chapter Two doesn't detract from my frustration. It is a significant step in the right direction. There is still a lot of discussion to be had about cultures in Star Wars.

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