Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sand People

I've probably already talked about this, but if I have, I've forgotten where. Oh well, it's my blog and I can be redundant if I want to! In any case...

The Tusken raiders (or Sand People) are an element of Star Wars that I, for whatever reason, found (and still find) fascinating. Initially, I think it just had to do with the way they looked with their fearsome, wrapped heads with goggle and gas-mask like protrusions jutting through.

My interest in the Sand People only increased in 1978, after I moved to South Dakota and began to learn more about Native American plains society. Even as a kid, I began to draw parallels between the cultures- and to recognize bits of North-African/Middle-East nomad in there as well (especially visible in the design of Tusken rifles).

There was very little 'official' information about Tusken Raiders until the Star Wars D6 roleplaying game came out in 1987. Here, in the Star Wars Sourcebook, I was treated to the basic stats and information for Tusken Raiders, but also to a short story entitled "Song for a Fallen Nomad". In this, we see a young Moisture Farmer, caught out in the desert after dark. He stumbles upon the scene of a Tusken raider singing to a dieing elder, revealing a strange, spiritual and beautiful side to these fierce nomads. This stuck with me over the years and totally colored the way I viewed the race.

What really gave the Sand People a 'face' for me, though, was the portrayal of one of them- a Tusken Jedi/Shaman- by one of the players in my long-running Star Wars campaign. He too was inspired by the idea of Sand People not as mindless savages, but as the a noble and even wise people. Well, most of them, at least.

As I got older, I was exposed to different 'brands' of Sci-fi, including Frank Herbert's Dune. It was VERY easy to relate the Sand People to the Fremen of that novel- and indeed, in the video game "Knights of the Old Republic", someone else must have made the same association. In this game, for the first time, we are given a glimpse of a possible history of the Tusken, speaking of a time when Tatooine was not so harsh and a belief that the Tusken, if they are strong, will once again inherit a 'garden world'. So it was pretty easy for me to add on yet another layer to my concept of the race, going so far as to have Tusken raiders have remote 'holy places' in the deep desert (picture Ayers Rock), where they gathered in larger numbers and even had huge caverns filled with water.

And then the prequel movies came around. Now, as I've said many times, I have reached a place where I mostly like the prequels. But I have a few peeves about them, and how the Tusken are handled is one of them. Particularly, when Anakin slays an entire tribe of them, the whole situation is just 'written off' by the reactions of characters to it. Namely, Padme seems to instantly forgive Anakin of this horrendous crime. To me, this suggests an attitude of "Oh, well, its okay you wiped out the entire tribe, because they're all bad." Even in a black-and-white universe like Star Wars, it seems harsh to suggest that an entire species is just bad and its 'okay' to kill them. But that's what I got out of it.

This attitude seemed to have been carried over into the Star Wars d20 system, where Tusken raiders are (in one edition at least), prohibited from being used as a Player Character species. In short, they're supposed to exist only as 'monsters'. I think that really sells them short.

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