Star Wars has transformed the Tusken Raiders into a complex, well-developed culture – so what do the masks worn by Tatooine’s sandpeople mean?
Introduced in the first Star Wars film, the Tusken Raiders of Tatooine remain mysterious to the present day – but their secrets are gradually being revealed. When George Lucas created the first Star Wars film, one thing that really stood out was the depth of its world-building. The first act spent a great deal of time on Tatooine – described by Luke Skywalker as the planet farthest from the galaxy’s bright center – and fleshed it out in remarkable depth.
The Tusken Raiders were particularly mysterious. Clearly dangerous, these desert tribesmen threatened Luke, but were driven off when Obi-Wan Kenobi intervened and issued a cry mimicking that of a Krayt Dragon. Star Wars has since returned to Tatooine many times, notably in Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, where they were responsible for the death of Anakin Skywalker’s mother. But in truth they haven’t really been fleshed out until recent years, with the Disney+ shows The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett treating Tuskens as real, three-dimensional characters, and finally exploring Tusken culture and history.
The Tuskens evolved on Tatooine back when it had oceans, and it’s reasonable to assume their heavy clothing and distinctive masks were originally something of a survival mechanism, a way of enduring the changing climate. The garb has become as much ceremonial as practical over the millennia, and like Mandalorians they are forbidden from ever removing their clothing and masks when around others – except in private circumstances, such as privately in front of their significant others. Although they have been unmasked in the old Expanded Universe – notably in the 1997 video game Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II – these were erased from canon when Disney acquired Lucasfilm back in 2012. So what do viewers actually know about the Tuskens’ faces?
What Tusken Raiders Look Like Under Their Masks
Tuskens have only ever been unmasked in the old Expanded Universe, which was branded “Legends” by Disney and thus may no longer be accurate. Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II featured a mercenary gang called the Grave Tuskens, who had a gray-furred feline appearance; this fits well with accounts that the Tuskens and Jawas are evolutionary cousins, with the Jawas described as rodent-like in Legends (a trait brought into canon in The Book of Boba Fett). The only other occasion where a Tusken unmasked was in Star Wars: Republic #62, a comic book story in which Anakin Skywalker had nightmarish visions of a Tusken unmasking to reveal a face reminiscent of the Predator. Given Anakin isn’t believed to have ever seen behind a Tusken’s mask, this was probably just a product of his fevered imagination.
There’s long been speculation that, like Mandalorians, Tuskens are not a single race but different races sharing the same culture. Legends supported this theory in Star Wars: Republic #59, where Jedi Master A’Sharad Hett – later the Sith Lord Darth Krayt – removed his face covering in front of Anakin to reveal he was actually a human. A’Sharad Hett was the son of a human Jedi Knight, Sharad Hett, who had integrated himself into the Tuskens, and a human woman who was captured when she was young and raised as one of them. In canon, The Book of Boba Fett revealed Boba Fett was integrated into a Tusken tribe for a time, although it’s worth noting it seemed to be very unusual – and he never wore a mask. It’s possible there are stages of initiation into Tusken culture, and Boba simply never got to the point of being given his mask.
Why Tusken Raiders Wear Masks In Star Wars Stories
Tusken clothing and masks were originally developed to help survive the harsh Tatooine climate. The mouth grills are designed to prevent precious moisture from leaving their bodies, while the goggles likely serve to protect their vulnerable eyes from harsh sandstorms on Star Wars’ iconic planet, Tatooine. Although the garb and masks began as functional, though, they have become central to Tusken culture; the youngest children seem to be hidden from outsiders, and then they are ceremonially bandaged so they are safe to go out into Tatooine’s deserts, initially wearing basic robes and the customary mask. Given Tuskens grow physically as they age, it’s possible there are numerous ceremonies where tribesmen apply bandages to a growing Tusken, and their masks may be replaced as well. Boba Fett was wrapped in Tusken clothing even though he never got a mask, and it felt almost like a mystical experience.
It’s possible different Tusken tribes look differently, taking their own unique approaches to their clothing and masks. Those seen in the first Star Wars, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and The Mandalorian seasons 1 and 2 wore tan robes and similar equipment, but The Book of Boba Fett‘s Tusken tribe was slightly different. Each wore a different mix of tan and black robes and bandages, giving them a unique look and allowing viewers to differentiate between them. One fighter was clad almost entirely in black, perhaps indicating their combat prowess and experience, while some had unusual wrapping around their shoulders or outer robes fashioned like long skirts. The tribal leader’s outfit was particularly complex, likely indicating their rank.
How Star Wars Has Changed Tusken Raiders Culture In Modern Lore
Star Wars traditionally viewed the Tuskens through the eyes of Tatooine’s human inhabitants, which makes sense – but meant they were underdeveloped as characters, treated as savages. This was particularly notable in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, where Anakin Skywalker slaughtered Tuskens in a fit of grief and rage after his mother’s death. While this was certainly presented as a step along Anakin’s road to the dark side, it wasn’t really treated with enough significance given his admission he killed men, women and children like animals.
But this traditional portrayal has changed in recent years. The Mandalorian saw Din Djarin use sign language to communicate with Tuskens, and in season 2 one tribe formed a truce with Tatooine Marshal Cobb Vanth. All this established the precedent for treating Tuskens as individuals and actually exploring their culture and society, and The Book of Boba Fett took this opportunity in flashbacks that showed how Boba fitted in with another tribe of Tuskens. Star Wars‘ desert savages have now become one of their most intriguing and complex races.
- Rogue Squadron (2023)Release date: Dec 22, 2023
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