How One Of Star Wars’ Dune Scams Became Its Biggest Mistake
Frank Herbert’s Dune was a huge inspiration for Star Wars. However, one of George Lucas’ biggest echoes came back to hurt him: the Tusken Raiders.
When Frank Herbert began to compose and direct the outlines of what would later become the mythological world-building of his magnum opus, Dunes, he was influenced by a cultural phenomenon he admired. A follower of Zen Buddhism and fascinated by the practices of Sunni Islam, he imbued the indigenous peoples of the planet Arrakis with an amalgamation of these religious traditions and sprinkled them with his own imaginative accents. The result was the Fremen, an indigenous people who had chosen a life for themselves in the desert landscape and fought against the exploitative mercantile colonizers who invaded their world with no respect for them or their beliefs.
George Lucas had many muses while constructing the foundational pieces of his own iconic work and Dunes was among them. He was intoxicated by the Fremen but strayed heavily down the paths of the exotic while ignoring the bones of what made them truly captivating. In designing a set of natives who also led an existence on a desert world, he ignored beauty and emphasized their savagery, creating a one-dimensional vessel to store a viewer’s animus without any of the humanizing elements that would make them relatable. or understandable. . Each man has spent some time vilified in public discourse over their respective interpretations of indigenous ways of life opposed to their radical epics, but Lucas deserved more contempt and it was only in the recent release of Boba Fett’s Book that some of its missteps have received a long overdue makeover.
Westerns of America’s cinematic Golden Age were dominated by white cowboys carrying shiny guns and touting frontier justice against the savages who tormented the good people of the vast plains. Native Americans, colloquially misidentified as Indians, were the barbaric horde who barked and howled as a substitute for language and burned and plundered as a substitute for trade. When a white settler took the time to understand these people in the most condescending way, they were hailed on screen as saints and deserving of public empathy and when betrayed by their animal projects of brown pets, the vitriol felt deserved.
star wars uses this formula for the Tuskens and for the same reasons. The main reason Luke is afraid to cross the Dune Sea to see Old Ben is because of the presence of the Sand People. Covered from head to toe, they form a masked, grumbling crowd, deprived of even a rudimentary degree of empathy due to their wanton violence and complete lack of facial language that could convey emotion or pain. They are cowardly, superstitious, and their actions make little sense as they often steal things they don’t use and seem too primitive to engage in much bartering.
During the prequels, they are further maligned. Anakin Skywalker’s mother, a slave, married a man who bought her freedom. She was later abducted by the Sand People, triggering premonitions in Anakin that presaged his fall to the dark side. He arrived on Tattooine and tracked down those responsible, giving audiences their first glimpse of a Tusken dwelling where they kept pets, built houses, and raised children. After Anakin finds his mother clinging to life, she dies in his arms before he can save her. Mad with rage, he slaughters the whole camp, the warriors, the women and their children. When he admits it to the woman he loves, she does not shrink from him but comforts him in his mourning.
The only thing that matters about the Tuskens is that their lives are so worthless that it doesn’t matter to anyone that a Jedi in good standing summarily executed an entire tribe. They don’t deserve any attention or deeper thought, only as a vehicle for the chosen one with blond hair and blue eyes to express his hatred. That doesn’t imply that the Tuskens should have enjoyed some sympathy after what they did, but it wasn’t even necessary to attribute motivation. They were simply Tuskens, so naturally they operate beyond reason or rational thought. They are bipedal animals that simply react without even the appearance of intellect. These stereotypes are all too familiar to Indigenous peoples and the Native American community in particular has always challenged this portrayal throughout their historical portrayals in the media and star wars specifically.
The Fremen suffered from similar prejudices and perceptions. The Bene Gesserit inserted primitive prophecies into Arrakeen mythology to prepare the way for the Kwisatz Haderach, their genetic male messiah. It subverts their agency, making them pawns of a more sophisticated culture that preys on their naivety from their own sacred tenets. The Fremen then affirm this loyalty to their Mahdi and embark on galactic jihad, plundering the galaxy and murdering infidels who do not hold to their beliefs. Paul Atreides, the white savior, can pierce the veil of the future and see this outcome but uses the Fremen to achieve his goals while doing his best to sublimate their vicious tendencies, absolving himself while reducing them to mere instruments sharp in the process.
What is the Boba Fett book accomplishes to his credit, is to transpose the white savior, who often shows up to bring the trappings of civilization to infantilized natives, with a man of native descent. Temuera Morrison is a Maori man and the gaze through which he sees the Tuskens is dynamically filtered before the audience even has the opportunity to be exposed to their rituals, customs and rites of passage. Boba Fett lives among the Sand People and becomes one of them, but his journey is not rooted in the transplantation of his otherness in favor of empathy. It doesn’t undo the years of damage already done, but it does provide perspective that makes Anakin’s actions and the franchise’s overall portrayal of the Tuskens more damning and forces audiences to come to terms with their fabricated disdain. Even if their representation is treated with more respect, the result is the same. Bulk Annihilation used to fuel the main character’s aim for dynamic change.
star wars has been the subject of considerable anger from non-white members of their fandom who want a more balanced palette of contributing voices to the narrative that has captivated so many for over four decades. Boba Fett’s Book clearly approached the issue with a deeper understanding of the power of this representation, or lack thereof, and one can only hope that viewers challenge themselves to understand why these representations matter to so many people who are not maybe not so used to seeing each other in galaxies far, far away.
KEEP READING: The Mandalorian’s Squid-Faced Quarren IS NOT GETTING The Tusken Raider Treatment
Studio 666 pays homage to Sam Raimi’s most iconic film – with a twist
About the Author