Rancor-Riding Witches: Star Wars Bizarre

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Concept art of the Nightsisters for The Clone Wars TV series (source: starwars.com)

Continuing our series on the most bizarre elements of Star Wars canon (past and present), the witches of Dathomir are one of the top subjects. After all, rancor-riding witches that want to kidnap Han and Luke and take them as husbands is about the most bizarre thing one can imagine. But let’s start from the beginning. Who are those witches, where do they live? And more importantly, where did their concept originally come from, how did it evolve?

Dathomir is probably familiar to majority of the audience only as a name. In the movies, it is mentioned once by Maul in the “Solo” movie. Maul commands Qi’ra to “come and join him on Dathomir”. As the audience of the Rebels TV series will know, Maul once dwelled on Dathomir. It was also his home world, from which he was taken as a child – as did another Clone Wars character, Asajj Ventress. But what is Dathomir otherwise?

Witches of the Singing Mountain Clan – one of the “good” witch clans, as depicted in SWRPG Rebellion Era sourcebook (art by Adi Granov).

The Planet With Its Own Magic

Dathomir’s currently familiar appearence dates back to The Clone Wars series, where it featured notably in Season 3. There, it was also presented as the home of the Nightsisters, “Force witches”, a mysterious, however locally-limited (non-spacefaring) and technologically primitive society. Nonetheless, the witches possessed significant powers – enough for Dooku and Darth Sidious to eventually order a full-scale invasion to get rid of them.

Most recently, Dathomir also appeared in the story of Jedi: Fallen Order video game, drawing on its TCW and Rebels visuals. For those familiar with the TV shows, perhaps the idea of a matriarchal witch society is already peculiar enough. The Clone Wars showed the Nightsisters using its planet’s inherent “magic” to raise undead and also occasionally getting tribute from local red Zabrak population in the form of males for mating (hence Maul’s birth here). The original, however, is still more bizarre.

Cover of The Courtship of Princess Leia, by Dave Wolverton – the creator of Dathomir and its inhabitants.

When Leia Had To Claim Han As Her Property

Dathomir was conceived in the 1994 novel The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton. Disregarding the main plot – which involves post-Episode VI Leia considering a political marriage to a Prince Charming from a distant (incidentally, also matriarchal) system – majority of the story takes place on Dathomir, when Leia, Han and Luke one by one end up stranded on the planet.

With no way to leave the planet, they are left at the mercy of the savage locals – the rancor-riding witches. Because men are seen only as property in the witches’ society, Han Solo nearly ends up claimed as slave – if it wasn’t for Leia. Using her wit and diplomacy, she solves the problem by claiming Han as already belonging to her. As she is a woman, the witches respect her and also leave Han alone.

A rancor-riding witch as depicted in “Geonosis and the Outer Rim Worlds” SWRPG Sourcebook. Art by Matt Hatton.

The novel features many other similar elements. We learn that there are actually two large tribes of witches, “good” and “bad” ones. The bad ones use Dark Side of the Force, up to one unforgettable scene of Han Solo being electrocuted by the chief “bad witch”. She is using Force Lightning to the point that Han marvels at his own teeth sparkling.

Other peculiar elements of the story include the abovementioned rancor-riding, which owes to the witches’ Force abilities, enabling them to connect with animals. The aspect of rancor-riding has been mostly dropped after the 2014 change of Star Wars canon, probably having been perceived as too over-the-top. In the original book, however, it is one of the witches’ most outstanding characteristics. On a different note, another eyebrow-raising element in the book is the notably often repeated description of the witches’ clothes made of leather, including a scene where one of the characters contemplates the scent of leather. It kind of makes one wonder what exactly was the author thinking of.

Feminism In The 1990s

According to Dave Wolverton’s own words, however, the story’s intention was to balance out the neglection of the female aspect in Star Wars universe, and bring some powerful female characters into the universe. While we might think that he picked rather unusual way to do that, we must acknowledge his intention as pertinent. There really was a dearth of women among Star Wars protagonists (at the time, it literally meant Leia and perhaps Mara Jade from Timothy Zahn’s novels). And if we look back at the mainstream sci-fi and fantasy of the time when the novel was published, we could give Dave Wolverton some benefit of doubt. Xena: Warrior Princess, probably “the” mainstream fantasy heroine from around the same time, may also not be considered the best feminist icon from a deeply critical perspective, but she was very much enough to fill the niche that would otherwise have been empty. It was the same with the witches of Dathomir.

Even with this leniency, the witches of Dathomir are still one of the most bizarre elements of SW universe. The fact that the subsequent TV series and the current, post-2014 canon presented only substantially watered-down versions of their culture and habits, stripped of the most peculiar elements, is a testimony to that.


Previously in the series:

Palpatine’s Son – Star Wars Bizarre

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Rostislav Kurka
Rostislav is a Protestant theologian and a self-trained Sith, counting Jan Hus, Dorothee Sölle, Darth Revan and Darth Traya among his main influences. He hails from the hundred-towered city of Prague, where he had spent a large part of his life creating worlds and inspiring young generations to roleplay. His involvement in organising children's camps led him to accidentally writing a Lord of the Rings musical, which made him temporarily famous, and a Three Musketeer-Jedi fanfilm, which didn't. He has recently moved to the frozen waste of Finland, because that's it, the Rebels are there.