The stories behind the stories

Star Wars: “Rites”

“I am A’Koba! I have slain a Krayt dragon. I am a Tusken!” — A’Koba

Star Wars: “Rites”
Published in Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View

A name from Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Tatooine past joins the fortieth anniversary celebration of Star Wars: A New Hope!
Published by Random House/Del Rey • October 3, 2017
Written by John Jackson Miller

Originally published in Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View by John Jackson Miller and Ben Acker, Renee Ahdieh, Tom Angleberger, Ben Blacker, Jeffrey Brown, Pierce Brown, Meg Cabot, Rae Carson, Adam Christopher, Zoraida Cordova, Delilah S. Dawson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Paul Dini, Ian Doescher, Ashley Eckstein, Matt Fraction, Alexander Freed, Jason Fry, Kieron Gillen, Christie Golden, Claudia Gray, Pablo Hidalgo, E. K. Johnston, Paul Kemp, Mur Lafferty, Ken Liu, Griffin McElroy, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel José Older, Mallory Ortberg, Beth Revis, Madeleine Roux, Greg Rucka, Gary D. Schmidt, Cavan Scott, Charles Soule, Sabaa Tahir, Elizabeth Wein, Glen Weldon, Chuck Wendig, Wil Wheaton, and Gary Whitta.

Edited by Elizabeth Schaefer, Tom Hoeler, and Erich Shoenewiess

(Note: because of the content of the story, the warning at right applies also to an element in Star Wars: Kenobi, mentioned below. If you haven’t read that, perhaps wait on reading this!)

In the second half of 2016, I was invited by Del Rey to join a charity project honoring the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars: A New Hope. From a Certain Point of View would involve a cast of dozens of writers, ranging from past and present Star Wars authors in multiple media to big names new to the franchise. All would tell the stories of a variety of background characters from the film — moments that happened between and behind the scenes.

Del Rey provided a list of possible springboard moments, but I immediately knew which one I wanted: telling the story of the Tusken Raiders who encountered Luke and the droids on the Jundland Wastes. Such a story, of course, would require some kind of basis in Tusken history and mythology; I just happened to have such a thing, a New York Times bestseller to boot.

It was 2017 before the project fully coalesced, by which time the charity effort — benefiting First Book, a literacy campaign — had grown to include close to its final count of 43 contributors. I was unaware of what the others were writing about, although in a couple of cases I was able to guess others’ chosen subjects. But this wasn’t a book where the stories would relate to one another; all related solely to the movie.

The book announced in early April, I set to work on my story later in the month after Celebration Orlando. I was surprised how easily I was able to return to describing life on Tatooine after several years away; the main research required was easy enough, a shot-for-shot study of the Tusken scenes in the movie. I needed to get the sequence of events just right, and I also wanted to understand where the encounter took place on the Tatooine map relative to Luke’s home and Obi-Wan’s home. When Threepio speaks of creatures approaching from the southeast, that told me where I needed to situate the ambush.

I also needed to refresh my memory of the film to establish how many Tuskens were present, what their weapons were, and how many banthas were there. The first question, it turned out, required the closest look, and prompted discussion behind the scenes. Most viewers remember three Tuskens looting Luke’s landspeeder, but I found on my “Tusken Census Rewatch” there had to be four, two for each bantha. Whether Lucas intended that or not, it’s what we see. Once the Tuskens begin to move toward their ambush, we see one warrior running to join another, who is already astride a bantha…

…and frames later, we see a second pair coming over the ridge, heading for what must be the other bantha.

I wonder if these aren’t the same actors and creature, and that the shots were just placed out of order, possibly to make the band seem larger. Whatever the reason, we went with four — which fit with what I wanted to do: have A’Yark be the Tusken remaining behind, the one Luke sees minding a bantha. Because A’Yark, I knew, would have little desire to loot the landspeeder, given the knowledge that this place was anywhere near Kenobi’s home.

And this fit with the narrative: the chief convinces the young warrior A’Koba that there are things out there beyond his imagining, setting him up to be good and truly spooked by Obi-Wan’s call and arrival. But I also knew that I didn’t want to undermine Kenobi’s resolution, which saw the Tuskens growing stronger and more assertive. So A’Yark sends A’Koba back out “in greater numbers” in order to face his fears and preserve his pride, knowing it’s a safe move because the intruders are long gone.

I also wanted A’Yark to contemplate what life without Obi-Wan around might be like — the perfect beat for the short story to go out on. And indeed, he does just fade away not too long after this…

The book came out in early October, just before I headed off to New York Comic-Con. There, I joined 18 of the other authors in a giant assembly-line style signing of the special edition of the book, done the day before a panel at which all of us spoke, and all audience members received a signed copy. (I imagine most people kept theirs, but you can find copies from time to time on eBay.)

That’s the reason there’s a two-page spread with the logo in all editions: it’s the autograph page. (You can get your collection started with a starter signature by ordering a copy from me here.) The panel was so large it was divided into three different “flights” to get us all on stage at once; I’m in the third. You can see the panel here.

There was also an audiobook released, likewise with a large number of narrators; “Rites” was read by January LaVoy. She would narrate an entire novel of mine, Star Trek: Discovery – Die Standing, in 2020.

The book debuted at 12th on the New York Times bestseller list against some strong competition; coincidentally, the same ranking that Kenobi had at debut. Spooky! I figure all 43 of us have claim to that one…

“It takes more than courage to lead. It takes eyes that are open!” — A’Yark

For some reason I don’t know, my name was shuffled to the front alphabetically, so when Amazon and other services listed just three authors, I was among them. Sorry, whoever I supplanted. (I would go back to the end of the line when Star Wars: Canto Bight came out!)

I was delighted with the little frontispiece Tusken raider chapter title icon in the book. That was used again later in a series of social media cards promoting the individual stories.

The concept of the skybrothers, of course, came from Kenobi  — but the rite of passage, attacking a Krayt, comes from Outlander, Tim Truman’s story about the Tuskens appearing in early issues of Dark Horse’s Star Wars: Republic series.

Sandbat venom went way back to Star Wars #17 from the Marvel series, the story called “Crucible.” (Not to be confused with the Star Wars novel Crucible nor the Crucible organization from Knights of the Old Republic!) The “traang” name is another Kenobi bit.

I also brought back the concept that many Tusken warrior children had names beginning with “A,” but it’s something I would have abandoned had there been even one more character. Already, I didn’t name A’Vor’s brother.

I did have to go back and remind myself which of A’Yark’s eyes was jeweled.

I decided, as well, to keep A’Yark’s gender unknown, just as I had done for the first half of the Kenobi novel. My presumption was that a large number of readers wouldn’t have read that book yet.

“The very air answers him” is probably our most direct Kenobi callback, to the Airshaper term. Of course, it also works on its own for everyone else, and that’s entirely intentional.

Not only is “Ayooooo-eh-EH-EHH!” the verbatim krayt dragon call from Kenobi, but it’s exactly what Alan Dean Foster wrote in the Star Wars novelization. No surprise, as that’s where I got it. (Heck, just go read the Kenobi notes, already!) The call itself might change from one movie edition to the next, but the print version hasn’t.

I did not characterize whether A’Yark and Obi-Wan ever spoke again in the preceding nineteen years; the story really wasn’t there to expand on their history. It was enough for new readers to learn that A’Yark had discovered who and what Obi-Wan was.

Finally, and on a related score, the most common question I get regarding this work involves Kenobi and whether or not A’Yark’s presence makes the events of that book “canon.” The answer to the latter is no — just because Thrawn reappears, not every event from every earlier Thrawn story arrives with him — and as far as I understand, the events of the stories in this edition are really only official to the extent that they reflect what we saw in the movie. Like the adaptations, they’re renditions of the same events told from — here it comes — a different point of view, but I wouldn’t expect to see A’Yark’s name being added to the film credits anytime soon. It honestly isn’t a question I find that important: it’s all pretend, anyway. The fun for me was writing the character again, and in quite an unexpected context.