Jakku, the “other Tatooine” introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is more important than we first thought, and not just because it was where Rey was dropped off.
I was a critic of the concept of Jakku at first, because to me, it was exactly like Tatooine with different characters, so why not just make it Tatooine? What is the point of making up a whole new desert planet?
But the more Jakku becomes the central location of Star Wars stories, like Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig and its upcoming sequel, Empire’s End (which features the crashed Star Destroyer we see on Jakku in The Force Awakens on its cover), the more it becomes apparent: Jakku is much more important than we first thought, and not just because it’s where we find Rey at the beginning of Episode VII.
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read Life Debt and are planning to, you might want to skip the rest of this article. There are sections of Life Debt which are integral to this article’s thesis.
There are a couple of reasons why Jakku is at least minutely important to the Star Wars universe. First, it’s where the deciding conflict between the New Republic and the Empire which finally brings the Empire to its knees takes place. Second, it’s where Rey is dropped off when she is a child, presumably by her parents (who we’re still hotly debating the identity of; Palpatine is the internet’s latest favorite progenitor theory).
But those two reasons might not be enough to make Jakku anymore than a random junkyard fate happens to have a soft spot for, like Tatooine, if it weren’t for a few passages in Life Debt which suggest, nay, confirm that something more significant is at work here.
The first time Jakku is mentioned in Life Debt is on the very first page of the prologue. A young orphan boy named Galli, also a slave worker on Jakku, spots a black ship flying in the sky. It’s not a ship he’s ever seen before, so he decides to follow it. Upon reaching the place where it landed, he sees a man dressed in purple robes, like a dignitary, and a group of droids exit the ramp. The droids begin an excavation in the earth while the man watches.
Galli decides to take a risk: he doesn’t want to be on Jakku living a life of drudgery anymore, and stowing away on the mysterious craft might give him an opportunity of escape. So he does just that, without being noticed by the man or the droids.
Fast forward thirty years. The main storyline of Life Debt takes place a few months or a year after the events of Return of the Jedi, meaning Galli’s episode on Jakku happened during the Clone Wars or even a short time beforehand. But Galli is around after Return of the Jedi also. Only now, he is Gallius Rax, the mastermind orchestrating the nearly defunct Empire’s return to power in the galaxy (a return to power is what he appears to want, at least; I have my doubts, but that’s speculation for another article). He does not advertise himself as the Empire’s leader, however, rather, he is the self-proclaimed “advisor” of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, who is the default ruler of the Empire now that all other eligible persons are either dead or in a New Republic prison.
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Sloane, not unaware of the imbalance of power in her favor, attempts to research Rax’s past but finds little of substance to go on. The most pertinent information she uncovers is Rax was a favorite of the Emperor during his reign. Furthermore, she finds an image of him as a boy standing next to the Palpatine and the Empire’s Grand Vizier, Mas Amedda. Amedda, in turn, is able to tell her that more information on Rax resides in a ship on a distant planet, which Sloane pays the bounty hunter Mercurial Swift to find and extract for her. He does, but all the new light that is shed is that Gallius is from Jakku.
Perhaps it was his closeness to Palpatine which gives him the strategic ambition and superiority complex to run the Empire in the Sith Lord’s stead. Yet, Gallius is constantly telling the other high ranking Imperial officials (which includes General Hux’s father) he has brought into his exclusive Shadow Council that he doesn’t want to be the new Emperor, or even to take on any title greater than the “advisor” he currently espouses. Yet, he continues to direct events and tell Sloane where to go and what to do, while conveniently withholding any information he doesn’t feel is necessary to tell her to “test” her loyalty to him. Even if he really doesn’t want to be the Emperor, he is still controlling every aspect of the Empire, including, at the end of the book, the gathering up all the remnants of the Imperial fleet under his command from where they were hidden in nebulae across the galaxy and marshaling them above – you guessed it – Jakku.
via @clubjade on Tumblr
Why, after leaving Jakku and the poverty and loneliness it represents, would Gallius want to return? The epilogue of Life Debt explains: in another flashback to thirty years ago, Galli has stowed himself aboard the mysterious ship when he is discovered by another man. This one is wearing black robes and has a craggy face hidden beneath his hood. He commands Galli to come to him. Galli feels compelled to obey, but he rallies his strength of mind and resists. The man calls to him again, this time in a less commanding tone, and Galli at last steps forward. The man finds out his name and offers him a deal: the man can kill him right here and now, or Galli can work for him and find new purpose in life. All the man wants him to do is guard the excavation site the droids were working on. “The spot there in the dirt where my droids were operating is precious,” he says. “Not just to me, but to the galaxy at large.” He then tells Galli to keep anyone from coming near it, even if he has to kill them to stop them.
Galli wants a new life. He wants a new purpose. So he agrees to the man’s request of him. And then he asks the man’s name.
"“We can be on a first-name basis, you and I. Galli, my name is Sheev. We will be friends. An Emperor must have friends, after all.”"
So not only is Gallius Rax, who is the newest and clearly the most dangerous power player in the Star Wars canon immediately post-Return of the Jedi, from Jakku, there is something on Jakku Palpatine finds important on a galactic scale. Whether it’s a place (a friend of mine speculated a Sith Temple might be hidden underground), or an object (like a kyber crystal or some other ancient Force artifact), or even a person (frozen in carbonie and buried in the sand, perhaps?), it’s something Palpatine intends to come back to get. But, he must have extracted it or forgotten about it or something at some point, because we know from the image Sloane discovers that he takes Galli off Jakku and Galli becomes Gallius Rax, a fleet admiral and among Palpatine’s most trusted cronies.
via Wookieepedia, from
Rey’s Survival Guide
In connection to Palpatine’s excavation site on Jakku is a short reference in Rey’s Survival Guide, a children’s book, to a group of people called the Dead-enders (thanks to @quigonsmith on Twitter for pointing me to the Wookieepedia article that explains who and what the they are, as I do not own Rey’s Survival Guide). The Dead-enders are comprised of white-bearded, crazy human males who were rumored to be guarding the remnants of an Imperial base on Jakku. Rey doesn’t believe there is an Imperial base on Jakku, but she notes that the Dead-enders do wear scraps of Imperial armor.
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Perhaps Palpatine, or more likely Rax during the Battle of Jakku campaign, installed an Imperial base on Jakku as a military outpost or perhaps to continue the excavation Palpatine began all those years ago. Though why Palpatine would have abandoned it, I don’t know. I can only hope all these questions will at least begin to be answered in Empire’s End, the last book in the Aftermath trilogy slated to come out in January 2017.
What all of this adds up to, is Jakku is a much more significant world in the scheme of the saga than I first gave it credit for. It is the location of a mysterious “thing” Palpatine was after, the birthplace of Gallius Rax, the battleground of the deciding conflict that destroyed the Empire, and the dropping off point of Rey. And that is far too many coincidences to end the conversation at “coincidences.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in a future film, we (yes, I’m going to say it) go back to Jakku.