At first glance the galaxy far, far away seems to be innocent enough. Sure there are your scoundrels, despots, and megalomaniacal evil warrior monks, but otherwise it looks like a decent place to live. Bright eyed farm boys, quick witted princesses, and noble monks appear to populate the galaxy at every turn yet this is a facade easily broken. With even a cursory viewing it becomes clear that the realms of the Star Wars galaxy are nasty, brutish, and contain injustices that many would probably find very distasteful. One crime stands out in particular for its repulsiveness, but is apparently totally accepted on Tatooine. Yet this horrid practice is laid bare for all to see within the films themselves. I am, of course, referring to human sex trafficking.
Let us consider the planet Tatooine and its frontier economy. This lonely backwater is visibly populated by almost exclusively male humanoids and for very familiar reasons. It is hot, poor, and not a terribly comfortable place to live. Tatooine is the Star Wars equivalent of the old American west. It’s a boom town gone bust. It once thrived on vast mineral wealth, but by the days of the Clone Wars it had been reduced to little more than a few destitute dirt farms and a small, aftermarket, space junk trade for the few wayward spacers that stop there. This is not an environment that brings many families. This is the domain of rough men striking out on their own in a libertarian wonderland. From the Mos Eisley Cantina to the Boonta Eve Pod Race there are remarkably few women. Aside from Beru Lars and Shmi Skywalker there don’t appear to be any women at all aside from Jabba’s slave girls. Which leads one to ask, what exactly are these women doing here?
As for Beru, it seems pretty clear. She is the daughter of a local moisture farmer and marries Owen to live out her life in the only place she knows. But what about Shmi, what role does she play exactly and what do we know about her? Obviously she is Watto’s slave when we first meet her and when she dies she is free and married to Cliegg Lars. How did she get here though, and how did Cliegg come to meet her and fall in love with her? To answer this question I think we first need to consider what drives the economy on Tatooine.
The planet is no longer a net exporter and clearly has very little to offer the rest of the Galaxy. It seems likely that the entirety of the money flowing into the planet comes either from smugglers and spacers like Han Solo or from illicit activities like those of Jabba the Hutt. This provides incentives for some pretty nefarious stuff to go down. Considering that there is effectively no government at all, this makes Tatooine an ideal place for drug smugglers and human traffickers to congregate. Look at the Millennium Falcon, it has compartments designed to hide life forms from detection by Imperial scanners as evidenced in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. What could those possibly be used for, hmmm? Clearly there is a lot of shady stuff going on down on Tatooine.
Now consider Jabba’s Palace. What is one of the most prominent things on display in his Throne Room? Yes, Han Solo frozen in carbonite, but I’m talking about the dancers. Why does Jabba, an eight-hundred pound slug from outer space keep humanoid belly dancers (ahem, strippers) around when he is not in any way attracted to them? Because they aren’t for him. They are an advertisement. He’s saying “Hey all you dirty, rotten, scoundrels, check out these sweet babes!” They are prostitutes, held most likely in bondage in order to reap profits for Jabba and apparently this doesn’t bother anyone, not even our heroes. What’s the first thing Jabba does with Leia when he captures her? He puts her in a metal bikini and puts her on display. She is immediately enslaved and no one even bats an eye, not even Leia!
Ok, so now you must be asking yourself, ”Yeah, but what does this have to do with Shmi already?” Well in case you haven’t guessed let’s walk through it. We have established that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are common place on Tatooine and that Shmi was a slave for Watto. But how does she make money for him? Why did he even buy her in the first place? It seems obvious why he keeps Anakin. The kid is a mechanical genius and probably saves Watto a ton of money on repairs. But what is Shmi doing this whole time? All we ever see her do is clean her house, but why does she even have her own house? Why would Watto, a sleazy used parts salesmen and slave-owner, pay for rent and utilities on a place just for his slaves to live? I’ll tell you why: because Shmi is a prostitute and a high end one at that. Now before you close this tab and go on a rant about your shattered childhood hear me out. This answers several questions posed by the prequel trilogy. It explains why Shmi gets her own house with appliances and why she doesn’t seem to ever actually be doing anything to make money for Watto. She’s maintaining the house for her Johns so that Watto can fetch a higher price. It also goes a long way to explaining how she met Cliegg. He was just some lonely moisture farmer who needed a companion. I posit that he was one of her Johns and he fell in love with her, saved up to buy her, then freed her. It’s actually kind of a sweet story. She is Cliegg’s Pretty Woman.
Lastly this explains Anakin’s origin quite well. We no longer need to resort to some Immaculate Conception nonsense. When Qui-Gon asks Shmi who Anakin’s father is she answers “He has no father.” Well of course he has a biological father. What she means is that she doesn’t know who Anakin’s father is and that he wasn’t around to raise him or care for him. She’s also probably kind of embarrassed to talk to a Jedi Knight about her sexual career. I think Qui-Gon understands this and doesn’t push the issue.
So there you have it. Tatooine truly is a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” From Jabba’s dancers, to the fate of Shmi I believe it is self-evident that this truly is the dark reality of what life is really like in the Outer Rim’s most famous planet.