Hey everyone, and welcome to the Sarlacc Pit! This week’s focus will be on Ryloth, a planet plagued by military strife throughout Star Wars canon. This planet is not focused on at all by the Star Wars movies, so if you’re a casual movie watcher, then this material will be completely new to you. The material for this post will come from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Star Wars: Rebels,” Star Wars: Lords of the Sith, and Star Wars: Mercy Mission (a short story found in the Star Wars Rise of the Empire collection). This post will contain spoilers, so as always: read at your own risk.
Ryloth was a planet located in the Outer Rim of the galaxy. The native sentients were a species called Twi’leks, humanoids of various coloration discernible by the presence of “head tails” called lekku. The terrain varied, and was home to many flora and fauna, but the predatory species were particularly well-known, as Twi’leks were forced to live in caves to avoid the predators for a large part of Ryloth’s history. A precious ore known as ryll was one of the planet’s major exports, as well as its drug form known as spice. Ryll had many scientific and military applications, which made Ryloth a prime target for exploitation. Speaking of exploitation, female Twi’leks were considered very beautiful and graceful, and were often taken as slaves for the galaxy’s rich and powerful.
The Clone Wars
“Another armed occupation is not a free Ryloth. How long before I am fighting you, Master Jedi?” – Cham Syndulla, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”
At the beginning of the Clone Wars, Ryloth declared themselves loyal to the Republic. Before the Clone Wars began, the Separatists secretly back coups on the planet, desiring to seed discontent in the Outer Rim. Once the Clone Wars broke out, the Separatists, wishing to control Ryloth’s ryll exports, invaded the planet, killing many Twi’leks. Native Twi’leks were forced to leave their homes and hide in caves to survive, or else being taken captive and used as slaves. Twi’lek freedom fighters led by Cham Syndulla continued to fight against the Separatists and eventually worked with the Jedi Order to repel the droid army from their planet. This invasion, however, left a sour taste in the mouths of many native to Ryloth, and many native Twi’leks began to desire full planetary independence, something that would not come for many decades.
Galactic Protectorate and the Free Ryloth Movement
“The Empire is still trying to figure out how to beat me.” – Cham Syndulla, “Star Wars: Rebels”
After the Clone Wars ended and the Empire arose, Ryloth became classified as an Imperial protectorate and was technically considered a free and independent system. In reality, this system remained under the Empire’s thumb. The Empire continued to exploit Ryloth’s resources under the supervision of Moff Delian Mors in conjunction with the complacency of Ryloth’s representative in the Senate, Orn Free Taa, who was perfectly content to assist in the exploitation of his constituency as long as his own wealth and indulgences were maintained. The Empire also turned a blind eye to the exploitation of criminal enterprises in the system, as long as they did not interfere with Imperial business.
Cham Syndulla, who had garnered renown and respect due to his leadership in repelling Separatists during the Clone Wars, founded the Free Ryloth Movement, whose major goal was to rid Ryloth of the Empire and obtain true independence. While their main methods were originally bloodless disruptions of the ryll trade run by the Empire, eventually the Free Ryloth Movement escalated and attempted an assassination of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader.
At one point, due to the disruption of the ryll trade by the Free Ryloth Movement, the Emperor and Darth Vader, along with Orn Free Taa, made a trip to Ryloth under the guise of a diplomatic mission. The Free Ryloth Movement, led by Syndulla, attempted to assassinate both the Emperor and his right hand man, gaining freedom from the Emperor’s harsh rule. This mission ultimately failed, as the Emperor’s true goal was to lure out the freedom fighters. The Free Ryloth Movement ended up losing a large number of its members and dwindled in both power and reputation, as their tactics began to shift towards more violent methods.
It is worth noting that Hera Syndulla, Cham’s daughter and eventual leader of the Rebel Alliance’s Phoenix Squadron, got her start in the Free Ryloth Movement. Although she left the Movement due to her father’s obsession with the mission, she maintained the desire for freedom from the Empire, which led to her reaching out to others with that same desire and ultimately becoming a leader in the early days of the Rebel Alliance. It is safe to say that without the Free Ryloth Movement, the Alliance to Restore the Republic would not have been the same, and may never have been more than a minor nuisance to the Emperor.
Orn Free Taa
“Need I remind you that it is I who leads our people in the Senate!” – Orn Free Taa, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”
It is worth speaking a little about Ryloth’s representative to the Senate: Orn Free Taa. Taa was a highly corrupt Republic senator, and his life on Coruscant kept him far removed from the troubles of Ryloth. Because of his distance from his constituency, Taa often made political deals for the sole reason of increasing his own wealth and social standing. Orn Free Taa was often seen in the company of female Twi’lek escorts.It’s also worth noting that he was a Twi’lek of notable….girth, something that was highly uncommon in a species known for their tall, thin, gracefulness. However, Taa also inexplicably had four lekku instead of two, as well as one less finger than other Twi’leks, so maybe there was something biologically wrong with him.
When the Republic arrived to assist Ryloth during the Separatist occupation, Orn Free Taa accompanied the troops as well. It had been a long time since he had last been on his home planet, and his notorious reputation of greed and corruption had gained him little favor with the natives. Taa found a political rival in Cham Syndulla, who wished for Ryloth to leave the Republic and govern themselves as an independent system. After the Republic and the Jedi Order repelled the droid army, Syndulla and Taa seemingly resolved their issues, though Syndulla did not stop fighting for an independent Ryloth.
After the rise of the Galactic Empire, Taa remained in Coruscant. Palpatine allowed him to keep his standing, and held him in esteem as a trusted adviser to the Emperor. He was really nothing more than a puppet delegate, willingly taking part in the exploitation of Ryloth as long as he maintained his wealth and heavy self-indulgence. During a time when the Free Ryloth Movement became especially troublesome, he accompanied the Emperor and Darth Vader to his home world, a trip which the Sith Lords used to attempt to lure out the leaders of the Free Ryloth Movement, as well as assess Taa’s loyalty to the Empire. In the end, Vader and Palpatine determined that Taa was loyal, but would put himself first, the people of Ryloth second, and the Empire third. While he is not mentioned much in canon afterwards, we can assume that Taa kept his position in the Imperial Senate until it was dissolved, after which there is no record of his life.
“Not a terrorist, but a freedom fighter.” – Cham Syndulla, Star Wars: Lords of the Sith
If we are going to talk about the corrupt and the villainous, we should also mention the heroic, or at least semi-heroic. Cham Syndulla began as a political revolutionary, leading political campaigns against Orn Free Taa’s corruption and Senatorial inaction. Cham desired an independent Ryloth. However, after the droid army occupied Ryloth, Cham led a group of freedom fighters alongside Republic forces.
While Syndulla eventually reconciled with Taa, he still feared what the corruption in the Senate would lead to. These fears were realized at the end of the Clone Wars with the rise of the Galactic Empire. As the exploitation of Ryloth got worse, Cham founded the Free Ryloth Movement. As the struggle against the Empire took more and more of a toll, including the death of his wife and the estrangement of his daughter, Hera, Cham’s campaigns against the Empire became more and more bloody, as he began to lose the distinction between freeing his home world and taking Imperial lives.
Years after the failed assassination attempt, when the Free Ryloth Movement had lost most of their numbers, Cham met back up with his daughter, who was at this point a leader of the Rebellion. While they butted heads at first (Hera wanted to free the galaxy from the Empire, while Cham could only focus on Ryloth), and Cham even briefly betrayed Hera, the two eventually reconciled their differences. After this reconciliation, more Twi’leks, who still looked to Cham for leadership, joined the Rebellion. We can assume that Cham continued his campaign for a free Ryloth, but it is unclear if he was still alive when their independence finally came.
After the Empire was finally destroyed, the New Republic granted full independence to Ryloth. Though they were free from the political tyranny they long endured, the exploitation of the Empire left a weakened infrastructure and their rich ryll mines made them prime targets for criminal organizations hoping to purify ryll into spice and smuggle it across the galaxy. After an extended occupation by a group of Nikto criminals, Ryloth sent Yendor, a former pilot for the Rebel Alliance, to plead to the New Republic for assistance. The Senate began an investigation under the supervision of Princess Leia, and ultimately this investigation led to the discovery of the First Order and the formation of the Resistance.
Ryloth’s history is very interesting, especially since the system itself had seemingly very little interaction with the Rebel Alliance or the Resistance. However, this planet and their struggle for independence can be seen as a model for the galaxy’s struggle against tyranny, and while the planet had little to do with the Rebellion and Resistance, these two groups may not have even existed in the form we know them as without Ryloth.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post, it’s always fun to write about something that may be not be well-known, but had a powerful impact on Star Wars canon. Next week, I plan on writing about criminal activity in the Star Wars universe. Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!