The two-part premiere of Ahsoka, the new Star Wars series streaming on Disney Plus, did something that’s become kind of rare in Star Wars, something that was once integral to the franchise’s appeal: It had a character reference a thing that sounds freaking awesome completely in passing without ever following up on it. Just for texture! This time, it’s “the Witches of Dathomir.” They’re mentioned in relation to an artifact that protagonist Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) acquires at the start of the series while raiding a temple that once belonged to them.
That isn’t the first time a Disney Plus Star Wars series mentioned the Witches — they got an extremely fleeting shoutout in The Book of Boba Fett — but Ahsoka is the first time we’ve seen them in live-action, after they show up in “Part Six.” And boy do we get to see them: three witches in full regalia, as they greet Morgan Elsbeth and bring Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) back, per some arrangement they’ve made with him. Despite some prime screen time, that’s about all we get about the trio of witches, albeit with the promise that Thrawn requires their “dark magic” once again.
The difference between modern Star Wars and classic Star Wars is that said witches have been explored pretty extensively in other ancillary Star Wars media, namely The Clone Wars, but also in several novels, comic books, and a bit in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. (Baylan notes that stories of the galaxy the Witches are found is “considered folktales. An ancient past, long forgotten,” in the Star Wars universe, so it’s not surprising we’re only getting them in a bit part of a Disney Plus show).
This means that it’s possible to sate your curiosity should you hear about “the Witches of Dathomir” and think they sound metal as hell and worth learning more about. I’m happy to tell you that they are metal as hell, and you can learn more about them.
Who are the Witches of Dathomir?
There is a simple answer to this question, and then a more complicated one. Let’s start simple: Generally speaking, the Witches of Dathomir are the female denizens of the planet Dathomir that belong to the Nightsister clan.
Dathomir? Where have I heard that before?
Good ear! It’s the planet where Darth Maul is from, and the planet that Sabine and crew wind up on in episode 6 of Ahsoka. If all you know about him is his appearance in The Phantom Menace, well, there’s a lot more to him than that. His home planet has a bonkers backstory! Some of which we’re about to get into.
In Ahsoka, Baylan mentions that they are specifically from a different galaxy, though in the original story that wasn’t the case.
OK, but why are they witches?
Probably sexism. But also because they are Force users with a unique connection to the Force that results in powers quite different from what the Jedi and Sith do. Stuff like necromancy and illusion. Real spooky shit. They call it “magick,” and those who wield magick are witches.
But what about the fellas? Can they use magick too?
Kind of. All Zabraks (the Dathomiri people) can be force-sensitive, but magick is solely for the ladies. This is why Darth Maul can be a powerful Force user but not all that different from other Sith Lords you’ve seen before.
They keep a very rigid social structure on Dathomir, where everyone belongs to one of many clans, each with their own rigid code. Two of the most well-defined are the Nightsisters (the Witches) and Nightbrothers — the complementary male clan of Dathomiri, who live apart from the Nightsisters and exist as their warrior-servants.
None of this should be taken as immutable, either. Star Wars canon is quite loose when it comes to Dathomir and its people, so while it often is characterized one way (a place where generally bad people do creepy magick), there is always the suggestion that we’re only seeing a small sliver of the planet and its culture, since it ultimately is one of many razed by the Empire for refusing to play ball.
This sounds cool. Where do I learn more?
Your first stop should probably be the Nightsisters arc of The Clone Wars, since those episodes also overlap with a lot of what the Disney Plus shows, like The Mandalorian and Ahsoka, are doing, and give the clearest picture of what they’re like in current continuity. The arc kicks off in season 3, episode 12, “Nightsisters,” and runs through the next two episodes, “Monster” and “Witches of the Mist.”
They tell a self-contained tale about Asajj Ventress, the villainous Dathomiri Sith apprentice to Count Dooku. When Dooku betrays her, Ventress returns home to the Nightsisters for revenge. The Nightsisters trilogy lays the groundwork for a lot of stories, the most important being the fate of Darth Maul (the final arc of season 4) and, eventually, the conclusion of the Mandalore story in animated form (until it is revisited in The Mandalorian).
Outside of The Clone Wars, things get a little messy, as Dathomir and the Nightsisters are one of the aspects of Star Wars lore that got a lot of attention in both the Legends timeline and the current canon. The various comics and books weave in and out of canonical status, so The Clone Wars is best for those looking for some grounding going forward; everything else is gravy. Spooky gravy.