Star Wars has always featured magic, whether in the form of the elusive yet all-powerful Force that binds the galaxy together, or the numerous magic-based factions spread throughout the universe. While almost every Star Wars fan knows the general background and beliefs of prominent groups like the Jedi or the Sith, a decidedly less well-known faction can be found in the Nightsisters.
An ancient coven of witches who can trace their roots to the planet Dathomir, the Nightsisters have existed within Star Wars' expansive universe since the 1990s, first as a part of the non-canon Legends universe before their debut in the fan-favorite The Clone Wars. Since then, the Nightsisters have played an integral part in certain Star Wars characters' backstories, tying into the canonical history of such characters as Asajj Ventress, Maul, and Savage Opress, among others.
Despite the small yet pivotal role they've played in past Star Wars-related media, the Nightsisters remain steeped in mystery, with many casual Star Wars viewers perhaps unsure of who they are, what their beliefs are, and what their past relationship to the Jedi and Sith have been like.
From their origins on Dathomir to their dealings with Darth Sidious and Grand Admiral Thrawn, here is everything you need to know about the Nightsisters in Star Wars.
In contrast to the clean-cut origins of the Jedi and the Sith, the Nightsisters' conception remains largely unknown, with differing tales relating to their foundation coming from various sources. In one story, a disgraced Jedi Knight named Allya formed the Nightsisters following her banishment to Dathomir, instructing the native population on the magical properties of the Force and embedding them with a deep-seated hatred for the Jedi Order. (Novelist Dave Wolverton presented this theory in his 1994 Legends novel, The Courtship of Princess Leia, the first Star Wars book to feature the Nightsisters.)
In another story, the Purgills' hyperspace travels brought together the people of Dathomir and inhabitants from the Witch Kingdom of Dathomiri, a faction originally active on the isolated planet Peridea. As a result of the Purgills' migration, the Dathomiri's magical characteristics influenced the Dathomirians, giving rise to the Nightsisters' formation.
Whatever their origins, the Nightsisters became the dominant force on Dathomir within several centuries of their foundation. Though they divided themselves into a loose-knit formation of adjoining covens, the Clan Mother Talzin ensured the groups operated under one succinct hierarchy, maintaining peace and stability on Dathomir without the clans falling into competition or conflict against one another.
The Nightsisters' powers stem from Dathomir's rich supply of magical ichor – a powerful green mist that grants users a mystical connection to magic (known as “magick” to the Nightsisters). By harnessing this magical ichor, the Nightsisters could perform any number of miraculous feats, from conjuring their own luminescent weapons to resurrecting deceased corpses. Due to their intrinsic reliance on the substance, the Nightsisters rarely traveled off-world, preferring to live in isolation on Dathomir and maintain their magical connections.
As a matriarchal society, the Nightsisters valued their coven's survival above all else, placing greater importance on the clan as a whole than on individual Nightsisters or the Nightbrothers who served them. Dividing themselves based on gender, the Nightsisters never invited their subservient Nightbrothers – male Dathomirian Zabraks – to join their ranks, preferring to use them as attendants and foot soldiers.
While the Nightsisters place greater power in the properties of “magick,” the Jedi and Sith likened their beliefs more to the Dark Side of the Force than the Light. However, such assumptions are a dramatic oversimplification, with the Nightsisters preferring to see themselves as a separate entity unaligned to either the Dark or Light Side.
Though most of their beliefs resemble those of the Sith than the Jedi, they lack the ambition and fundamental emotion that characterizes all Sith warriors, as well as valuing clan loyalty over individual aspirations for greater power. Likewise, the Nightsisters lack the same restrictive rules of the Jedi Order, maintaining a more dispassionate view of the galaxy than the judicious peacekeepers attached to the Jedi. Still, their rigid hatred of the Jedi often made them consequential allies of the Sith, the two factions sharing a common enemy in the Jedi Order over the centuries.
Connection to Darth Sidious, Asajj Ventress, and Maul
Because of their isolationist habits, the Nightsisters continued to reside on Dathomir as the Republic expanded their rule over multiple planets of the galaxy. In 54 BBY, Mother Talzin gave birth to the Nightbrother, Maul, a quiet and withdrawn young Zabrak who had difficulty controlling his anger. Four years later, in 50 BBY, Talzin reluctantly gave up the newborn Nightsister, Asajj Ventress, to the criminal Hal'Sted, buying her people's safety in exchange for the infant Ventress' life.
In 40 BBY, the aspiring Sith Lord Darth Sidious arrived on Dathomir, aspiring to find a new apprentice. Impressed by Talzin's knowledge of magick, Sidious initially hoped to recruit her as his pupil, although he soon became drawn to her young son Maul's underlying rage. Betraying Talzin, Sidious whisked Maul away from Dathomir, converting him into an acute Sith warrior. Infuriated by the loss of her son, Talzin vowed vengeance against Sidious, converting her fellow Nightsisters into dedicated opponents of the Sith moving forward.
War against the Sith and near-extinction
In the years leading up to the Clone Wars, the Nightsisters continued to focus on their machinations on Dathomir rather than the ongoing political conflict sweeping the galaxy. Partway through the war, Ventress – now a fully-trained Sith warrior – returned to Dathomir after being betrayed by her master, Count Dooku. Seeking help in her quest for revenge, Ventress reconnected with a similarly vindictive Talzin, who used her magick to transform the Nightbrother Savage Opress (Maul's younger sibling) into an imposing, agile warrior.
Organizing a deft plan, Ventress had Opress masquerade as a promising new apprentice to serve under Dooku, getting close enough to the Sith Lord to kill him. Realizing he was little more than collateral to Ventress and Dooku, Opress turned his back on both his masters, searching for the debilitated Maul on Lotho Minor.
Rescuing his maimed older brother, Oppress returned Maul to Dathomir, where Talzin restored Maul's deranged mind and outfitted him with a pair of sturdy cybernetic legs. With Opress by his side, Maul then embarked on a quest to supersede his former master Darth Sidious, conquering the galaxy through his vast criminal empire (a formidable alliance known as the Shadow Collective).
Around this time, Dooku – unraveling Ventress' plot on his life – sought revenge against the Nightsisters, dispatching General Grievous and a battalion of droids to decimate Dathomir. The ensuing conflict came close to extinguishing the Nightsisters in their entirety, with only a handful of survivors remaining (including Ventress and Mother Talzin).
Recognizing the trouble caused by Maul with his Shadow Collective, Sidious arrived on Mandalore to dispatch his former apprentice, killing Opress and taking Maul prisoner. Transporting Maul off-planet, the infamous Nightbrother managed to escape his captivity, reuniting with his mother on Dathomir to draw the Sith to the planet. There, the duo battled General Grievous and Darth Sidious in the Second Battle of Dathomir – a conflict that ended with Talzin's death, Maul's retreat, and the virtual extinction of the Nightsisters as an organized rival to the Sith.
Despite their near dissolution following the Second Battle of Dathomir in 19 BBY, the Nightsisters continued to live on, albeit in a fragmented, weakened state, with many of its members going into hiding. In addition to the isolated sects spread across the galaxy, several Nightsister spirits were able to speak from beyond the grave, at one point menacing the crew of the Ghost after they attempted severing the force connection between Ezra Bridger and Maul.
At the height of the Empire's rule, differing clans of Nightsisters either aligned with the Emperor or attempted to undermine Sidious's tyranny. Some, like the young Dathomirian Merrin, joined organized rebel movements to destroy the Empire and restore the Republic. Others, like Morgan Elsbeth, joined the Empire, using their influential position in the government to subjugate entire planets and advance their personal agendas. In the case of Elsbeth, the Nightsister's ruthless ambition won her favor among some of the Empire's most prominent figures, including her superior, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
In 2 BBY, amidst the Siege of Lothal, Grand and his fleet were banished to the isolated extragalactic planet Peridea, alongside Rebel soldier Ezra Bridger. Following his arrival to this enigmatic new world, Thrawn met three of the planet's original inhabitants: the Great Mothers, descendants of the Witch Kingdom of Dathomiri. Assisting each other in the hopes of leaving Peridea behind, Thrawn used the Nightsisters' magick to rebuild his army and communicate with Elsbeth in the known galaxy.
While Thrawn's tactical, analytical mind prevented him from forming a deeper connection to the Nightsisters, he relied on their magick to flee Peridea. Per their pre-arranged bargain on Peridea, Thrawn then transported the Great Mothers to Dathomir once they returned to the galaxy, even at the cost of Elsbeth's life.