As a bonus justification to the recently released edition of Jedi Justifications, I determined to address a little something that always bothered me in Return of the Jedi, but never enough to have considered it for this feature – the maudlin reaction of the Rancor Keeper to the untimely demise of his charge at the hands of Luke Skywalker. However a recent appearance of The Rantcor Pit at G33K3 Con. It was during a live recording of the show at this convention that someone from the audience posed the question, “Why do you never see a Rancor in the wild?”
He was speaking of course of the Rancor Monster from Jabba’s Palace which was, out of necessity, a captive beast. While a playful illustration that makes the rounds online depicts the Rancor Keeper adopting the creature as a juvenile and raising it into Jabba’s favorite means of dispatch for those who slighted him and its presence in one of my favorite books, The Wildlife of Star Wars, this justification duly ignores both as Expanded Universe. In each case there is express or implicit indication that the monster was indigenous to Tattooine. In that context the answer to the question of finding such an animal in the wild is answered with ease. However, Jedi Justifications is solely about what might be suggested by what is presented on screen.
In this case there is little to go on, really. It would be a simple leap of logic to join others in declaring that the Rancor is another denizen of Tattooine and therefore something one might find in its natural habitat somewhere on that planet. This was not the approach I took with my off the cuff answer to the question presented. I suggested instead that the reason they are not found outside of captivity is that Jabba the Hutt possesses the sole remaining specimen known in the universe. I extrapolated further saying that on its native world, the Rancor was hunted to near extinction. Ultimately only the one Jabba owns remained and found itself in his possession due in no small part to his wealth and standing.
To take this further I would posit that disregard for this dangerous species led to its extinction in the wild and was coupled with a failure at any viable captive breeding program until the animals numbers dwindled to a single-sex population. Over time all captive Rancors would succumb to disease or old age leaving only one in existence. A prized possession, Jabba’s specimen was put in the care of a trusted team of handlers headed up by the man who would come to be known as Malakili for the purposes of EU writings and a later action figure release. The Rancor’s keeper would have known only too well the unique nature of the creature in his care and would have diligently seen to its well being for a great many years before the arrival of Luke Skywalker.
The portly keeper, along with a trusted staff, would have come to look upon the maintenance of the troublesome beast as a welcome relief from duties “topside” in the palace proper. Court politics in the Hutt’s palace affected nearly everyone from the most well placed sycophants and popinjays to the most wretched of Jabba’s captives. That is, except those who held positions that no one else wanted. One such was the care and feeding of the gangster’s dangerous pet. Such a massive and belligerent creature would be impossible to control and difficult at best to train toward simple concepts like moving back into the holding pen when not devouring poor unfortunates that Jabba had sent down into the chamber below his throne room. Those who feed and, worse yet, cleaned up after, the Rancor were largely ignored by the rest of the court. Absolutely no one was vying for their place in the hierarchy, so the job provided a welcome repast for Malakili and his staff.
Then came the fateful day when a self-styled Jedi Knight came down the tube with one of the Hutt’s loyal guards. The Gamorrean suffered the same fate as all who had previously taken the deadly plunge and the intended victim looked to be providing a bit of sport before his inevitable death. Then the impossible happened. The intended victim managed to escape the Rancor’s maw and its grip and flee into the holding pen. While the staff dutifully harassed the captive, it was a dangerous proposition to have the beast seek prey in the section of its pit where live food was never offered. It had taken considerable effort to train it to distinguish the two sections of its habitat and taking a live meal in the wrong section could undermine the routine. But this was of little consequence ultimately in the life of the Keeper.
The potential for havoc aside, the Jedi’s next action once he found no means of escape at his disposal led to the undoing of Malakili. A stray skull proved an ideal missile for the intended victim to use to trip the manual control of the massive overhead door that separated the holding pen from the arena pen. This naturally led to the demise of the titanic monster and the end of its species for all time. Yet the overwhelming shock of the death of an animal that represented the last of its kind paled in comparison to the realization that the relatively soft duty and freedom from palace politics so long cherished my Malakili and his staff was instantly a thing of the past. It is little wonder that the otherwise stoic Rancor Keeper was reduced to a blubbering mass of raw emotions.
There is a silver lining to the cloud of grief exhibited on the silver screen, however. Given his position in the palace hierarchy, Malakili was not an invited guest or even on staff when his employer embarked on a pleasure cruise into the Dune Sea to dispatch his enemies, including the author of the Rancor caregivers abrupt unemployment, with a little help from one of Tatooine’s deadliest indigenous species. While his exclusion from the journey was in this case, as always, a relief, the resulting destruction of the Hutt’s sail barge and all on board relieved the former caretaker of any servitude to Jabba. Ultimately he would likely have secured a civilian position clearing dianogas from the trash compactors of the second Death Star where he could live out his remaining days in something akin to comfort.