Why did they kidnap her (and keep her alive)? Do they use her for slave labor, or what?
The tent Shmi is kept in, and apparently tortured in, is under guard, so it seems like the sand people anticipated a rescue effort. What's the story there?
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Based on the Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Junior Novelisation, it appears that she was initially used as bait (by the Tusken raiding party), then taken to their camp where she was slowly tortured to death. Anakin's dreams may be prophetic in nature but it seems more likely that he was simply sensing her pain in real-time. The guards are likely there to discourage any further rescue attempts by the settlers:
Approx 30 days before her rescue
“It was just before dawn,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. “They came out of nowhere. A hunting party of Tusken Raiders —”
Cliegg was still talking. Anakin heard only snatches. “Thirty of us went out after her … I couldn’t ride anymore … This isn’t the way … been gone a month.” Anakin forced his attention back to the present, just as Cliegg finished heavily, “There’s little hope she’s lasted this long.”
Approx 20 days before her rescue
“You were dreaming about your mother earlier, weren’t you?” Anakin looked away. “Yes. I left Tatooine so long ago, my memory of her is fading. I don’t want to lose it. And lately I’ve been seeing her in my dreams — vivid dreams. Scary dreams.” His voice became lower and softer. “I worry about her.”
Approx 10 days before her rescue
Anakin opened his eyes and looked at her, and she could see in them all the torment he was feeling. “I saw my mother. I saw her as clearly as I see you now.” He swallowed hard. “She’s suffering, Padmé. They’re killing her! She is in pain….”
Anakin also notes (in his internal monologue) that the Tuskens generally torture captured humans for their own entertainment:
Anakin’s mind shut off. Tatooine was controlled by the Hutt criminal organization; it was a haven for smugglers, thieves, and other lowlifes. But even on Tatooine, the Tusken Raiders were considered vicious. They tortured people for fun, and they had his mother? He felt cold. No, Mom, no …
The Official Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Novelisation goes into a little more detail about the actual extent of her torture:
Annie was her comfort, her place to hide from the pain the Tuskens had, and were, exacting upon her battered body. Every day they came in and tortured her a bit more, prodding her with sharp spears or beating her with the blunt shafts and short whips. It was more than a desire to inflict pain, Shmi realized, though she didn’t speak their croaking language. This was the Tusken way of measuring their enemies, and from the nods and the tone of their voices, she realized that her resilience had impressed them.
I cannot think of any good reason that the Tusken Raiders would kidnap her, torture her, and keep her tied up in a tent for a month. There is no other example of this behavior by them in any of the other movies.
The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Palpatine set the whole thing up as part of his plan to lead Anakin down the dark path. When she Shmi dies, Anakin realizes that his Jedi training left him vulnerable. Since he was unable to save his mother, he becomes open to other paths where the ability to save life is possible.
That being said, the movie does not make this connection for the audience, so this is just a guess. I think the movie would have been better if it had, as it would have demonstrated some of Palpatine's ruthless scheming and Anakin's manipulation by Palpatine.
As Palpatine's pawns/puppets, the Tusken Raiders all end up slaughtered. This is a pattern that we see repeated over and over in the films. Palpatines pawns/puppets are often killed once they have filled their purpose. That's my take on the Shmi kidnapping/torture. Any other ideas?
Shimi was tortured and killed to lure Anakin and to begin his descent to the dark side. One clear reference was in episode 5 when Anakin (Darth Vader) uses the same tactic to lure his son Luke away by torturing Han. Han says they tortured him and never asked him a question. The Emporer was extremely brilliant in his plot to rule the galaxy. And having the powerful confused boy as his apprentice would more than secure his plan.