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Since Episode VII came out a lot of information about the movie has become available through trading cards, books, video games, etc. Believe it or not, Jakku was once an important planet for the Empire. Keep reading after the break to find out why. Be aware, spoilers for The Force Awakens ahead.
At the beginning of Star Wars: The Force Awakens we find Rey searching for parts to salvage inside an old crashed Imperial Star Destroyer that is part of a ship graveyard. Thanks to the game Star Wars Battlefront, we know that an important battle between the Empire and the New republic happened here. If you haven't played the game, you can still assume that from the wreckage seen in many scenes: fallen Star Destroyers, crashed X-Wing fighters, an old AT-AT (Rey's home), etc. This battle happened one year after the Battle of Endor and way before Rey was dropped there by her parents.
Jakku is an isolated desert world in the Western Reaches. Not much happens there now besides some mining operations. Its biggest settlement, a trading post known as Niima outpost, is home to outlaws who want to escape their past. The main difference between Tatooine and Jakku would be the lack of long range communications and space ports on the latter.
Although a lawless planet, Constable Zuvvio and his Niima outpost militia guard the settlement. Survival rations are under the control of Unkar Plutt who exchanges them for parts and credits. He holds his control over the rations with the help of his lackeys who are always keeping an eye out for unauthorized barter or off-world food. Rey and other scavengers work for him.
Besides Niima outpost, there is another important settlement, a village known as Tuanul founded by worshipers of the Church of the Force. They believe in the ideals of the Jedi order and settled on Jakku so they could hide from the Empire shortly after Palpatine took control of the galaxy. This village is destroyed by Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma while searching for the map that leads to the first Jedi temple and to Luke Skywalker. Lor San Tekka was one of the village's leaders. He spent a good part of his life researching Jedi history, and eventually helped Luke in his own research.
Jakku was also once home to a secret Imperial research facility. Because of its secrets, The remnants of the Empire tried to hold this location for as long as they could. It became the last rallying point of the Imperial fleet. During the battle of Jakku, Star Destroyers were ordered to enter the planet's atmosphere to try to protect the base. As a last resort, doomed Imperial vessels used their tractor beams to drag New Republic vessels to make them crash onto the planet's surface. When the Imperial officers realized they had lost the battle, they destroyed the base to protect its secrets and then escaped into obscurity.