Today is Star Wars Day, so we thought we’d give some suggestions as to the animal inspirations for several of the aliens seen in the Star Wars universe. Some of these are backed up from accounts of the creators, but others are our best guesses as to where they got their inspiration! We have kept to the more main stream films and TV series in order to make the creatures as familiar as possible!
1. Rodian – First seen in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
The bounty hunter Greedo, who confronts and is shot dead by Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina is of the Rodian alien species. Though they have elements of other animals (such as a tapir like snout and toad like skin) the main inspiration for this species would appear to be a fly. In this case we’ve picked the green bottle fly to match Greedo’s colour.
Greenbottles are one of the most well-known, and disliked, insects. This is because they lay their eggs on rotting material such as dead animals, as well as on faeces and other waste. They are therefore disliked as carriers of disease. They also cause ‘sheep strike’ where their maggots eat away at the flesh of livestock or pets, preventing an open wound from healing. However, maggots from sterile, medical grade stocks are used in maggot therapy as a way to prevent gangrene in wounds. And they provide food for many animals such as insectivorous birds.
2. Porg – First seen in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
Whilst both these aliens and this film splits the opinion of viewers, they are based on a real creature, though heavily modified to create the aliens. The reason these creatures exist in the Star Wars universe is simply due to the fact that there were so many puffins on the real island of Skellig Michael, where the scenes were filmed, that it was easier to adapt the puffins into an alien instead of digitally removing them all.
Whatever your opinions of porgs, most people find their real world counterpart – puffins – adorable. Atlantic puffins are the most recognisable species and they nest around Scotland, Ireland (including Skellig Michael) and Northern England, as well as Canada, Iceland and Scandinavia. They feed on small fish and sand eels. Unfortunately they are threatened due to over fishing by humans.
3. Sarlacc – First seen in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
These giant creatures live in pits in the sand, with their entire body hidden from view and only their jaws and tentacles visible at the base of the pit. Jabba the Hutt seems to use them as a favoured method of executing his enemies. Take away the tentacles and scale them down to ant size, and in our world there is something very similar – the ant lion.
Ant lions are the larvae of lace wings. Lace wings are very delicate, harmless flying insects. But their larvae are voracious killers, if you’re unlucky enough to be an ant sized insect! Their pit is made in sand or other loose grained earth. The steep sides and loose grains of sand stop ants that slip in from escaping the pit, and they slide to the bottom into the waiting jaws of the ant lion.
4. Hutts – First seen in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
More manageable, Earth bound slugs are some of the most successful molluscs on the planet. Though they are gastropods (the snail family) most have lost their shell. They instead use a sticky mucus to protect their body from drying out. This mucus also has other uses such as helping them to move, and protecting them from predators.
5. Bantha – First seen in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
These shaggy cattle like animals are the favoured mounts of Tusken Raiders on Tatooine. They look a lot like oversized muskoxen found in the Arctic (a much more suitable environment for their thick fur coat!). For filming the costume was put onto an Asian elephant named Mardji.
The muskoxen from our world are found in Arctic North America and Greenland. However, they originally evolved in Germany and spread out across the arctic during the most recent Ice Age. They died off with the retreating ice, and possible early human predation, everywhere except in North America. Recently there have been attempts to re-introduce muskox to Arctic Russia and Scandinavia, from American herds.
6. Mynock – First seen in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
These space faring creatures that choose to snack on the Millenium Falcon in the stomach of a space worm seem to be a Bat and tapeworm hybrid. Their wings resemble the membranous wings seen in bat species found on earth. Their head has the grotesque hooked ring-shaped mouth of a tapeworm.
On earth bats are found globally (except in Arctic regions). Smaller species feed on insects whilst the larger species feed upon fruit. There is one exception though – the South American vampire bat. These are the only bats to feed upon the blood of mammals.
Unlike mynocks, tapeworms do not use their vicious looking mouths to eat with. Instead they use the ring of hooks to anchor themselves in the wall of an animals gut. It then absorbs its nutrients from the food the animal has eaten as it flows through the gut.
7. Ewoks – First seen in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
These furry creatures have clearly been designed to show what a teddy bear would look like if it was alive. As such their inspiration, much like the teddy, must be a bear.
Bears are found in every continent except Africa, Australia and Antarctica. They range in size from the Malayan Sunbear at about 1.2 m long to the Polar bear at about 3m in length. Bears are unfortunately threatened by hunting from both the fur industry in the West and for Asian medicine in the East.
8. Mon Calamari – First seen in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
Represented by Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi, the mon calamari are modelled after the head-body of octopus or squid. Octopus and squid are cephalopods belonging to the animal order mollusca.
This means they’re related to animals like slugs and snails. Despite this they are some of the most intelligent animals on earth.
9. Ortolan – First seen in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
These blue skinned aliens are first seen in Jabba’s Palace and are represented by keyboard player Max Rebo in the band entertaining Jabba the Hutt. Though often described as an elephant like species, we think they’re more like an aardvark. However, they may not have four legs like either of those real world counterparts.
Aardvarks are quite unusual in themselves. They have teeth unlike any other mammal – the teeth have no enamel coating and grow continuously as they wear down quickly without the protective enamel coating. They have a long snout and eat ants and termites like anteaters but they are not closely related to each other.
Honorable mention: That’s no space station, it’s a moon!
Saturn’s moon Mimas has a eerie similarity to the deathstar.
So do you agree with these possible real world inspirations for these aliens? Can you suggest any others or alternates for those mentioned? Feel free to add your suggestions to the comments below. Once we regain access to the collections we’ll add an additional gallery of examples from our collections.
Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences