The Star Wars universe is filled with weird and wonderful creatures and ever since the Cantina scene in A New Hope, audiences have been treated to a dizzying array of species in that galaxy far, far away. Some are huge, and some are tiny. Some are smart, and some just want to eat you. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic creatures in the galaxy.
Scary Star Wars Creatures
Drama is built on conflict, and what better conflict is there than having our hero’s life in real and immediate peril from a giant beast? Star Wars have never shied away from the classic monster, and here are some of the most famous.
This snow beast on Hoth was genuinely scary when it made its appearance in The Empire Strikes Back, but mostly because we never really saw it. With just a few quick shots that gave us hints about its power and size, the wampa existed mostly off-screen and in our imaginations. Coupled with a suspenseful music score, this Hitchcock-eques film technique worked perfectly. Luke Skywalker struggles to escape his icy bonds, his expression of fear all we need to see as the wampa looms closer.
In the re-release of the Original Trilogy (and with better special effects available) Lucasfilm decided to add a few shots and actually show us the wampa. Okay, it’s cool to see it, but the dramatic tension of the scene was diminished.
Return of the Jedi upped the ante on monstrous creatures for Luke Skywalker to face down, and the rancor was introduced in a similar way. Our first exposure to it is nothing more than desperate screams and terrifying roars from below. But the good news is, when we finally see the rancor, the scene was built to send chills down our spines. This creature is huge, with big teeth and enormous claws, and the bones strewn about its lair give evidence to the fate of its victims.
But the surprise twist at the end of the encounter, with the rancor’s handlers sobbing with grief at its passing, is a wonderful moment. It softens our image of this monster and has made the rancor into something more than just a powerful foe. It was somebody’s pet, and it will be missed.
In keeping with his criminal mastermind reputation, Jabba the Hutt has more beasts than just a rancor and Return of the Jedi quickly moves on to another killing machine: the sarlacc. This creature serves more as a backdrop to the action as Luke Skywalker and friends fight their way free, but its ominous presence is enough to add a real sense of danger to the battle.
I have to question the design of the sarlacc, though. No matter how big and nasty it is, how much food is it really going to get staying buried in the Tatooine desert? Sure, if you have a steady supply of Hutt prisoners brought to you, life is good – but what happens when that supply stops? I guess, since the sarlacc digests its prey over a thousand years, it’s got some time to work that problem.
The gundark deserves mention not because of any scene in any Star Wars movie, but because of a single reference to it in The Empire Strikes Back. As Luke Skywalker recovers after his wampa battle, Han Solo says that he looks, “Strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark.”
The fact that Han makes this reference (and the whole room understands him) suggests that the gundark is one of the most feared creatures in the galaxy. That comment stood in isolation for thirty years, until Lucasfilm finally revealed this beast to audiences in an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and R2-D2 are trapped in a cave and forced to defend themselves against these vicious creatures. With four arms, a nasty temper and pretty small ears (thus hard to grab), they easily live up to their reputation.
The Godzilla of the Star Wars universe, the Zillo Beast is an enormous creature with skin impervious to blasters and light sabers. Nearly 100 stories tall, this creature is awakened on Malastare by a prototype Republic bomb and subdued long enough to be captured and brought to Coruscant. Considered by most to be a “dumb animal” it was likely Force-sensitive. Very aware of the presence of Sith Lord Darth Sidious, when it breaks free it rampages across the city in pursuit of the Sith Lord.
The Zillo Beast is ultimately killed in a desperate battle, but we never find out what happens to the body. It could be that Palpatine had the creature sent for study, no doubt hoping to develop clone armor immune to light saber strikes as part of the Sith plot to destroy the Jedi.
Gross Star Wars Creatures
Some creatures are scary, but others are just gross. And then, occasionally, you’ll get one which is both. Not every monster in Star Wars is big and powerful, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less nasty.
Perhaps the first “monster” in Star Wars, the dianoga lives in the trash compactor on the Death Star. Like the wampa, we never see the entire creature, and that fact is a major part of the suspense. We see enough of it to know that it’s gross (it does literally live in garbage, after all), and clearly it’s strong enough to pull a grown man underwater (but strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark?). Otherwise, we don’t learn a lot about its stinky, watery world.
Nor do we want to.
Some might argue that Salacious Crumb isn’t a “creature” because he has a name and seems to be somewhat sentient, but I’m happy to throw him on this pile. His species is the Kowakian monkey-lizard and he’s gross not so much for what he looks like but for his attitude. I mean seriously, who laughs at people being eaten?
It was a fine moment, beautifully understated by Lucasfilm, in The Mandalorian when we see a street vendor offering barbequed Kowakian monkey-lizards as snacks. Who’s laughing now, Crumb?
Pretty much everything about the Geonosians is gross, but the absolute worst is the brain worm their queen unleashes on her Republic enemies. These tiny beasts are exactly what they sound like – worms little bigger than a human finger that crawl into people’s heads and control their thoughts. We first see one about to be used on Jedi Master Luminara Unduli after she’s captured by the Geonosians, but then a few more get loose on a clone ship and take over the entire crew except Ahsoka Tano.
The brain worm episode plays out like an 80’s horror flick, with our heroes isolated and being taken down one by one by an unknown enemy. Both gross and scary, the mind worm is a dangerous enemy that leads to a fine bit of story telling.
Cute Star Wars Creatures
Of course, not every Star Wars creature is evil or dangerous. Some of the most beloved elements of Star Wars come in the form of cute, warm, fuzzy or just plain adorable.
Although a source of great controversy among fans today, it should be noted that back when Return of the Jedi first hit theaters, the Ewoks were almost universally loved. The kids were all in for these plucky, diminutive freedom fighters and most adults just sat back and enjoyed the fun. Thirty years later, audiences have evolved and the ewoks often get derided as silly, furry caricatures, but I have to say that Lucasfilm hit the mark back in 1983. In their day, the ewoks fit perfectly into what Star Wars was, fur and all.
I don’t know if Lucasfilm was aware of the Ewok Debate within fandom, or just wanted to stoke the fire, but the Star Wars creature shop doubled down on the cuteness with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and gave us porgs. A cross between penguins and puppies, these little creatures served no purpose to the plot. But they did offer a few laughs and helped to fill out the native life forms on the planet Ahch-To.
Apparently the porgs were originally created to mask the hundreds of real-world puffins native the Irish island where the movies were being filmed. I’m willing to accept this history as described, but don’t tell me that Lucasfilm didn’t see a huge merchandizing opportunity here. Am I upset by this? Meh. I grew up on ewoks and endured gungans. I can accept porgs into my Star Wars universe.
Lanai Caretakers (Fish Nuns)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi didn’t stop with porgs, revealing that Luke’s Jedi hideaway is cared for by a strange community of creatures known officially as the Lanai Caretakers but known on Twitter, Insta, Facebook and pretty much every online site, blog and podcast where Star Wars fans gather, as the Fish Nuns. And I gotta say, the name fits.
Why these curious folk were called to serve a disengaged Jedi Master on a remote island is beyond me, but I assume they received some sort of sign from the Force. If they’re native to the planet maybe they consider it an honor. In any case, they add some genuine humor to the movie and no-one seems offended by them, so I call that a win for Lucasfilm.
Lucasfilm was clearly on a roll in Star Wars: The Last Jedi as they kept on creating cute creatures. The vulptex are never named in the movie, and most fans only know them as the “crystal critters”, but they’re not just there to add a bit of bling to the film’s final act: they do actually serve a purpose in the plot. When the last remnant of the Resistance are cut off, surrounded and under attack by the First Order, the vulptex suddenly disappear from the cave, suggesting that there’s another way out. One of the litter critters then reappears, leading our heroes to a secret escape route.
Okay, so it’s not a large role in the movie, but it’s more than the porgs contributed.
This little tyke isn’t really a creature, per se, but he’s just the cutest darned thing in all of Star Wars. The runaway star of The Mandalorian, this Force-wielding, 50-year-old toddler is the same species as Yoda. His green skin, large ears and rascally character make it easy to think he’s directly related to the powerful Jedi Master, but we don’t actually know his history. He could be the child of Yoda and Yaddle, the only other member of this species we’ve ever met, in Phantom Menace. Or he could be proof that Yoda had a bit of action on the side – it all depends on how tall Baby Yoda gets, and whether he grows togruta lekku or some other sign of mixed parentage.
And I know, he’s actually called Grogu. Whatever – Baby Yoda rules.
Star Wars Creatures You Can Ride
With all the worlds featured in Star Wars, our heroes and villains have to navigate a wide variety of terrains. Good thing Lucasfilm gave us plenty of animals who can carry a rider.
Found on Tatooine, the banthas are what you’d get if woolly mammoths and big-horn sheep had kids. Very large kids. These beasts are as tall as an elephant with long, shaggy fur and massive, curling horns over their eyes. How they manage the heat on Tatooine with those coats is a mystery, and I wonder if they were brought to the planet by off-worlders, then stolen by the tusken raiders and bred to survive in the desert. To be fair, it also gets very cold at night, so maybe their fur acts as insulation in the cold and sunblock in the heat.
As with most things in Star Wars, especially things from the original 1977 movie, sometimes it’s best to just not ask the question.
Now these are animals I can believe are native to Tatooine. Basically giant, wide-body lizards, patrol dewbacks are the perfect design for beasts of burden in a desert climate. Gentle but strong, easy to ride and capable of carrying a lot of cargo, these creatures are an essential part of Tatooine society.
By why, oh why, are they called patrol dewbacks? Come on, Lucasfilm! Even in 1977 you could do better than that! I get it: nobody thought this crazy sci fi movie was going to go anywhere or get noticed by anyone. But surely, once Star Wars became the cultural colossus it is, surely you’d have gone back, done a bit of retcon and actually given these poor beasts a real name? (And shortening it to “dewbacks” doesn’t count!) I mean, you were happy to retcon the Force! If somebody was all over the name “midichlorian” you might have said it was just the name of those reptile mounts everybody uses on Anakin’s home planet. I’d have bought it. And maybe one of them could have eaten Jar-Jar, too. I’d have totally been into that. It would have actually made Jar-Jar funny (at least, I’d have been laughing like Salacious Crumb).
Anyway. Let’s move on to The Empire Strikes Back and Hoth, where the Rebels found themselves a totally awesome mount. Tauntauns are kind of like giant, furry kangaroos with dinosaur feet and big horns growing from the sides of their faces. Of all the worlds Star Wars visits, Hoth is one of the most evocative, and the tauntaun’s presence in the very first, establishing shots has made it an iconic form in Star Wars.
Tauntauns themselves don’t fare well in the movie. Luke’s gets killed and eaten by a wampa. Han’s freezes to death and gets sliced open to by Han to keep a near-dead Luke warm in a howling winter storm. I’m sure the local tauntaun herd was grateful when the Empire busted up the Rebel base and all the off-worlders left.
Anyone who’s ever met a camel will appreciate where the idea of eopies comes from. Another desert mount, these creatures are ugly, stubborn, bad-tempered and flatulent. They probably have nasty rashes and skin tags, too. You’d have to search pretty hard to find a more obnoxious beast of burden, but at least they never try to eat our heroes. And they’re pretty chill in front screaming crowds as they tow pod-racers onto the field during Phantom Menace.
I don’t know if this bulbous creature technically belongs in this category, but in Attack of the Clones, while visiting a beautiful field on Naboo, Anakin Skywalker tried to impress Padme Amidala by momentarily riding one of these poor creatures. The attempt failed, and was painful to watch, but by playing dead Anakin managed to bring Padme running, all concerned. So I guess his move worked…?
I feel bad for shaaks, and all of Naboo, frankly, that they got dragged into this painful teen romance. At least we didn’t have to watch Anakin adding articles to his blog about how he was so close to scoring with Padme. Attack of the Clones is the worst Star Wars movie, and the shaak scene ranks high as one of the worst moments in it. Poor shaaks.
One of the showcase creatures of Revenge of the Sith, varactyls are giant, nimble lizards with bird-like heads from Utapau. Obi-Wan Kenobi rides a varactyl into battle against General Grievous and his droid army, then rides it again to flee from his own clone army who turn against him when Order 66 is enacted. The varactyl is capable of great speed, can climb walls and is remarkably agile for a creature so large. No doubt it was a wild ride for Kenobi.
This creature is just weird. Seen in The Force Awakens when Rey rescues BB-8 from an unscrupulous junk trader, it’s apparently a hybrid organic-cybernetic creature. Easier to control than a real animal but able to regenerate itself better than a droid, the luggabeast is seen as ideal for harsh climates like the desert of Jakku.
The last creature from The Last Jedi we’re discussing today, fathiers are monstrous beasts used for sport racing at the great casino in Canto Bight. Looking like a cross between a dog and a deer, and then amped up to the size of a dinosaur, fathiers are gentle, herd animals that would normally live in peace. In the close quarters of the casino city, though, their huge size and instinct to stampede leaves devastation in their wake.
A creature with a most curious design form, blurrgs are surprisingly popular mounts across the galaxy. We initially see them in Star Wars: The Clone Wars as the mount of choice for twi’lek freedom fighters on Ryloth. They also show up on the backwater planet Arvala-7 under the care of ugnaught Kuiil. These very different circumstances reveal blurrgs to be versatile creatures, capable of both rapid sprints and extended marches.
Their body design is almost comical – basically a giant head with legs, a tail and tiny arms. But they’re big enough animals that they might be able to fit in a full set of internal organs behind those jaws, and if T-Rex can get away with teensy arms, why can’t blurrgs?
Star Wars Creatures in Space
One of the ways Star Wars really stretches the imagination is the way it treats outer space like just another biome. Creatures can live in the vacuum and some can even travel between stars. It’s moments like this when we have to remember that Star Wars is space fantasy – not pure science fiction – and just enjoy it.
Infamous parasites hated across the galaxy by pilots and mechanics, mynocks are organic creatures that live in space and are drawn to the power emissions of spaceships. We get a close-up view of one in The Empire Strikes Back as it slams its sucker-mouth down on the Millennium Falcon‘s canopy, startling Leia. Han and Chewie are more annoyed than anything, having dealt with these pests many times in the past.
As we learn to our surprise, mynocks don’t just live in deep space, but can also live inside other spacefaring creatures. A classic moment of Empire is the realization that the Falcon wasn’t hiding inside a cave, but rather inside the belly of an exogorth, a massive space slug making its home in the asteroid field. An exogorth hunts by setting a trap – by creating the appearance of a safe site in which a smaller creature might hide. Rather than expending energy to search for prey, the exogorth entices its food to come to it.
One of the biggest additions to Star Wars galactic lore offered by Star Wars: Rebels, the purrgil are peaceful, intelligent, whale-like beasts that not only live in deep space but have also developed an organic way of travelling through hyperspace. Again, it’s best not to ask questions here, but to just accept the magic and go with it. Hyperspace is a reality in the Star Wars universe, so in a galaxy this big it’s not inconceivable that highly evolved animals might develop a way to use it naturally. Don’t search for technical specs for a purrgil – just accept the wonder of it all.
The Cosmic Menagerie of Star Wars Creatures
The diversity of living beings in Star Wars is great fun, giving our heroes plenty of opportunities for drama, adventure and surprise. I know that there are hundreds of other creatures featured across the movies and TV shows, and I hope this little list has whetted your appetite to explore further.
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning, best-selling author and ghostwriter of science fiction and space fantasy series. His newest novel is coming in Spring 2024.