10 Star Wars characters with more history than you'd think

News Ben Allan 6 Apr 2009 - 22:04
10 Star Wars characters

Some of the walk-ons in the original Star Wars trilogy have gone on to new life in the extended Star Wars universe...

The mega-success of the Star Wars series (in box office, influence and popularity) is of course well-documented, but there is one unofficial record that it must have surely set that is rarely mentioned - that for the volume of media produced based on (originally) just 3 films. Through merchandise at first, and then novels, comics, and games, the sheer amount of officially approved Star Wars-related stuff is staggeringly immense.

As obsession with the films grew, people began to look at the movies at deeper and deeper levels, trying to wring more texture out of what was up on screen. Encouraged by the feel of a detailed, lived-in universe that George Lucas deliberately went for, fans looked past the obvious heroes of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, and started wondering about some of the people around them.

By the end of Return of the Jedi, Wedge Antilles, the Rebel pilot character who appears in all three films (and survives the major battles in each movie) had become a folk hero despite having about 10 lines total, and a veritable cult had sprung up around the character of Boba Fett, who managed to create a Star Wars legend through only three lines and, largely, standing around in the background looking dangerous.

This is all the more interesting because the films themselves gave fans little to go on with extra details, and even Star Wars names intimately familiar to fans don't show up in the movies themselves that much - no-one mentions "Star Destroyers" until Lando Calrissian suggests fighting them is a better idea than hanging around an operational Death Star in Return of the Jedi, "X-Wing" is mentioned briefly once in The Empire Strikes Back (but not in Star Wars, where they first appeared), and you can watch the entirety of Return of the Jedi without ever actually hearing the word "Ewok".

Cruise the Internet today and you can find the complete technical specifications of several different variants of Y-Wing ("The Y-wing's weapons are controlled by a Fabritech ANc-2.7 tracking computer with a SI 5g7 "Quickscan" vector imaging system"), despite the fact that no-one actually says the words "Y-Wing" in any of the films.

With fans feverishly mining the films for more information, the giant that is Lucasfilm and all of its many licensees have been quick to give the people what they wanted over the years. For starters, they had to have names to put on all those obscure action figures; you'll sell a lot of Han Solos, of course, but there's extra money to be made targeting the completionist collector who can't rest until he's got his mitts on a (pristine, unopened) Ree-Yees or Bib Fortuna.

Then as the Star wars Expanded Universe (EU) grew larger and larger, a host of licensed content authors and creators (most huge Star Wars fanboys themselves) took what opportunities they could to authenticise their own works by somehow connecting them directly with the Holy Grail that was the films themselves, no matter how tenuously; their brief might tell them that they weren't allowed to write about Luke Skywalker in this particular short story or comic, but that didn't mean that they weren't allowed to create the entire life story of alien guy X in the background of the cantina scene in A New Hope who appeared for 12 frames and, thus, was once in the same room with Luke Skywalker. Ahh, the reflected glory.

With these twin forces of demand and willing supply at work, there are not just few characters but few things that appear onscreen at anytime in the Star Wars films that do not have an officially approved name / explanation / biography recorded somewhere. It is within these vast swathes of data that true Star Wars geekery lurks, loading up on truly superfluous information and arguing the merits of the Blastech DL-44 (Han Solo's gun; illegal throughout the Empire) versus the Bryar pistol (Kyle Katarn's starter gun in the Dark Forces game; a late Old Republic weapon highly valued by blaster aficionados. Apparently.)

As something of a toe-dipping exercise into these murky waters, we look now at 10 non-speaking characters that pop up (briefly) in the films of the Original Trilogy - they may have no lines, but as we'll see, that doesn't stop them from often having a whole encyclopaedia's worth of past (and sometimes future) history assigned to their blink-and-you'll-miss-them selves. After reading this you too will be able to put names to the faces (or appendages) and might stand a chance of impressing the next true Star Wars geek you meet at a party. Well probably not a party; but somewhere, anyway.

1. Max Rebo

In The Films:
Universally known to the uninitiated as "That Blue Elephant Guy", the cuddly-looking Max Rebo leads, naturally enough, The Max Rebo Band, the musicians seen playing at Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi, and who go on to play a rather unfortunate second gig on Jabba's exploding sail barge. His ears flapping about as he enthusiastically pounds away on his keyboard-like instrument ("a red ball organ", according to the EU) and his rather obvious Muppet-rubbery have always made him look make him rather endearing to me.

The Backstory:
After a few misadventures typical of the early life of a band (including at one point a rumble with Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes, the band seen in the Mos Eisley cantina in A New Hope), and various machinations, Max ended up installed as a puppet (ha) figurehead of the band that bore his name, a move that backfired as he, being a lover of food, signed the band up to play at Jabba's palace for life, with their only payment being all the food they could eat.

Perhaps feeling that Luke and co. being responsible for the deaths of a bunch of innocent jobbing musicians with the destruction of the sail barge wasn't suitably heroic, EU author John Gregory Betancourt's short story "And The Band Played On: The Band's Tale" rescued Max (and the rest of his band) from his presumed offscreen death on the exploding barge by having him "jumping clear" of it at the last minute (try to imagine that guy jumping anywhere...). This little calamity does break up the band though, and Max subsequently goes on to join the Rebel Alliance as an entertainer of the troops (again being paid largely in food) and later opens a chain of restaurants called "Max's Flanth House". Mmmm...flanth.

2. Lobot

In The Films:
When the pressures of running Cloud City get too much, Lando Calrissian turns to his aide-de-camp Lobot, the bald guy with the cyborg headpiece that can apparently run Cloud City without even talking to anyone. It's Lobot that Lando dials up remotely on his wrist piece when he first decides he's had enough of the Empire pushing him around, the text he sends ("Brng troops im 2Xing the Mpire") obviously doing the job.

The Backstory:
The EU tells us that Lobot received his cyborg headpiece (the "Borg Construct Aj^6"...Borg Construct? Wrong franchise, people) as part of a punitive sentence for stealing on Cloud City when he was but a lad. Sentenced to 15 years of community service, they drilled a couple of holes in his skull, plonked on the hardware and hooked his brain up to the central computer, allowing him to control "issues of bureaucracy, law enforcement, computer programming and repair, and security, as well as the communication systems, repulsorlifts, and life-support systems."

Lobot served on and on at Cloud City thoughout the administrations of Lando, the Empire, Zorba the Hutt, had numerous adventures out and about with Lando in the post ROTJ universe, and in one weird episode (thanks to the rubbish but still officially canon PlayStation game that was Star Wars Demolition) even tried at one point to sneak into Jabba's palace on Tatooine on a mission of revenge, almost ending up as Rancor food and then being forced to participate as a contestant / gladiator in Jabba's demolition derby tournament. Okaaaay.

3. Arvel Crynyd

In The Films:
OK, so I'm cheating a bit here because Mr Crynyd does have a couple of lines ("Green leader, standing by" and "AAAAAAAAAAAA!"), but it would be positively wrong NOT to call attention to this plucky kamikaze pilot who so bravely and suicidally pilots his stricken A-Wing fighter directly into the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer in Return of the Jedi, single-handedly taking the behemoth down, turning the tide of battle and highlighting a couple of rather obvious flaws in Super Star Destroyer design in the process:

"Should we have the shield generators all exposed on the top like this?"
"Yeah, it'll be fine."
"OK then...but should we have one tiny, central and rather exposed room with a big viewport in it that has total and sole control over the entire gargantuan ship?"
"Why not...what could possibly happen?"

Mind you, the Super Star Destroyer is brought to us by the Empire, the same people who could have eliminated the original Death Star's one fatal weakness (the thermal exhaust port) by bothering to bung a metal grill over it.

The Backstory:
Not even the hackiest EU writer could get Arvel out of that death - there's no "jumping clear" of a fiery high speed collision in space - but they did see to it that he was posthumously awarded the "New Republic Medal of Bravery" for his actions. Not content with that, the "Crynyd Award" for acts of conspicuous bravery in space-to-space fighting was named in his honour, and later a captured Star Destroyer (appearing in the game Star Wars Dark Forces: Jedi Knight) was renamed the Crynyd, (a la the USS Nimitz). Respect.

4. Kal'Falnl C'ndros

The Films:
Pointing Kal'Falnl C'ndros out to friends and family when she pops up in A New Hope is sure to earn you massive geek cred / humiliation, as she exists solely in the film as this giant, vaguely avian pair of legs that walks through the front of a shot as Luke is selling his landspeeder. One can only wonder what the rest of that body might look like...

The Backstory:
..and it's the EU to the rescue on that front:

One of the great leaps forward for the, ahem, prominence of background characters in the movie was the release of the first (now defunct) Star Wars collectible card game in 1995. The officially licensed creators of the game, Decipher, were obviously keen to create the vast number of different cards one needs to create a decent (not to mention profitable) trading card game, and having decided on photo illustrations for the cards, set about strip-mining every frame of the films for content, meaning a good number of background items and extras that didn't already have a name or description already soon got one.

Someone at Decipher obviously spotted the mysterious legs and decided they need their own name and an explanation: "A female Quor'sav, a warm blooded avian / monotreme species. 3.5 metres tall. Over-protective mother. Freelance pilot. Has custom-built ship with tall corridors. Lays eggs." Picking the ball up and running with it, a companion guide to the Star Wars RPG later produced the giant space-turkey illustration pictured and elaborated that the heavily apostrophied Kal'Falnl was a smuggler and traveller - not much meat there (except on the drumsticks, obviously). But Decipher hadn't just pulled the Quor'sav race completely out of their own arses - they had got the name and right description for the race from a baddie character in the exotically-named novel Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Osseon, released way back in 1983 and presumably based on that original pair of legs from the 1977 film. So goes the often strangely cohesive world of Star Wars continuity.

5. The Tonnika Sisters (or ARE THEY?)

In the Films:
Spotted lurking at the bar in the cantina in A New Hope, these two ladies seem somewhat out of place in the criminal-filled, rough-and-ready atmosphere of Chalmun's Cantina - until you find out that on the set the characters were often nicknamed the "Star Whores". Classy. Their appearance almost conjures up an alternate, much seedier series of Star Wars movies, the kind of films where, just say, Han is hanging out with some space floozy when Luke and Obi-Wan first roll up to meet him...but George Lucas is the guy that brought us the Ewoks - that would surely never happen?

Hmmm.

The appearance of the Tonnika sisters and planned inclusion of this "Jenny" character, later obviously deleted from the final film, almost makes one wonder if Lucas was making these seedier films, and then for some reason changed his mind...wait, the Ewoks. Nah.

The Backstory:
"Galaxy Guide 1: A New Hope", a supplemental rulebook / expansion for the Star Wars RPG first published in 1989, was first to identify the sisters by name, and told us that the two (Brea and Senni) were a pair of con artists of the Kiffu species who ran several notorious scams on high profile targets from crime bosses to high-ranking Imperials. Being identical twins who were exactly the same height, many of their cons were based around their trick of posing as a single individual, Bresanni, and at one point Han Solo (having gotten to know them while hanging around in the cantina, clearly) gets them to use this trick to play a practical joke of sorts on Lando Calrissian. So far, so good.

But then alert fans began to notice that - oops - the characters that appear in the films are in no way identical twins. Since what appears in the films has absolute primacy in the hierarchy of official Star Wars canon, this was a bit of an embarrassing continuity glitch in the fabric of the EU (and true Star Wars nerds take this kind of thing very seriously).

Enter Timothy Zahn, alpha-author of the EU universe, to write a short story which in a nifty piece of retconning explains that the two women who appear in the film were not the Tonnika sisters, but in fact two members of a female warrior sect masquerading as the Tonnika sisters (having disguised themselves to avoid the Imperials after stealing a secret project which turns out to be part of the second Death Star's superlaser...naturally.) So officially the characters in the film often known as the Tonnika sisters, um...aren't really the Tonnika sisters at all. They are in fact Shada D'ukal and Karoly D'ulin of the Mystryl Shadow Guard, posing as the Tonnika sisters. Now that fact is stuck in your brain.

Handily for everyone, "Galaxy Guide 1" happened to have been written from an in-universe perspective - that of a Rebel alliance historian called Voren Na'al recalling stories of the characters involved - so the earlier contradictions with the movies could just be written off as the bad research methods of a Star Wars character, rather than a cock up by whoever was producing the RPG book in the real world (and poor old Voren Na'al's academic rep took a further pounding later when other EU sources turned Kiffu into a planet, rather than a race).

Similar excuses were used when Episode II was released and had a plot that completely ignored and overrided already published stories of Boba Fett's origins -these now officially debunked stories were quickly reattributed as some of the many "half-truths, fabrications and legends" that Boba Fett had encouraged to grow up around himself. Convenient.

6. IG-88

In the films:
In The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader's Force-choke muscles start to get tired from strangling all the inferiors that have failed to capture the Millennium Falcon, he decides to call in some bounty hunter contractors to do the job properly, much to the disgust of Admiral Piett. Joining Boba Fett in the line up for Vader's briefing ("No disintegrations!") is the heavily beweaponed bounty hunter droid IG-88. Those who may have experienced a feeling of deja vu when they first saw him maybe interested to know the head of the mechanical puppet had already appeared in A New Hope as a drinks dispenser.

The backstory:
EU writers really went to town with IG-88, perhaps fascinated with his status as the only obvious battle droid that appears in the original trilogy (before the prequels came along and told us that gun-bearing robots used to come in 24-packs). His origin story has him gaining sentience during his programming as an assassination droid, pausing only in his slaughtering of all the scientists that made him to transfer his consciousness into 3 more copies of himself and creating models IG-88 A through D. Together the 4 planned a droid revolution in which mechanical beings all over the galaxy would rise up and slay their biological masters. In the meantime they took tunrs bounty hunting to distrct attention away from their evil master plan (doesn't seem like a good way of keeping a low profile, but never mind). Unfortunately for them though, when IG-88B took the job of hunting down Han Solo from Vader, their competition was Boba Fett, whose filmic mystique had (and still is) long been extended by EU fan-service stuff to the point where he is the ultimate badarse.

Fett destoyed IG-88B on Cloud City, leaving him for scrap - if you watch the scene when Chewbacca rescues C3PO's parts from the furnace in Empire, you'll see junked droid parts that look just like him on the conveyor belt (a fact obviously not lost on EU writers trawling the film for minute details). IG-88s C & D were then destroyed by Fett in orbit over Tatooine when they came after him for revenge and attempted to claim Solo's carbon-frozen body and the bounty that went with it for themselves.

This left the original, A, who clearly feeling that he needed some more firepower, managed to upload his consciousness into a computer core destined for the second Death Star, effectively becoming the Death Star when installed (looking at those final scenes of Return of the Jedi in a whole new light now? No, thought not). But then just as he was about to use the Death Star to beam out the program that would cause every droid in the galaxy to rise in bloody revolt - boom, the Rebels blew the Death Star up, saving everyone not only from the Empire, but from IG-88 as well. Phew!

7. Pello Scrambas

In the films:
One of the first human faces to appear in the Star Wars films, Pello Scrambas is one of the poor bastards that gets the job pointlessly resisting the stormtrooper boarding party at the start of A New Hope.

"What's the plan?"
"Well, we kneel down here exposed in this corridor and hope somehow that they don't vastly outnumber us."
"I like it!"

Sadly this grand strategic plan doesn't pay so off so well, and poor old Pello catches a blaster bolt. He has to be considered pretty unlucky in this respect really, as this is just about only time in any of the three films that the stormtroopers actually display any competence as professional soldiers. Maybe Pello should have thrown away his blaster and tried a stone bow and arrow - it worked for the Ewoks.

The backstory:
Another character first named by the collectible card game (in the card "Rebel Squad Leader"), Lt. Scrambas' details were fleshed out in a competition for Star Wars fans called "What's The Story?" that continued between 2005 and 2008. Members of Hyperspace, the subscription service of the Star Wars official website, were invited to write background details for a number of existing extra characters in films that lacked the by-now mandatory complete life stories, pet hates and bank account details that were expected to belong to any entity that had appeared onscreen - no matter how briefly - in the movies.

The winning entry detailed Pello's past service in the Clone Wars on Alderaan, fighting on the front lines against the droid armies before becoming the personal guard of Jimmy Smits - er, sorry, Bail Organa. From there he became assigned to protect Bail's daughter...sweet job! Oh, wait. The story also provides the detail that he survived his initial wounding by the stormies and was captured, but was later cold-bloodedly executed. Those rotten Imperials.

8. Momaw Nadon

In the films:
Ah, Momaw Nadon. You sit in the cantina in A New Hope like a big, weird, alien thing. What are you doing there? What drinks are you ordering? And whereabouts do you put those drinks after you've ordered them? Sadly the film isn't going to tell us, since you're onscreen for less than 5 seconds in total. I wish Endor had been a planet full of you.

The backstory:
Luckily the EU owes its very existence to answering questions like these for interested, overly obsessive fans such as myself. The first Star Wars action figure set named the alien "Hammerhead" after its production nickname, and then the first RPG rule book in 1987 identified him one of a peaceful, tree-hugging members of the Ithorian race. Hippies with super advanced botanical skills, the Ithorians valued nature so much that they shifted their population to floating cities in orbit around their jungle planet so it would not be despoiled, and exiled any of their race with violent tendencies.

When the Empire demanded the advanced agricultural technology of the Ithorians, Momaw was forced to turn it over when an Imperial captain named Alima threatened to devastate Ithor from orbit. Even though he'd saved his planet, Ithorian elders took a hard line and banished Momaw into exile (presumably for negotiating with terrorists). He settled on Tattooine, cultivating his own little garden of Ithorian Bafforr trees, a species that achieved sentience in groups of 7 or more. All was groovy until he ran into Captain Alima, now demoted to stormtrooper, who demanded that Momaw help him find a couple of droids the Empire was looking for (yes, those ones).

To emphasise the threat he destroyed one of Momaw's Bafforr trees (thus taking them below the sentience threshold number). This was too much even for the pacifist Ithorian, who got a rather passive-aggressive form of revenge by telling the local Imperial commander (after the Millennium Falcon's escape) that Alima had ignored information he had given him about the droids. Before Alima could protest he was summarily executed on the spot (you have to love those Imperial disciplinary methods). Momaw was later forgiven for the terrible "crime" of saving his entire planet by the other Ithorians and permitted to return to his homeworld.

As far as where the drinks were going, turns out Ithorians have two mouths and four throats, so there was a choice. This little detail was put to use in the Gendy Tartakovsky Clone Wars cartoon series, in which an Ithorian Jedi demonstrated that they have a concussive "sonic bellow" ability, allowing them to literally blow enemies away merely by yelling at them. Neat.

9. Ghoel

In the films:
See that weird thing there in Jabba's throne room, trying to lick C3PO's head? That's Ghoel. Yes, it has a name.

The back story:
Right then, stick with me. It looks like just a weird rubbery snail, doesn't it? But no. Once again it was up to the Star Wars Collectible Card Game to give us the first inklings that Ghoel was more than just a weird, long-tongued thing on Jabba's ceiling, with this description: "Wol Cabbasshite. Immobile. Species evolved from parasites. Mistakenly left in Jabba's palace. No one suspects his intelligence. Often tries to lick passersby." No-one suspects his intelligence? Hmmm, intriguing...and so the "Wol Cabbasshite" species was put up for the "What's the Story?" competition. And the winnng entry...well, I feel we're best served by quoting the opening few paragraphs from the Wol Cabbasshite entry on Wookiepedia, the Star Wars wiki:

Wol Cabasshites were sentients originating on Wol Cabassh. Evolving from a non-sentient parasitic species, the Wol Cabasshites could survive in vacuum due to their genetic makeup, making them widespread across the galaxy by the Imperial Period. Their culture was built entirely on philosophy, rather than technology, and for communication they were able to exude a magnetic field wherein they "sang" to one another. This led to confusion amongst the other sentients of the galaxy, and the Wol Cabasshites soon came to be regarded as "bizarre.

Their texts would bestudied by the intellectual elite of the galaxy, and apparatuses were invented to allow Wol Cabasshites to properly interact with other sentients, but the dual-brained sentients instead preferred to simply eat and muse about the nature of the universe. Several Wol Cabasshites rose to prominence in galactic history the most famous being Jedi Master Omo Bouri.

Yup, those weird rubbery snails are galactic, vacuum-dwelling philosophers capable of becoming Jedis. There's more bizarre details in the whole, weird, superfluous history of Wol Cabasshites - "Wol Cabasshites reproduced by expelling their stomach linings, which became pupal Cabasshite" and "Adults were also able to exchange genetic material by grooming each others' tongues" for example - but I'm afraid they're getting too obscure even for me.

10. Unidentified Weequay Thrown Out of Sail Barge

In the films:
The dedication the the Discworld book Guards! Guards! reads as follows:

They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No-oneever asks them if they wanted to. This book is dedicated to those fine men.

If ever any extra in Star Wars films appeals to that same sentiment, it's this guy from Return of the Jedi. He pops his head out a side window of Jabba's sail barge - perhaps just to see what all the fuss is about - and finds himself face-to-face with Luke Skywalker, who let's not forget is at this point the 2nd (or at least 3rd) most potent warrior in the whole galaxy. So the odds are already against him, but then before the poor guy can even really get his bearings, Luke preemptorily grabs his arm and (with very little effort too, I might add) hauls him bodily out of the sail barge and down to the waiting maw (or in the Special Edition, the waiting Little-Shop-of-Horror-like jaws) of the Sarlaac pit below. Damn! Talk about your bad days.

The backstory:
In a dramatic break from tradition (and as you may have guessed from the heading), there isn't one. Even after 22 years of EU product and even after entire competitions designed especially to fill in the personal histories of everyone in Star Wars anywhere, there are still a few gaps. And so this character officially remains, for the moment, as merely "Unidentified Weequay Thrown Out of Sail Barge".

Sure, we know he's a Weequay, and so we can go educate ourselves all about his harsh, tribal warrior culture upbringing - but that doesn't tell us about the man himself. How did he come to fall into a life of crime working for Jabba? Did he leave any Weequay wife and kids behind? What was his favourite colour? Was he a good dancer? Did he go on to escape from the Sarlaac pit somehow? (Boba Fett did. Lamely.)

These unanswered questions still haunt me every time I hear his terrified cry on the way down.

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