Almost forty years ago, Luke Skywalker took his first step into a larger world, encountering strange worlds and exotic creatures, and we followed him with fascination as a desert planet soon gave way to a galaxy full of new aliens. Alien life forms, from the bizarre Dugs to almost-human Nightsisters, have always been a big draw for Star Wars fans. The iconic Mos Eisley Cantina scene famously introduced a vast creature cast, which included pseudo-Satanic beings and very large crickets. And in the new animated series, Rebels, the alien Zeb is one of the most important characters. His species, the Lasat, were based on early concept art for Chewbacca, and also bear a resemblance to the original, amphibious Han Solo.
In most cases, the memorable creatures from Star Wars began as rough sketches and simple phrases. Tauntauns were snow lizards. The two-mouthed Ithorian was known as Hammerhead, a nickname that entered official material. Some of the designs were made to be worn by people, while others involved puppetry or, in the case of Jabba the Hutt, a combination of both. Several designs were recycled or re-imagined as Star Wars grew, showing Lucas’ proclivities and style along with the franchise style.
Many aliens in Star Wars have tentacles and horns, or both in the case of the Chagrians. Others, like the Mon Calamari, are based on real animals. Hokey they may be, but the fishy heads are part of the charm.
Here is a list of the most stand-out alien species from Star Wars, where their designs originated, and why you need to know them to understand current Star Wars canon. This list references both canon and Legends stories, and counts only sentient species capable of higher intelligence. Not animals like the rancor…although they’re cool, too.
Jawas are the first aliens introduced in the Star Wars saga, and after almost forty years, they still remain one of the most mysterious specias in the galaxy far, far away. Known for their hooded cloaks and piercing yellow eyes, Jawas are native to Tatooine and mostly serve as traders on the desert planet, searching the dunes for any scrap that might be of value.
Besides their appearance, these little creatures have an equally foggy in-universe origin. The original Star Wars novel, From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, implies that the Jawas and the Sand People have a possible familial relationship. It’s also suggested that the Jawas could be rodent-like and devolved humans. Of course, when it comes to the Jawas, the juries still out.
Also known as Tusken Raiders, the Sand People originally appeared in the second draft of Star Wars as Imperial spies deployed to Tatooine to investigate Deak Starkiller, a character that didn’t appear in the final cut of the film. In that draft, they had red eyes and drove landspeeders in that draft. Sound designer extraordinaire created the Sand People’s distinctive howl from the brays of a donkey.
Wookies are first described in the 1974 draft of what was then called “The Star Wars,” as “huge gray and furry beasts,” according to J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars. Ralph McQuarrie’s early sketches of Chewbacca have high-set ears and small noses like the Lasat, while the next draft, with its rounded head, is more similar to the final Wookiees that appeared in the films. Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays by Laurent Bonzeru also describes Chewbacca as gray, with “large blue eyes.”
Lucas based Chewbacca in part on his Alaskan malamute, Indiana, who would sit in the passenger seat of his car. A bandoleer was part of the early designs and made the character look more technologically advanced.
Stuart Freeborn, who sculpted the Chewbacca masks, and George Lucas further refined the look of the physical mask. In The Making of Star Wars, Freeborn says that it was fascinating to make a monster who looked “friendly and nice for a change, instead of being menacing.”
Lucas would spend a little time every day changing Chewbacca’s nose. “I kept pulling the nose out and pushing it back in,” he says in the book. “It was difficult because we were trying to do a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat.”
The famous Greedo, with his saucer-dish ears and pimpled green skin, was designed to be one of the more recognizable of the cantina crowd. The cantina creatures in A New Hope were put together in one day by Stuart Freeborn, his wife, son, and six assistants, using George Lucas’s descriptions of Martians, pilots, and space pirates. Greedo was designed as a “Martian,” the green, bug-eyed aliens of Roswell pop culture.
Many fans know that Jabba the Hutt appeared in a deleted scene in A New Hope long before the sluglike mobster appeared as a computer-animated character in the Special Editions. Actor Declan Mulholland substituted for the alien, who most people know from Return of the Jedi.
In 1976, Lucas wanted to blue-screen an alien character in, but Fox wouldn’t provide the money he needed. “We actually cut the scene out before we got to the point of shooting the monster part,” Lucas says in The Making of Return of the Jedi by J.W. Rinzler.
Notes on the script of Return of the Jedi describe Jabba as “a repulsively fat sultan-like monster with a maniacal grin.” Phil Tippett developed the final slug-like design.
1980 concept art by Ralph McQuarrie, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, and others show that Jabba was always supposed to be fat, but was changed slightly into an alien with an enormous chin. For the Annotated Screenplays, George Lucas told Laurent Bouzerau that he originally imagined Jabba to be furry. Nilo Rodis-Jamero created a version of Jabba that looked like “literally Orson Welles.”
Yoda is not so much a case of an alien design being used for multiple creatures – instead, as with Ian McCaig using his fellow concept artists’ faces to test out designs for Darth Maul, Yoda reflects his creator. British makeup artist Stuart Freeborn based Yoda’s face partially on himself and partially on Albert Einstein, aiming for a wise look.
The female Jedi Master Yaddle, of the same species as Yoda, was based on the same concept art. According to the now-defunct Star Wars Databank, Iain McCaig produced a concept sketch of Yoda as a child, with a rounder face and white hair. McCaig said that the sketch was inspired by a story of a Tibetan boy who carried his younger brother 25 miles to escape the invading Chinese. Therefore, McCaig wanted to give Yoda/Yaddle a look that conveyed both youth and wisdom for a character George Lucas and Leigh Brackett envisioned in the script as a small, wise, frog- or Muppet-like character.
Irvin Kershner envisioned Yoda as eight or nine feet tell, but found that felt too cliche, and instead worked with the earlier ideas about the character being very small. Kershner also decided that Yoda should have “the traditional three fingers” like anthropomorphized animals in comics, he said in an interview with Laurent Bouzereau in The Annotated Screenplays.
The Gamorreans, the humanoid pig guards in Jabba’s palace, were originally described as “scaly guards,” with short snouts and green skin. Early concept art shows bug-eyed toothy characters.
During production of Return of the Jedi, Gamorreans were simply known as Pig Guards. The Legends Expanded Universe keeps their piggy traits, making them a relatively primitive and uncultured society – although mathematician Voort saBinring was biologically modified to be as or more intelligent than the average human.
There’s always a Twi’lek. Ever since their inception in Return of the Jedi, Twi’leks have been one of the most common species in Star Wars stories. That’s not a bad thing. Twi’leks are graceful and fun, and their multi-colored skins make them visually interesting. The first representative of the species was Jabba the Hutt’s majordomo, Bib Fortuna, and minutes later the dancing girl Oola.
In the storyboard for Return of the Jedi, Oola wasn’t always a Twi’lek. In art by Ray Carnon, she is described as the “bird lady,” and appears to be a dark-skinned woman with puffy hair. In an early draft of the script, Bib Fortuna is “a wizened old man dressed in a dark cloak and a tall hat.” Early art for Fortuna shows a horselike face wearing a top hat, and another with horns sticking straight up. So how did these two become the same, tentacled species?
Many monster masks and prosthetics were made for Jabba’s palace. Among them, Rinzler describes “snakeheads,” which may have been referring to both Twi’leks. The later version of Bib Fortuna was designed by Phil Tippett, who gave the species brain tails and pointed teeth.
The Ewoks in Return of the Jedi were to be accompanied by a long-legged, fuzzy creature called a Yuzzum, which also appeared in the Expanded Universe as a separate species in the Star Wars: Ewoks television show. The hirsute singer in the band that performs at Jabba’s Palace in the Special Edition is also a Yuzzum.
Admiral Ackbar was not always supposed to be the commander of the Rebel fleet. The three-eyed Ree-Yees mask from Return of the Jedi was originally slated for the role, but George Lucas favored the fish-like Ackbar.
The concept art was displayed as part of a meeting where George Lucas, Richard Marquand, and others chose which aliens would have background roles and which would be more significant. According to The Making of Return of the Jedi, Marquand chose to highlight Ackbar.
The concept art by Nilo Rodis-Jamero was simply titled “alien” and showed a bulbous-headed, salmon-colored fellow with a throat pouch.
The bear-like Ewoks were, as may be obvious from their appearance, originally intended to be Wookiees in Lucas’ early drafts of Return of the Jedi. The army of Wookiees that appears in Revenge of the Sith is the culmination of that plan, many years later. But during the planning for Return of the Jedi, Lucas wanted the Ewoks to be a primitive race, emphasizing the uprising of a species very close to nature against the more mechanical Empire.
The Wookiees, already represented by the technologically savvy Chewbacca, were too high-tech. So Lucas changed the Ewoks’ height and made them a different species entirely. The idea of a more primitive society winning over a technological one came in part from real world examples, Lucas said, including the Viet Cong and the American Revolution.
The Return of the Jedi novelization described the Sullustans as “a jowled, mouse-eyed creature.” But later reference books describe the Sullustans as “jowled, mouse-eared.” This is believed to be an error that first appeared in the 1987 Star Wars Sourcebook.
Although the planet Sullust was first mentioned in Return of the Jedi — it’s where the Rebel fleet rendezvous before their attack on the second Death Star — we didn’t actually get to see the planet’s surface until 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront.
In a recent article for StarWars.com, Kevin Beentjes described several aliens who had been changed into something new after the initial concept art phase, including the Neimoidians. Beetjes writes that Doug Chiang’s original designs for the Neimoidians were intended to look similar to Separatist battle droids. However, the look of their face was changed when it was decided that they would be brought to life by masked actors instead of animation. The earlier concept for the Neimoidians was used for the Geonosians later in the prequels, in Attack of the Clones.
Despite Jar Jar Binks, Gungans have a lot of potential. They’re amphibious warriors with alien weapons. They were used as an army in The Clone Wars, too. Their duck-billed faces were modeled not after modern ducks, but after the duck-billed dinosaurs, the hadrosaurs. Early concept art of Gungans by Terryl Whitlatch resembles diminutive, two-legged frogs. That idea was re-used twice in later Star Wars material.
In the 2001 video game Galactic Battlegrounds, the design was used for the Glurrgs, a non-sentient species that fills the role of worker drones for the Gungan army. In The Clone Wars, a similar look became the puffed-up General Meebur Gascon. His species is called the Zilkin.
Introduced as the bully Sebulba in The Phantom Menace, Dugs are one of the more unusual species in Star Wars. In part, this is because they weren’t constrained to being portrayed by an actor in a suit. Dugs walk on their forelimbs and manipulate with their legs, giving them a crab-like, low-slung appearance.
Concept art for Sebulba by Terryl Whitlatch shows the many frills and elaborate folds around the character’s ears and neck, and gives Sebulba a brighter purple, mottled coloring.
Zabraks like Darth Maul and the near-human Nightsister from The Clone Wars were linked far before the show declared that Maul was actually from Dathomir. An image of a red-clothed witch drawn by Iain McCaig was one of the early sketches in the development of Darth Maul’s look, and was later recycled for Mother Talzin in The Clone Wars.
Darth Maul’s final appearance was based on a Rorschach blot McCaig made by pressing the sides of an inked page together. Early concept art for Maul had him wearing feathers tied to his head, but the sculptors working on the prosthetics for the character interpreted them as horns, which became a central trait for the species.
It’s arguable that the Dathomiri from the Expanded Universe have enough clans and factions to count as a different species entirely, but in Legends, we only have the example of one clan, Mother Talzin’s Nightsisters. Zabraks and Sith witches became linked once again when The Clone Wars unified the two species in-universe, decreeing that Dathomiri could interbreed with Zabraks, and that Nightsisters kept Zabrak males as captives. This change came about in part because of Darth Maul’s backstory. No longer a native of Iridonia, The Clone Wars established him as a son of Dathomir instead.
Talzin retained the red color scheme of the Sith witch character that inspired Darth Maul, while her Nightsister soldiers combine that look with Zabrak tattoos.
Early concept art by Stian Dahlslett shows Palpatine’s advisor, Mas Amedda, the first representative of the Chagrian species, as an alien with four long horns and two bulbous head-tails similar to Twi’leks’, with the horns tied together. The final design kept two bullish horns and moved the other two to the bottom of the Chagrian’s face. In the Legends Expanded Universe, the Chagrians were an amphibious race, born as tadpoles.
The elegant cloners from Attack of the Clones were “a very deliberate nod to the classic aliens of Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” George Lucas said in Mythmaking: Behind the Scenes of Attack of the Clones. In both the film and The Clone Wars, Kaminoans inhabit a moral gray area, creating human clone soldiers with the same technology that Legends canon says they used to keep their own species, decimated by flooding, alive. Lucas also said that their evolutionary ancestors might have been dolphins or salamanders, evident in their gray skins and hairless heads.
Close Encounters-inspired aliens, which sound similar to the Kaminoans, also appeared in a 1977 draft of The Empire Strikes Back by George Lucas and Leigh Brackett. They are called Whatnots, live on Cloud City, and carry spears or dart guns. The dart guns would be included in Attack of the Clones as Kaminoan creations.
In an earlier drafts, Lando Calrissian was a clone from a planet of clones – another piece developed for Empire that later ended up in Attack of the Clones.
That puts Geonosians, like many other designs in Attack of the Clones, among the ranks of the reused and recycled. They still have the long, battle-droid like face, but were made more buglike. Their architecture reflects the insectlike origins too, with the piles of sculpted rock meant to look like termite nests. Early ideas for the Genosians had them change color, like chameleons. In “The Art of Star Wars Episode II,” Doug Chiang says that the color-changing element can still be seen in the design, in the interplay of light and shadow on the aliens’ skins. Geonosis itself was designed to contrast Kamino, rust-colored and desert instead of watery and clean.
While somewhat similar to Twi’leks in their humanoid appearance, Togruta like Ahsoka set themselves apart by their bright blue and white stripes and red skin. While The Clone Wars showed Togruta with varying colors, the Legends universe held that Togruta skin was red and white to blend in with the striped grass on their homeworld. Concept art by Dermot Power for Shaak Ti, a Jedi Master of this species, is shown in The Art of Star Wars Episode II and portrays an exotic character with piercings and white horns.
The green-skinned Nautolans, notable for the Jedi Kit Fisto, who smiled during the Battle of Geonosis, were originally designed as villains. Dermot Power concept art for Attack of the Clones shows a Sith character with stubby green tentacles and small eyes. Lucas requested that the character be re-designed as a Jedi, so Power made Kit Fisto’s face softer, the artist said in The Art of Episode II, although he also wanted Fisto to look “tough enough to look like he could take care of himself.” Although most Nautolans seen in Star Wars have green skin, Legends characters have also sported blue or pinkish hues.
The ghastly Utapauns, which feature in both Revenge of the Sith and Rebels, are related to the Lurmen by way of replacement. Lurmen were originally supposed to be the residents of Utapau. However, Lucas so liked the pale, robed look of the aliens Sang Jun Lee designed as background characters on the planet Mustafar that he brought them to the forefront as the aliens Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks to on Utapau. The deep lines on their faces were first envisioned as tattoos, but later became what looks like scarification – appropriate for the fiery environment of Mustafar.
Another species which found its way into The Clone Wars after a long conceptual journey was the graceful Lurmen, also known as Mygeetans. In 2002, Sang Jun Lee did several concept sketches for alien “lemurs,” which at the time were intended to appear as residents of the planet Mygeeto in Revenge of the Sith. George Lucas spotted an advertisement for a lemur exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo in the early 2000s, Lee said, and Lee’s design did not divert far from the animals’ appearance. Lurmen could travel quickly by rolling into a ball, a trait shared with both Separatist destroyer droids and the Amani species.
Zeb’s species had a long, quiet history before coming to life on the small screen in Rebels. A Ralph McQuarrie drawing circa 1974 was used by Bill Slavicsek and Daniel Greenberg in the 1988 West End games RPG module “Tatooine Manhunt” for a character named Puggles Trodd, at which point it was decided that the large eyes and small ears were adaptations to the Lasats’ desert environment.
These early Lasat had tails and were brown instead of Zeb’s purple. They also lacked the prehensile, quadactyl feet Zeb has in Rebels.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.