As Game of Thrones season 5 is about to begin, we go about the business of placing blame…
This article includes major Game of Thrones spoilers pertaining to all seasons.
Six years in and Game of Thrones can still surprise us to heartbreaking effect. Last week, we learned why Hodor is called Hodor, and suddenly the jokes about the character came to a screeching halt as fans realized that from the very beginning, George R.R. Martin (and thus David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) had introduced this hapless servant with the intention of reveling in how his master and lord of the manner ruined his life via time travel.
Like the War of the Five Kings, which still hangs over Westeros even if all said five kings are dead, belated revelations continue to cast things in a new light. Consider it wasn’t until Season 4 that we learned the real origin of a conflict that went all the way back to the inaugural year. And it wasn’t revealed with a dragonfire blast or the clang of swords, but rather a whisper:
“What wife would trust you with the way I’ve trusted you,” Lady Lysa Arryn of the Vale rhetorically asked Petyr Baelish, the man known as Littlefinger. “When you gave me those drops and told me to pour them into Jon’s wine, my husband’s wine; when you told me to write a letter to Cat, telling her that it was the Lannisters—“
This reveal about Littlefinger and Lysa’s conniving schemes that predates even the series premiere (all the way from 2011!) is another example of putting an entirely new spin on matters that used to seem as settled as Hodor’s simplicity. After all, this was the central war that has claimed the lives of nearly every beloved character on the show—Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark, and even a few non-Starks like Theon Greyjoy’s mojo. It also raised an interesting question: who exactly is responsible for this war? Despite being the driving monster for all of the non-zombie and dragon related storylines in Game of Thrones, it is still a tangled web we are only now fully unraveling. So join us as we unpack it all by examining the nine characters most responsible for starting the war.
9. Robb Stark, The King in the North
Aye, we have to begin where the truth hurts the most: the valiant and gallant boy king Robb Stark—written in the George R.R. Martin novels to be the virtuous doppelganger of Joffrey Baratheon and embodied by uber-dreamy Richard Madden on the show—played a hand in the forging of this historic war. To be sure, most of the groundwork was already laid prior to Robb even setting out from Winterfell to march south, and his low placement on this list is indicative of the fact that he more escalated and exacerbated this war, as opposed to throwing the first wildfire canister. Nonetheless, Robb played a decisive role in turning what could have been a swift, successful rebellion into a protracted conflict that cost him his life, his mother’s life, the lives of thousands of bannermen, and even the loss of a wife and unborn child…
Ignoring the numerous missteps Robb took as a tactician in this war, which will undoubtedly fill a ponderous tome in Oldtown one day, the one non-Frey related error Robb made that most precipitated his fate was declaring himself King in the North by proudly accepting that mantle at Great Jon Umber’s insistence. Despite being a great warrior with a noble and just cause to fight after his father was accused of treason (never mind unfairly beheaded), Robb still gave into a vanity hidden within most Starks’ unspoken dreams: to be the king who un-knelt.
Unfortunately, the political realities of declaring himself king meant that he could not side with either Baratheon when the banners were raised from Dragonstone to Storm’s End. The show softens this mistake by presenting Renly as open to the idea of Robb calling himself king, as long as kneels before Renly, but I have my doubts that Catelyn could convince Robb’s newfound ego in Season 2 that this would have been a wise course of action, even if Renly were not slain.
Further, if Robb simply demanded justice for Ned’s beheading and the return of his sister(s), Stannis would have gladly taken this Northern ally who did not attempt to usurp a kingdom that was his by rights. In which case, it would not have been simply Stannis’ forces sailing on King’s Landing from the east; it would have also been a coordinated attack of 18,000 Northmen crashing down on a barely-protected Capital’s northern gates too. Tyrion’s fire trick could only work once and only on the sea. Instead of being overtaken by the united forces of Highgarden and Casterly Rock, Stannis would have had ally Robb deal with those forces on land, which the Young Wolf could have scouted the presence of, while Stannis took the Red Keep from the water. Joffrey, Cersei, Tyrion, and probably Sansa would all be dead, but the war would have been won, and Robb would have had his revenge. Instead, it now rests on his sisters to avenge the removal of his pretty, pretty crown.
8. Renly Baratheon, The King of Storm’s End
Of course, Catelyn and Robb could have had an easier time figuring out which Baratheon brother to entreat if the two had stood united. This is not to say that Renly was in the wrong for declaring himself king. Despite what Stannis’ rather vocal internet fan community will attest, the history of their family proves Varys’ Season 2 words true: Power resides where men believe it resides. And Renly was a much more powerful man in the eyes of Westerosi lords, from Winterfell to the Reach. Stannis had the best claim to the throne since Joffrey and Tommen are incest-babies not of Robert’s seed, and Renly was his younger brother. However, Stannis is actually quite bad at the game of thrones that all these characters play. It’s why the only lords he could initially convince of his kinghood were either his wife’s family’s bannermen or upstart smugglers he had knighted.
Still, Renly probably didn’t anticipate if Stannis couldn’t win the game, he’d knock the board over and declare himself victorious at his brother’s expense. Which is more or less what Stannis did when he cheated by bringing magic into the equation. Using Melisandre’s womb as his greatest weapon, a shadow baby was born that committed the ultimate sin of fratricide. Yet, Stannis would not have had to damn himself in the eyes of the old gods and the new if Renly had not tried to jump the line of succession and declared himself king. Even more importantly, if Renly and Stannis had stood united, then Highgarden would have never strayed to the Lannister’s war encampment.
Without Highgarden, Tywin Lannister’s surprise attack on the Blackwater may not have been so surprising…or decisive. Beyond that, even if King’s Landing survived this first siege, it would still starve without grain shipments from the Reach, and the first mob attack on Joffrey in Season 2 would become one of many. If Renly had stayed the course with his brother, the Lannisters would probably have not lasted much longer, even if they had somehow improbably survived the Battle of Blackwater Bay.
7. Balon Greyjoy, King of the Iron Islands
Nobody cares much for the Greyjoys or the Ironborn as a whole. That is probably because they’re the backwoods rednecks of Westeros. Oh sure, they fashion themselves as what we imagine Vikings were like, but they’d be more akin to if Belgium or Luxembourg decided tomorrow that they should conquer the entirety of continental Europe. Multiple times. Every generation, the Ironborn from a few sparse, under-populated islands think that they can call themselves kings, and every generation they have to earn another rude awakening.
The stupidest of these proud knuckle-draggers is Balon Greyjoy. The equivalent of a good old boy from Myrtle Beach who paints a Confederate flag on his pick-up truck, Balon seems to think the Ironborn shall rise again, even though the last time he led his countrymen to Westeros by burning Lannisport into the sea, the combined forces of King’s Landing, Storm’s End, and Winterfell descended on his home, which resulted in the deaths of two of his sons and the kidnapping of a third. Honestly, Robert and Ned should have slit Balon’s throat and been done with it. Then again, show watchers haven’t had the pleasure of meeting his brothers yet…
When Theon Greyjoy returns home to tell Balon of a potential alliance with Robb Stark, Balon wisely treats this with some suspicion. But not because Robb’s chances of winning seemed dubious at best, but because he had a far more asinine idea: He will take the North while the Young Wolf is fighting in the South. Of course, whether Robb lived or died, the North’s armies would come back one day, and they were not about to bend the knee to couple of boot-soaked inbreds who proudly admit that they do not know how to ride horses or farm the land. They’re morons. All Balon did was throw the North into complete disarray, creating a power vacuum for monsters like Ramsay Snow, the Bastard of Bolton, to feed on the chaos. But it will never end for them in anything less than complete and utter defeat. Is there anything worse than a people who keep fighting a war they’ve already lost generation after generation?
6. Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark gets a lot of unfair hate on the internet from many, many male fans. A large part of this is due to her irrational disdain and cruelty toward Jon Snow. But then again, they only shared a few chapters together in the first “A Song of Ice and Fire” novel and never saw each other again after the second episode of Season 1. It’s more probable that a lot of this vitriol is a result of her being the mother at the war council table. In the books, Martin intentionally subverts readers’ expectations by never writing a single chapter from Robb’s point of view, preferring to present him through the eyes of his grieving and highly protective mother.
However, it should be noted that Catelyn actually gave Robb more sound council than any of his other bannermen in regards to not sending Theon Greyjoy home to Pyke, successfully entreating with Renly (on the show, at least), and pointing out time-and-again that executing Karstarks or breaking your oath to the Freys, could have dire consequences. As for her decision in regards to the Kingslayer, the release of Jaime Lannister likely saved the oathbreaker’s life since Karstark wanted blood that night, and later demonstrated Cat’s fears were not unfounded when he murdered two innocent children of distant relation to Jaime. And if the Kingslayer died, Sansa’s head would now rot on a spike above the Red Keep.
But in spite of my defense of her character, there is no denying that she still made two grievous, grievous errors in Season 1. The first was that she trusted Littlefinger due to his boyhood crush on her, and by extension she convinced Ned Stark to trust the smiling mockingbird. The second was that she believed Lord Petyr Baelish when he said that the knife belonged to the Imp.
When Catelyn Stark took Tyrion Lannister hostage, it ignited a fuse that had been set for her after a not-so-shadowy hand even lit the match in her own. While the action did not start the full-scale war that would follow Ned’s execution, it caused whispered Stark grievances to become open accusations. Tyrion, as we, the audience, knew, was innocent. But the bigger problem is that it put the Starks and Lannisters on a collision course, resulting in Jaime Lannister crippling her husband on the streets of King’s Landing. True, even after this injury that resulted in the death of two Stark men, the war could have been averted, but the map was already on fire. It’s a shame that cooler heads failed to put it out before it engulfed the whole continent.
5. Jaime and Cersei Lannister
Whether intentional or not, two of the most incredibly guilty of sowing the seeds for war are Jaime and Cersei Lannister, simply because of their sibling affection. In other words, if Jaime didn’t sleep with his married sister again and again, begetting three children of incest, then chances are the unseen forces would not have taken hold of them for political convenience.
Besides stating the obvious—incest is gross—these two should have known the dangerous game their lovemaking was playing, particularly after Cersei became queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Instead of having children by her admittedly slothful and repugnant husband, Cersei made it a point that Jaime sired all three of her children, golden haired Lannisters in Baratheon clothing. Unfortunately, this was not just a treasonous act; it put three imposters in line for the throne.
It also meant they could have a family savings group decapitation discount if Robert ever found out. Hence, Jaime knocking Bran Stark out a window to protect his family. This action more than Cat’s arrest of Tyrion Lannister put their families on an inevitable collision course of violence and accusation.
But when you factor in the parentage of Jofrrey, Tommen, and Myrcella, it placed the whole realm in a graver danger. Because Jaime and Cersei must have each other and no other, from a legal technicality point-of-view, the Iron Throne was Stannis’ by rights. And from a Machiavellian POV, it was thus Renly’s for the taking too. And to protect this secret, they inadvertently made an enemy out of the Stark family for a lifetime. Kill as many Starks as you can, the North remembers, and the North does not forgive. Indeed, there could be an entire argument made that Jaime and Cersei’s unholy love/lust is the biggest culprit in starting the war…
4. Robert Baratheon, King of the Seven Kingdoms
But then again, Jaime and Cersei Lannister weren’t in charge. Robert was king, and Robert never noticed that a member of his Kingsguard was making him a cuckold fool every night in his wife’s bed.
Robert was the right man to lead a rebellion against the Mad King, but history has more than shown he was the wrong person to govern a kingdom, much less seven of them. Whether Ned Stark would have been a better king is an interesting point of dispute, however Robert in the end made for a lousy monarch. His early decision to forgo the Lannister waffling between implicit support of the Targaryan dynasty and then last minute fair-weather aide of the rebellion is understandable. Tywin Lannister may have visited war crimes upon the Targaryen family (not like Robert would have spared them execution) and is as trustworthy as a sellsword with wine in his belly, but Tywin was also rich, powerful, and a necessary evil in maintaining a peace in the tumultuous days following the sacking of King’s Landing. It is also why Robert shrewdly allowed Jaime Lannister to continue being a Kingsguard knight after breaking his oath to Aerys II.
No, the problem is that Robert delegated all kingly duties to Jon Arryn and lost himself in a sea of wine and whores. While Robert spent the last 17-plus years of his life out to lunch, his small council became encroached with Lannister tools like Pycelle, and self-serving vipers, such as Petyr Baelish.
Then there is the fact that he missed his wife sleeping with her brother, ensuring that Robert’s three children were that in name only. If Robert had been sober and cognizant for more than the first few minutes of consciousness he enjoyed every morning, he might have been able to sniff out how Tywin Lannister and his children surrounded him with enemies that would work against his interests. Perhaps, he would not have had to rely on too-honest-for-his-own-good Ned Stark to figure out these conspiracies, and perhaps he wouldn’t have been murdered by a boar, leaving the affairs of his kingdoms in complete disarray without a strong claim to the throne. Robert was king, and the Silver Stag stops with him.
3. Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King
Let it be said that never was there a more honorable or righteous man on a Baratheon small council than Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, and Hand of the King. Also, let it be said that there was never a more foolish and boneheaded player in the game of thrones. To be sure, Ned Stark is a good person which, in George R.R. Martin’s world, is an increasing rarity. However, his first instinct about being unfit to serve as Hand of the King should have been the one he took to heart, because when Ned rode south, he rightfully predicted that he’d never return north.
The entire first season (and volume of Martin’s opus) is dedicated to understanding why a thoroughly great guy like Ned could never survive in a world of political intrigue with even a passing resemblance to true human behavior. And in Game of Thrones’ case, this meant planting many seeds for the coming of an apocalyptic war that would desolate the countryside, not to mention Ned’s own family. Eddard made many mistakes during his brief stint at King’s Landing, so let’s boil it down to the essentials.
a) When he learned that Catelyn had taken Tyrion Lannister hostage, he should not have declared open war on the Lannisters by stripping Ser Gregor Clegane of all titles, declaring him a traitor, and summoning Tywin Lannister to court in the way that Ned’s father and brother were once called upon by Aerys Targaryen. This decision turned a family quarrel (which Tywin admittedly was cruelly and sadistically taking to the smallfolk near Riverrun) into an open conflict, probably accelerating the Lannister timetable.
b) When Ned had his smoking gun in the color of a Lannister hair, he should not have made the biggest mistake of his life by telling Cersei Lannister that he knew of her incestuous treason. If he had waited for Robert’s return, even that drunkard could have had her and the children arrested, and Tywin Lannister would stand alone as his offspring were declared incestuous betrayers of the crown, just as all the rest of the Seven Kingdoms would fall behind Robert. The war would never have started, because Tywin would have had to let them die or see the entire Lannister House sink beneath the crown’s fury. Ned would have had Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella’s blood on his hands…but better than the blood his own children.
c) After forcing the decision that made war inevitable (telling Cersei), he should have shorn up allies in the immediate aftermath of the “accidental” death of Robert. The first choice would be obviously Robert himself. If he had told Robert on his deathbed what had happened, Robert would have at the very least stricken Joffrey from the will. Of course, words are wind, so Ned aligning himself with Renly or Littlefinger would have also saved his neck, at least in the short-term. Littlefinger proves he is untrustworthy time and again, so perhaps trying to work with him in manipulating Joffrey seems dubious. But an immediate alliance with Renly and the arrest of the Lannisters would have kept his head on long enough as the forces of the North, Storm’s End, Highgarden, and the Riverlands united against the coming Lannister storm…
But Ned opted for none of the above. By warning Cersei, he cemented that there would be a clash of swords between their Houses. And by refusing any friends, he assured that he’d be in chains before the end of the day.
2. Joffrey “Baratheon,” King of the Seven Kingdoms
Still, it could have been a short and relatively bloodless war if not for the actions of this complete and utter moron. Even before this season’s revelations of the (blessedly) departed Joffrey Baratheon, the fact that this war has lasted year(s)—it depends on the medium—is due in large part to the fact that the stupidest character in the series was given the most unchecked power.
Following the arrest of Eddard Stark, Cersei held the most powerful and respected man of the North in her grasp. The mummer’s farce she enacted with Littlefinger, Pycelle, and Varys worked beautifully too. Sansa Stark would publicly plead before the Red Keep for mercy, and Ned would be “spared” to a life of exile in the Night’s Watch, taking the truth of Joffrey’s parentage with him. Alas, Joffrey had to be the one to carry out the sentence.
Like a petulant child craving attention, Joffrey overreached when he had Ned Stark executed to the surprise of everyone, including his mother. The sudden beheading threw away any chance of diplomacy with the Starks, who had yet to declare Robb king. In exchange for Ned’s life and the presumable return of at least Sansa Stark to her family, the North bannermen would return home, if still frustrated with the Lannisters’ crimes. It would not have turned into a war that set the riverlands on fire, and Tywin would only have to contend with Stannis and/or Renly under such pretenses.
This childish outburst of death was only compounded when Cersei received word that Jaime Lannister was captured by Robb Stark at the Battle of the Whispering Wood. If Joffrey still had a living Ned Stark in his dungeons, he could have traded Ned for Jaime and likely used this as a diplomatic overture to end aggression on both sides. Instead, Joffrey threw the Starks and Lannisters into a generational war that even after the Red Wedding continues in the shadow pockets with enemies that Joffrey’s heirs still know nothing about.
But then there is the additional revelation in the books, which the show has seemed to decidedly skip. BOOK SPOILER (that probably won’t be in the show)…it was Joffrey who paid the assassin with a Valyrian knife to murder a comatose Bran Stark in Season 1. Again, this was not done out of anything but malicious idiocy and lack of forethought on Joffrey’s part. He heard distant Robert say that he’d put the boy out of his misery, and the little sociopathic king-to-be used a weapon from Robert’s own armory to see the deed done. This inadvertently placed the blame directly at his mother and uncle-dad’s feet. Tyrion figures out as much during the wedding feast in the book A Storm of Swords when Joffrey is still alive (a sequence cut from this show). This is the kind of vicious arrogance and stupidity that few can predict. Only a precious few…
1. Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
Yet, above all others, it should be apparent by now that Petyr Baelish is more responsible for the War of Five Kings than any man who has ever worn a crown.
When Game of Thrones starts, viewers are immediately keyed in much quicker than Ned Stark to Littlefinger’s duplicity. Rounded off often with Varys for some hilarious banter as scheming courtiers, Littlefinger is always in the background as the smiling fiend and not-so-secretive pervert (right, Sansa?). However, he is so much, much more than that. While Varys has proven interested in serving the realm in the least bloody way possible, Littlefinger is only interested in serving himself at the expense of all others. Be they desired lovers like Catelyn Stark or their decades-later husbands and sons, Petyr would watch an entire realm burn if it meant advancement in power.
This has never been more crystallized than in the cascading revelations in the last several episodes: It was Littlefinger who had Jon Arryn murdered, by his wife’s own hand no less, and not the constantly presumed guilty Cersei Lannister and her puppet, Pycelle; it was Littlefinger, who apparently knew of Joffrey’s stupid actions toward Bran Stark (in the book), and then pointed Catelyn and Ned toward Tyrion Lannister; it was also Littlefinger who schemed with the Tyrells within moments of Renly’s death to send King Joffrey to his grave too. Sure, the last bit wasn’t war related, but it was certainly cathartic and reveals no such loyalties exist for the new Lord of Harrenhaal and now widowed Lord Protector of the Vale.
In retrospect, it would appear that Littlefinger wholly engineered a conflict between the Starks and Lannisters, because he knew of the Lannisters’ weakness of character through incest, arrogance, and treachery, and he knew of the Starks’ strength of action in honor, duty, and loyalty. It is safe to assume Petyr Baelish considers all of these traits burdensome flaws worthy only of exploitation. By having Jon Arryn murdered, and then forcing Lysa Arryn to tell Eddard and Cat that it was the Lannisters who did it, he set Ned out on a not-so-secret mystery that inevitably ended with Winterfell in direct confrontation with Casterly Rock. The bloodshed in the middle was the opening he needed to jump from Master of Coin to the man who kept the Vale out of the war by consulting and marrying Lysa Arryn.
Many Starks and Lannisters are now dead, Lysa Arryn too, but Littlefinger is Lord of Harrenhal and the implicit ruler of one of the only two kingdoms that stayed blissfully free of war. And now that Dorne is getting into it too, Littlefinger is left all alone, ignored by a besieged Capital to consolidate his and Lysa’s forces at the Eyrie, and to groom his own child protégé in “daughter” Sansa.
The scariest aspect about these revelations is that we are only now learning the true range of Littlefinger’s ambitions. As the rest of Westeros squabbles in the power vacuum left by our dearly departed Joffrey—a death that Littlefinger engineered—Lord Baleish is undisturbed while he schemes what to do next. It is clear Littlefinger is far from done, and as Varys recognized in the Season 1 finale, “A man with great ambition and no morals, I wouldn’t bet against you.” Chillingly, those words were said before Littlefinger enjoyed having his own unused and unexhausted army of men at his back. In the wake of weddings both purple and red, a new board has been set, and Littlefinger’s pieces are moving.
This article was first published on May 7, 2014.
Lucasfilm has created countless alien species over the years for Star Wars. Here's the story of how 25 of those species evolved over time.
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.