Designing Star Wars: Cyborgs, Twisted and Evil

StarWars.com

The look of Star Wars is unlike anything else in popular culture. Step back in time to explore the history and philosophy behind the concepts that define the galaxy far, far away in Designing Star Wars.

In a galaxy embroiled in conflict, where wars rage between peaceful ideals and a lust for power, the internal struggle of mechanically-altered men is a microcosm of the battles surrounding them, the clash between darkness and light.

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by Warren Fu

Flesh-and-blood intermingles with machine to allow these badly injured warriors to fight another day, yet irrevocably alters the core of their characters. In prolonging basic life-support, the organic creature deep within the metal exoskeleton becomes barely recognizable, assisting autonomic function in a body that is too far gone to exist otherwise.

Beginning with the mysterious helmeted figure of Darth Vader, himself more machine than man, and continuing to the more recent resurrection of Maul, no longer a Sith yet building a new life through the aid of myriad metalized parts, cyborgs have struggled to maintain their identity, while reflecting the greater hostilities surrounding them. Each one forces us to consider – when the natural world is fused with unnatural elements, how much of the character’s essence truly remains?

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by Luke Fisher

Darth Vader

For the man who was Anakin Skywalker, mechanical implants are simply a means to extend a life devoted to revenge and fueled by fear. Darth Vader rises, twisted by the Emperor’s machinations, the good in him all-but consumed by darkness, a sinister figure whose presence is punctuated by the shuttering gasps of his breathing apparatus.

But in peeling back the layers to expose the man beneath the mask, artists and designers who have shepherded Vader through his prequel transformation and to the quieter, vulnerable moments in a bacta bath on Mustafar, have uncovered more of the conflict within.

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by the JAK Films Art Department

Although his seething rage and fear of loss was already putting Anakin firmly on the path to be the Emperor’s apprentice, losing his right arm to Dooku only to have it replaced by a fine mechanical mechanism marks the beginning of his physical transformation into what he would become. Later, viciously cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi and burned beyond recognition, his Jedi robes fused to shreds of charred flesh, what remained of his humanity, and the man who was Luke Skywalker’s father, was essentially snuffed out.

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept sketch by Norman Reynolds

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by Luke Fisher

No longer being torn apart by the competing forces of darkness and light, the last pieces of Anakin’s former self went dormant, the last bit of good in him hidden, his organic systems still functional but the soul of Anakin atrophied and nearly obliterated by the Emperor’s lies.

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker on the gantry in the reactor shaft in the Cloud City of Bespin.

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

Under Palpatine’s watchful gaze, Darth Vader was built from the ashes of his former life,  restored in a fashion, but warped beyond all recognition, stumbling off the operating table a monster of his master’s creation. Only his son, seeing beyond this horrifying façade, could save him and put his tormented soul to rest.

Concept art of Luke Skywalker's bionic hand.

Concept art by Norman Reynolds

The balance

Luke’s own bionic limb arguably deepened his compassion for the vestiges of his father left behind Darth Vader’s mask. His hand severed in combat during their duel on Cloud City, Vader attempted the same kind of manipulation that had worked on Anakin all those years ago. “Come with me,” he says. “It is the only way.” But Luke sees another solution, preferring to let go and free falling into the unknown.

Princess Leia and the injured Luke Skywalker with a medical droid and C-3PO aboard the Medical Frigate.

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

Concept art from The Empire Strikes Back.

Concept sketch by Ralph McQuarrie

Luke’s connection to his sister, Leia, proved to be stronger than any mind trick or devious ploy, and safely aboard the medical frigate, like his father before him, he was fitted with a mechanical limb.

Concept art by Christian Alzmann

Concept art by Christian Alzmann

Yet, unlike Vader, Luke never lost sight of his humanity or his identity. His new hand served as a reminder of his own mortality, and allowed him to empathize with Darth Vader after his green-bladed lightsaber left his father’s own hand a smoking stump of exposed wiring. Luke delivered the blow (and several more) in defense of his sister, enraged by Vader’s threat to try to turn her, but confronted with his father’s vulnerability, he realized not only that he’d moved beyond defense to blind, spitting rage, but that he and his father were not so different. A hand for a hand had settled the score. If he continued and murdered his father, he would be no better than the monster he once believed Vader to be.

Concept art of Maul

Concept art by Luke Fisher

Maul

For Maul, a body fused with mechanical pieces salvaged from a garbage heap may have fueled his madness, but was not to blame for his journey down the path to the dark side. When Obi-Wan cut down Darth Maul, cleaving the agile Sith Lord in two and seemingly destroying the Zabrak warrior, he was left for dead by his master Darth Sidious.


Concept art of Maul
Concept art of Maul

His shattered body delivered to the junk planet of Lotho Minor to waste away, Maul lost his mind, cobbling together a hideous set of spindly spider-like legs to scuttle among the refuse until he was rescued by his brother, Savage Opress.

Two claw-like appendages eventually restored Maul to a closer approximation of his original silhouette, and his powers grew, disassociated from the Sith and seeking his own stake in the seedy world of crime bosses and criminals. As Maul’s legs were refashioned and upgraded, he never lost sight of his quest for vengeance.

Concept art of Maul

Concept art by Jake Lunt Davies

Given Maul’s upbringing and training with the Sith, it’s difficult to know how much the loss of half his physical form impacted whatever compassion he may have been capable of, exhibited only in glimpses through his relationship to the brother who came to his rescue when all others had abandoned him. Groomed to be a calculating and cunning warrior, he already exhibited a cold android-like demeanor long before gaining his metal limbs.

Concept art of General Grievous

Concept art by Warren Fu

General Grievous

Then there’s the gruesome droid-general with haunting alien eyes, General Grievous, a monstrous fusion of metal and organic material that makes it impossible to disassociate the two. Circuitry was grafted directly to brain tissue, red Kaleesh flesh peeking out from behind his helmet and armor protecting the vital organs that co-mingled with his cybernetic implants.

Concept art of General Grievous

Concept reference by Aaron McBride

His organic systems essentially scooped out and contained in a battle-ready droid body, Grievous retained but a fraction of his former self, revealed by little more than watery yellow pupils shielded by a fearsome mask and a hacking cough that betrayed his biology.

Sequestered in his lair on the third moon of Vassek, a labyrinth of chambers that suggested a connection to an alien warrior and a macabre fixation on collecting trophies from the Jedi he killed in battle, Grievous maintained some control of his modifications, keeping his own droid doctor and spare parts on hand for painful but necessary upgrades and repairs.

Concept art of General Grievous

Concept art by Aaron McBride

But with a well-placed blaster bolt, igniting whatever parts of his original form still remained – referred to in concept art reference materials as “Grievous’ gutsack” and inspired by real-world biological components and textures as well as the viscous nature of dish soap — Grievous was damaged beyond repair.

Concept art of Lobot.

Concept sketch by Ralph McQuarrie

Lobot

Among these characters fusing mechanical capabilities with the limitations of their natural qualities, there is perhaps no sadder tale than Lobot. Lando’s loyal aide made a tragic sacrifice, voluntarily giving up his humanity for the greater good and allowing himself to become a blank organic host to a computerized brain.

The cyborg construct so prominent on his head was leftover from Imperial employment, a fusion to increase productivity and give him a droid-like ability to run battle calculations and communicate with computer systems.

For a time, Lobot retained his identity, but ultimately surrendered his humanity during a failed theft aboard Emperor Palpatine’s personal yacht — tapping into the network to unlock the escape pods so he and Lando would have a chance at survival. Lobot gave himself over to becoming an emotionless body controlled by the machine and continued to serve by Lando’s side, using his last moments in control of his mind to send a message to his friend that he believed that the scoundrel was capable of more.

Featured concept art by Christian Alzmann.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver what you love most about Star Wars!

Designing Star Wars: Cyborgs, Twisted and Evil

Designing Star Wars: Monstrous Beasts

StarWars.com

The look of Star Wars is unlike anything else in popular culture. Step back in time to explore the history and philosophy behind the concepts that define the galaxy far, far away in Designing Star Wars.

To quote Jar Jar Binks, there are “monstairs out dare!”

From the murky depths of the waters of Naboo to the maelstrom surrounding Kessel, the darkest corners of the Star Wars galaxy are filled with nightmarish and misunderstood (and quite often hungry) creatures. The artistic concepts and practical designs for such beasts are the first steps in the journey to creating monsters that elicit a visceral reaction, the realization of our most terrifying childhood fears come to life with snapping jaws and scraping claws. They also have their own stories beyond their roles as menace and indiscriminate maw. Some are imprisoned but treasured (and even mourned) while others are simply ravenous or defending their home turf from raiders and pirates. Still, even when you sympathize with a beast, it’s unwise to get too close to its gnashing teeth.

Concept art of the opee sea killer and other creatures.

Sketch by Terryl Whitlatch

Opee sea killer – The Phantom Menace

The first thing you might notice about the opee sea killer is its gaping mouth, especially if you’re seated in a Gungan submarine getting reeled in by the monster’s gooey tongue, a design choice that conceptualized the luminous creature of the deep as little more than an enormous jaw grafted onto a hybrid fish-crab body. Real marine life, like the deep sea anglerfish, also helped inspire the menacing and hungry sea monster, which latches onto the Gungan vessel carrying Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Jar Jar Binks with a flick of its long and incredibly sticky tongue.

Concept art of the opee sea killer.

Above: Concept art by Doug Chiang Below: Anatomical sketches by Terryl Whitlatch

Concept art of the opee sea killer.

Although quickly proven to be far from the most deadly thing lurking in the waters of Naboo — “There’s always a bigger fish,” as Qui-Gon says when the sando aqua monster swoops in to make a quick and easy snack of the comparatively tiny menace — the opee sea killer came the closest to living up to its name and devouring the Jedi and their Gungan friend before they could reach the surface of Theed’s Solleu River.

Concept art of the summa-verminoth.

Concept art by James Clyne

Summa-verminoth – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Dwelling in the murky maelstrom surrounding the planet of Kessel, the summa-verminoth was first envisioned as a monstrous jellyfish swimming among the stars with the Millennium Falcon plotting a course straight through its head. The idea “came from throwing dumb ideas out in a meeting,” James Clyne, Lucasfilm’s design supervisor on the film, said in The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story. “I literally opened my sketchbook and pitched, ‘What if the Falcon had to fly through a jellyfish?’” he said with a laugh.  But director Ron Howard liked the idea so much that Clyne and his crew of artists set to work sketching what would become the creature’s enormous eyeballs. “Again, that was just me doing a drawing and being like ‘What if we did a big eyeball, guys?’ It was kind of terrifying,” Clyne previously told StarWars.com.

Concept art of the summa-verminoth.

Concept art by Aaron McBride

The gleaming blue eyes and innumerable tentacles soon included a toothy mouth, the better to chomp on recently jettisoned escape pods. But that lust for shiny ship debris would prove to be the creature’s undoing — venturing too near the gravity well stripped away its flesh before it was lost to the merciless pull. Emitting a mournful cry, it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for the creature. Under different circumstances, the summa-verminoth could be just another gentle giant floating through space trying to survive.

Concept art of the wampa.

Storyboard art by George Hull

Wampa – The Empire Strikes Back

The bright, snow-covered terrain of Hoth can be blinding, and that’s perfect camouflage for a hungry wampa in search of a meal. In creating the towering, horn-headed carnivore, designers went through no less than three incarnations to perfect the snarling visage of the wild beast. First designed in 2-D by Joe Johnston (and later reimagined for the Special Edition by George Hull), puppet master Stuart Freeborn built a full-sized suit from sheep and goat skins complete with stilted boots to turn 7-foot-4 actor Des Webb into the 11-foot-tall space yeti. But the suit was too cumbersome even for the wampa’s lumbering steps, and after meandering just a few feet, Webb would often face-plant in the snow, according to The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures and Aliens.

Concept art of the wampa.

Above and below: Special Edition storyboard art by George Hull

Concept art of the wampa.

A redesign of the creature’s head and eyes made the wampa appear a little too cuddly for George Lucas’s tastes, so Phil Tippett created another more ferocious incarnation. For the Special Editions nearly 20 years later, designers took yet another crack at the mysterious creature who would feast upon the smelly carcass of a tauntaun and drag an injured Luke back to its lair to leave him dangling for later.

Concept art of the rancor.

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

Rancor – Return of the Jedi

Caged in a hidden pit below Jabba the Hutt’s throne room and tended to by a kindly keeper, the rancor was a misunderstood beast, a victim of circumstance whose hunched, spiny posture and sharp claws created a most fearsome first impression. With threads of spittle dripping from its bone-crunching jaws and two dull, beady eyes, the rancor would attack anything that came within its grasp, stopping only when it was caught by the same sharp metal gate that had kept it from being free.

Concept art of the rancor.

Concept art by Jackson Sze

Rancors were later revisited in The Clone Wars, native to Felucia and still just as imposing in the wild as the poor, fanged beast Luke encountered on Tatooine. In tracing the design back to its origins, we discover that the idea for the rancor was deceptively simple. According to designer Phil Tippett, “George [Lucas’s] original instructions for the rancor were, ‘Do whatever you want, but I want a big monster in a pit.’”

Concept art of the rancor.

Above: Concept art by Nilo Rodis-Jamero Below: Concept art by Joe Johnston

Concept art of the rancor.
Concept art of the rancor.
Concept art of the rancor.
Concept art of the rancor.

The creature went through several incarnations — a more docile beast with a potato-like body, a lumpy head with spidery mandibles, and even one version that was deemed “too Muppet-like,” according to hand-scrawled notes. Eventually, artists settled on long, sinewy arms, clawed hands, and an enormous head, dominated by a wailing mouth to complete the imposing monster’s look.

Executing the idea was another problem, as the design was conceived to costume a performer but the dimensions didn’t fit a human. The final costume was an elaborate mix of puppet effects and suiting that took three people to operate but was still limited in terms of movement, and eventually replaced by a pint-sized (yet still incredibly ferocious) puppet for the final shot. Special effects master Dennis Muren filmed the 18-inch puppet at a faster-than-normal speed to give the creature the weight and grandeur of a 16-foot-tall behemoth, a vision of terror that has endured for generations.

Concept art of the fyrnocks.

Lighting concept by Chris Voy

Fyrnock – Star Wars Rebels

Lurking in the darkness of the abandoned rebel base at Fort Anaxes, a fortress built on an asteroid, the fyrnocks made their home in the shadows leaving behind little more than telltale gashes from their sharp claws. The sun seemed to be their only weakness, sending them scurrying away from the light, their glowing yellow eyes peering out from the dark. Although a menacing sight emerging from the base ready to attack or prowling around with clicking claws and fangs, the creatures could be tamed through the Force, or at least summoned to formulate a more strategic attack on foes.

Concept art of the fyrnocks.

Above and below: Lighting concepts by Chris Voy

Concept art of the fyrnocks.
Concept art of the fyrnocks.
Concept art of the fyrnocks.
Concept art of the fyrnocks.
Concept art of the fyrnocks.
Concept art of the fyrnocks.

In lighting concept art, the fyrnocks take on something even more akin to a horror-film quality. Their skin smokes and sizzles in the sunlight and their teeth end in more vampiric points, like rows of long needles. It’s enough to make anyone fear the dark.

Featured concept art by Doug Chiang.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver what you love most about Star Wars!

Designing Star Wars: Monstrous Beasts