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

Matthew Wood on His Return as General Grievous in Battlefront II

StarWars.com

The voice of General Grievous has become iconic thanks to the work of the original actor behind the mic, Matthew Wood. To mark the arrival of Grievous this week in Star Wars Battlefront II, StarWars.com caught up with Wood, also supervising sound editor at Skywalker Sound, to discuss his return to the character, the Jedi hunter’s past, and his life beyond the screen.

StarWars.com: Why do you think the decision was made to bring General Grievous to Star Wars Battlefront II? 

Matthew Wood: Well, he’s been kind of a fan-favorite for a long time. In Grievous, you’ve got somebody who’s got the unique ability to wield multiple lightsabers, and he’s been trained by Count Dooku. The four lightsabers make for a very interesting looking character. His fury for the Jedi and wanting to secure his place as a Separatist leader drives him to be evil. He’s got a lot of animosity, anger, and a pretty cool skill set. Since his introduction over a decade ago, people have been interested in learning more about him and his story. This allows them to walk in his footsteps a bit.

General Grievous in Star Wars Battlefront II.

The General Grievous character model for Star Wars Battlefront II.

StarWars.com: What do you think makes Grievous one of the more intimidating figures in Star Wars?

Matthew Wood: Well, Grievous has kind of an ambiguous past, but you know at some point he’s been wronged pretty badly. He’s been manipulated by dark-side figures like Count Dooku to take his anger and weaponize it towards the Jedi. He’s also, of course, in charge of this gigantic droid army, which he also equally gets frustrated with. Particularly when they go up against the Jedi. [Laughs] But you also know deep down he’s got pain in his past, and he’s certainly armed to the teeth to manifest that pain physically upon his enemies.

StarWars.com: You mentioned Grievous’s ambiguous past. One of the lines you have in the game is, “The Kaleesh are not known for their mercy.” Given how much we know about Grievous and his history, how do you interpret this line? 

Matthew Wood: I’ve always worked under the assumption that he was a pretty amazing warlord in his past while he was more biologically complete. I think that’s why someone like Count Dooku would have taken him and tried to weaponize him, because he’s got the skill set to be this mad general. In some of the books and certain storylines of The Clone Wars we touch on his past. Anything I can do to imbue more depth into this character through the writing in this game is incredibly exciting. It’s really my goal to make him all the more menacing and I can’t wait to watch people play it.

Matthew Wood voicing General Grievous for Star Wars Battlefront II.

StarWars.com: You also have a line exclaiming, “The story of Obi-Wan ends here!” What do you think about the Obi-Wan/Grievous relationship?

Matthew Wood: Even back when it was Ewan McGregor and then James Arnold Taylor doing scenes, it always sort of felt like a Joker and Batman situation with Obi-Wan and Grievous’s banter. There are real things at stake, but they are both just so highly skilled in their craft that they’re almost evenly matched. Of course, Obi-Wan eventually gets the upper hand in that. To be able to revisit that dynamic in Battlefront II is always fun. Those two are like star-crossed in a certain way. It’s really fun for me to participate in that as an actor.

StarWars.com: You’ve encountered Obi-Wan across a variety of mediums and voiced Grievous in even more beyond that. Do you approach playing Grievous in a video game differently than you would in another format?

Matthew Wood: I would say I try to make him have parity across the entire pantheon of Star Wars projects. I want him to have a consistency. Sometimes it changes up a bit. One instance of which is, there’s a banter between Obi-Wan and Grievous in Revenge of the Sith when Obi-Wan jumps out of the rafters on Utapau and he says, “Hello there!” We actually changed that so Grievous said it first in Clone Wars when he jumped down and said it to Obi-Wan. Again, the banter between them! I love that stuff.

General Grievous squares off against Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

StarWars.com: You love the banter, and people online love Grievous. Presently, he’s rooted himself in several memes and a wide swath of online discussion. How do you feel about this unique way of looking back on the character?

Matthew Wood: I must say, I love that stuff. I go to some fan events and meet Star Wars fans from all over the world, and they’ll come up to me and say, “Hello there!” [Laughs] And of course, I have to say, “General Kenobi!” Just to see that and how it plays out in the memes, it’s hilarious. There was a really great one with the Christopher Robin trailer where Ewan McGregor says hello to Winnie the Pooh and suddenly Pooh whips out his lightsabers and goes, “General Kenobi!” [Laughs] There’s all these different ones that I just think are hilarious. It really just shows the love of the prequels and that generation of the prequels has now grown up and turned their attention to the greater meme culture! Some of those people must be in their 20s now.

StarWars.com: I’m one of those younger-20s, Grievous-loving people, Matt! 

Matthew Wood: See! Exactly, Star Wars is such a special thing where it does transcend multiple languages and continue to speak the story. To have anything that’s lasted this long is a humbling experience.

StarWars.com: Bringing it back to some of your voice acting, you mentioned having parity across your performances. Grievous has several lines that are quite imposing, but some that are also relatively jovial. How do you keep a more light-hearted line equally menacing?

Matthew Wood: To perform Grievous, I have to project almost everything I say in a specific way. I also provide the unique voice processing given that I’m a sound editor at Skywalker Sound. I use my own tools to make that happen. There’re certain frequencies that I need to hit to sound like Grievous, but for sure, some of those lines are said with a cyborg-smile. I think that even comes through with the processing.

I think the funniest thing I had to do once was a commercial for Cartoon Network during Clone Wars where Grievous was sitting home alone on his computer. He was looking at dating programs and then looking at his DVR to see what he recorded, while simultaneously singing some 80s song at the same time. So that’s like the most I’ve ever done comically. [Laughs] That being said, I do like taking a character who is supposed to be playing it straight and then twisting him like that.

General Greivous battles a Jedi in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

StarWars.com: Do you think Grievous has a respect for the Force in anyway, or is it a resentment?

Matthew Wood: Not to get too psychological about it, but he really does want to make a point. When he’s fighting Obi-Wan in [Revenge of the Sith] he says, “You fool! I’ve been trained in your Jedi arts by Count Dooku.” I think in that moment, Grievous was trying to size himself up with the Jedi by implying that he can take them even without the Force. It’s bluster, you know? I think he knows the fact that the Force is always against him and a tool of the Jedi to use is constant in his mind.

So I think there’s an overall respect — he’s a general and he respects a warrior. He’s also pulling the Jedi far away from their mission to be keepers of the peace, and helping to drag them into this gigantic war. To let someone like Darth Sidious come to power during this time of war is only because the Jedi have become so distracted by this battle when they should be keepers of the peace. Grievous is all part of this master plan by Sidious to distract the Jedi, and he’s been employed for that purpose. Even though Grievous probably thinks he’s just there for revenge of some sort.

StarWars.com: What advice would you give to players who encounter General Grievous in Star Wars Battlefront II?

Matthew Wood: Oh, man! I guess I would say fortify yourself, don’t get distracted by my quips. [Laughs] Even though it may sound like I’m dropping one-liners, Grievous is an evil character who needs to be respected, and I hope you have hours and hours of playing time under your belt before you try to face off with him. You’re going to need to be ready!

Check out StarWars.com’s interview with EA DICE on creating General Grievous for Star Wars Battlefront II!

Read StarWars.com’s interview with more stars of Star Wars: The Clone Wars returning for Star Wars Battlefront II!

Tyler Westhause is a contributor to StarWars.com and previously worked for PlayStation. He is also known as an active member in the gaming and podcasting communities. More than anything, Tyler is happy to run your ear off about why Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the greatest video game of all time. Follow him on Twitter @twesthause.

Matthew Wood on His Return as General Grievous in Battlefront II