From a Certain Point of View: What is the Best Star Wars Monster Design?

With Halloween in range, two StarWars.com writers debate which creature is greatest!

One of the great things about Star Wars is that it inspires endless debates and opinions on a wide array of topics. Best bounty hunter? Most powerful Jedi? Does Salacious Crumb have the best haircut in the saga? In that spirit, StarWars.com presents From a Certain Point of View: a series of point-counterpoints on some of the biggest — and most fun — Star Wars issues. Being that it’s Halloween season, this installment finds two StarWars.com writers discussing which creature from a galaxy far, far away is the creepiest and coolest.

Acklay

The acklay is Star Wars’ best monster design, says James.

There’s a lot of great monsters in Star Wars, but when it comes to best overall design of a horrifying creature, the acklay is the top monster. From its blood-chilling screech to its lethal predator body design, this creature is the epitome of a monster that will give you nightmares. When Obi-Wan Kenobi faced the acklay in the Geonosian arena in Attack of the Clones, he was constantly on the defensive against it, and was only able to best it when given a lightsaber.

The acklay is big, fast, and nearly invulnerable to most attacks. A list of an acklay’s features reads like an arsenal’s manifest. With its six limbs, this predator from Vendaxa can keep up with its prey, and attack or defend on the move. Each of those limbs has a variety of nasty surprises for any opponent: those claw tips, which are really hypertrophied fingertips, are horn fused with solid bone, while the smaller tip of each claw is super-hardened skin with no pain sensors.

Also, those exoskeletal claws have armor-providing bony nodules and sensory hairs. In short, the acklay is walking on swords. Moving up the limb, the claws are just part of the acklay’s hands, which can grapple an opponent who gets too close. All those joints makes it possible for an acklay to reach in nearly any direction and be able to scramble on pretty much any type of surface and slash and stab in from any angle. Plus those long limbs keep the body and head of the acklay out of reach from its victims while providing long reach to pin its prey and rip it to shreds.

acklay-close-up

Moving up from its limbs, the acklay continues to be a nasty piece of work. The back is full of sharp spiky growths to dissuade attack from above, and the head is full of needle-like razor-sharp fangs, all the better to sink into its next meal. Remember that picador’s javelin that Obi-Wan threw at it? Bit that in half. Add in the silphum organ below the head that can sense the bioelectrical currents of other animals and three eyes that can see in the dark, and this predator knows where you are, and where you’re going: into its belly! Plus the frill on the back of the head — sure, it’s mostly for display, but you don’t want to get hit by that, or try to get by it to attack the neck.

The cry of the acklay is almost its own type of sonic weapon — high pitched screeching to make you freeze up, cringe in pain and distract you from its gargantuan claw-tips.

With exoskeletal claws and regular (but tough) skin and muscle over an endoskeleton for its upper arms and body, the acklay gets the hard armor of a crustacean for its deadly weaponized limbs, plus the size on land that can only come from having endoskeletons (there’s a reason that land-dwelling crustaceans on Earth are so much smaller than their aquatic kin). Over 10 feet (3m) tall, the acklay looms over the hapless criminals sent to be executed in the Geonosian arena, and with that reach, can easily deliver powerful blows and bites from above. How strong are those claws when they strike? They can break the metal shackles holding Obi-Wan’s wrists together!

acklay

How tough is an acklay to defeat? Obi-Wan has to slice the acklay four times to put it down — twice to cleave its front clawtips and force it to lower itself in front of him, then slash its underside and deliver a final stab through the front.

The acklay was created as the answer to George Lucas’ request for a creature that was a cross between a velociraptor and a praying mantis; both legendary lethal killers of the animal world, now combined and made giant. Concept sculptor Robert E. Barnes considered the acklay “the embodiment of chaos.” Plus it’s a tribute to the fantastic movie monsters from cinematic history, especially the stop-motion creatures of Ray Harryhausen. So for both its sheer biological lethality and its behind-the-scenes inspiration, I choose the acklay as the best monster design in the Star Wars saga.

dianoga

The dianoga is Star Wars’ best monster design, says Dan.

To consider what the best monster design in Star Wars is, it makes sense to examine what makes for a successful monster design. It has to be frightening and fascinating at the same time, convincing for both the characters in the scene and the audience. In order to accomplish this, a few factors are important: creepy/scary factor, creature features, and believable impact. (Plus, bonus points if it has a vintage Kenner Star Wars toy.)

While there are many worthy candidates, the dianoga meets all of the above criteria. Plus, there’s that incredible smell…

dianoga-under-water

Creepy/Scary Factor: The underwater carnivore almost finishes off Luke Skywalker before he ever gets a chance to fly an X-wing, or learn the ways of the Force like his father. When audiences first see the beast, its slimy appendage wraps around Luke’s neck, and yanks him into the water of the trash compactor. Luke emerges the first time, with the creature still holding him in its tentacles. That’s creepy. Raise your hand if you want something unctuous wrapping its limbs around your neck. No takers? Of course not, because it sounds all kinds of icky. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, how about that ominous growl as it seems to slither through the murky water. Yikes!

Creature Features: The only image we have of the beast is when it pops its head/eyestalk out of the trash compactor, which adds to the legacy. It’s fast, it’s slimy, it’s creepy. It’s the kind of thing that makes you itch. It’s equal parts slippery, elongated, and appears to have wet hair sporadically placed about its body. Nasty. In addition, it only has one eye, which harkens back to the Cyclops monster from The Odyssey. Storytellers have used the threat of a one-eyed beast for over a thousand years. It’s a classic formula for instilling fear: take something familiar, and subvert it in nightmarish fashion.

Building on that is the vintage dianoga from the Death Star play set. Much of my understanding of the dianoga came from the Kenner toy that came with the Death Star from the late 1970s. It was green, had the long neck with one eye, and even had a long spine arching across its back (also briefly seen in A New Hope). Plus, it contained four tentacles. So, you have a combination of an octopus, a snake, and a dinosaur. Almost looks like a funhouse version of Nessie. Want to go swimming with that? No thanks.

dianoga-tackling-luke

Impact on the characters in the scene: As Steven Spielberg taught filmgoers in Jaws, it’s scarier when you can’t see the monster until it’s too late. We have a growl, a few glimpses of its body (without fully knowing what it looks like in the film), and that headshot. The characters never really see it, and even then, almost become a buffet for the gruesome beast. If not for the trash compactor starting to close, Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewbacca may have been done for. That’s some major impact for you. It combines the fears of drowning, being eaten alive, and sends shivers down your spine when you think about being grabbed around the neck by that slick, hairy, stinky tentacle. Blech.

In a crowded field, the dianoga stands out as the best monster design in Star Wars. It’s also an amazing cosplay waiting to happen.

What do you think? Do the acklay or dianoga rule the creature roost? Or is something else? [Editor’s note: ::cough, Zillo Beast, cough::] Let us know in the comments below!

James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. His current project is Wear Star Wars Every Day, a fundraising effort for a refugee aid organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.

Dan Zehr is a high school English teacher with an MS in Teaching and Learning, and runs Coffee With Kenobi (with co-host Cory Clubb), a Star Wars podcast that analyzes the saga through critical thinking, analysis, interviews, and discussion. He is also the Rebel teacher in the Target Rogue One commercial, and writes the columns Studying Skywalkers and Comic Book Galaxy for StarWars.com.

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