Hiding in Plain Sight: Star Wars Shapeshifters

Attack of the Clones' Zam Wesell isn't alone. Take a deep dive into the world of changelings.

”I think he’s a she…and I think she’s a changeling.” — Anakin Skywalker

Shapeshifter, changeling, skin-changer, polymorph, quasimorph, amorph. All terms used for a range of species that fall within one classification, but could not be more diverse. It includes beings that have no “true form,” and species that are able to manipulate their bodies to the point where they may be unrecognizable or even mimic others. Note that shapeshifting in the classical definition describes the ability to change ones physical appearance, and the term is in no way limited to those beings that can imitate other life forms. Also, shapeshifting is sometimes confused with metamorphosis, a biological process in which species undergo a process of transformation from an immature life stage into their adult form. This is a process that occurs in a wide range of species, but is usually irreversible. A Wyrwulf would only change into a Codru-Ji once, and a Chroma-Wing could never morph back into a Ruurian. Although the shapeshifters occur on all ends of the biological spectra, they can be roughly divided into three groups.

Masters of Disguise

The first group of shapeshifters include those species that come to mind first when thinking about this subject. Beings that are specialized in altering their physical appearance to imitate other species. The most famous of these is probably the Shi’ido from Sh’shuun, who have made shapeshifting into an form of art. In their natural appearance they have pale skin and faces with a wide mouth and deep set eyes. Having skeletons of thin but very dense bone and detachable tendons, they have the ability to move their inner workings around their body, and their pliable skin can accommodate for a wide range of physiologies. The Shi’ido are true masters of disguise, being able to take on the form of most humanoid species. Their skin can change to adopt the texture of scales, rock, and even fur. One of the best known Shi’ido is Senior Anthropologist Mammon Hoole, who has used his abilities to study sentient life by disguising and immersing himself in their cultures. Legends even tell of him taking on the shape of a Whaladon once. Another Shi’ido disguised himself as an Aqualish, and served as Senator Po Nudo’s aide during the Clone Wars. His name and intentions, however, are still shrouded in mystery.

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The Clawdite are a species of reptomammals from the Mid Rim world of Zolan. They are actually a product of genetic manipulation by the Zolanders, who activated the dormant skin-changing genes while researching a way to protect their people from dangerous solar radiation. The abilities of a Clawdite to change appearance are nowhere near as good as those of the Shi’ído, and they are more limited in the forms they can take on. Radically different body shapes are very difficult, although their abilities grow with age and can be improved with training. Clawdites mainly use their abilities to hide from others, acting as bounty hunters or assassins, such as the famous Zam Wesell. Changing shape actually brings discomfort for the Clawdites, and relies heavily upon their focus. Any distractions, such as being injured or surprised, can cause them to slip from their disguises.

Qiilura, a temperate world in the Mid Rim, is inhabited by the Gurlanins. Resembling marsupial canines with black fur in their normal state, these polymorphs are able to take on many forms, including that of a human being. Not much is known about the Gurlanins, as they have resisted most forms of study by keeping to themselves. Several members of the species were active as spies during the Clone Wars, but only to get rid of the Separatist occupation of Qiilura. Even more mysterious are the Gupins. Anthropologists have not been able to pinpoint their planet of origin, although several came to the world of Endor, probably aboard the Starhunter Dhelba. Vaguely resembling diminutive human beings in their regular shape, the changing abilities of the Gupin seem unconfined to any boundaries normally created by a species’ skeletal or muscle structures. They can morph into quadruped monsters, flatten themselves or even assume shapes much heavier than their natural form. Many of their abilities have been linked with their highly attuned connections to the living Force, and the abilities of the Endorian Gupins are presumably amplified by a Force relic stored in the Juniper Chest.

Stennes Shifters are often lumped together with this category of shapeshifting species as well, but are no true changelings. While it is true that they can adjust their appearance, their ability is not a physical one, but rather a mental one. They possess a clouding ability that utilizes the Force to alter an onlookers perception of their physical form, without actually changing. A similar process may be what lies behind the extraordinary abilities displayed by the Gupins.

Fluid Forms

The second category of shapeshifting beings can be, more-or-less, classified as “amorphic” (literally “without shape”). These are species that have the ability to adapt their physical shape due to the fact that their bodies have no true form. This allows them to take on a multitude of shapes, sometimes even mimicking other species. One such a species is the Polydroxol, a denantium-based organism from the Outer Rim world Sevetta. Denantium is a silver-colored, mercury-like substance. The fluid nature of a Polydroxol enables it to recuperate from wounds and replace lost body parts, although there is a limit in how much damage they can suffer. As Imperial scientist Trem DeSalvaine discovered during his study of a captured Polydroxol, they are able to take on the shape of other species, in addition to almost any conceivable form, but can only adapt their coloration to imitate metallic compounds and plastics. As such, the Polydroxols can never truly resemble a human being, as it is unable to replicate skin texture.

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Some other life forms bear more resemblance to flexible gelatinous or mudlike blobs. One example is the Pulra of Kuras III, whose shapeshifting abilities are mostly limited to camouflage and manipulation of their surroundings by forming specialized appendages. One unique characteristic, however, is their ability to “join” with other Pulras to form a collective entity that combines the skills of all involved individuals. Their flexible genetic code even allows for them to join with beings from other species, functioning as organs or limbs. The silicon-based Proteans discovered by Imperial scientists on Nathas I, in the Questal Sector, look similar to the Pulras, although they appear to be made out of clay rather than gelatin. Their natural camouflage makes studies difficult and therefore unreliable. Proteans possess a central circulatory and nerve cluster that limits their bodies from taking on very thin shapes. And while they can survive in vacuum for extended periods of time, they do need gravity to keep their bodies together. Proteans can change color and mimic natural patterns, helping them disguise themselves in natural environments. Although it is not in their nature, they can be taught to take on humanoid forms.

Somewhat similar, but largely unknown in its biology or functioning is Mnggal-Mnggal, a mysterious entity from the Unknown Regions. On first glance, it looks like nothing more than a thick gray ooze, but has the ability to quickly mold (parts of) itself into a broad variety of forms. Its disguises are nowhere near as complex as for example those of a Shi’ido, but it possesses the ability to infect and control other beings. By exposing nearby individuals to a spray of droplets, it is able to enter their system, slowly digesting their victims and replacing their innards with the same gray ooze that makes up the “parent.” These husks are under full control of the Mnggal-Mnggal and form an adequate disguise. However, they do not last long, as Mnggal-Mnggal is unable to preserve the hosts.

Yet another amorphic species is the Filar Nitzan, a gaseous life form native to the Wild Space world of DNX-N1. Also known as “cloud demons” or “gas devils”, these mysterious aliens resemble a cloud of colored smoke or mist. This physical state allows them to manipulate their body into any shape they want, even changing their density, and makes them impervious to any kind of physical damage. As gaseous beings, the Filar-Nitzan are nearly impossible to notice by even the best guards, and very difficult to detect by anything but the most expensive surveillance systems. An investigation by the Task Force on Alliance Security into Vacander, a Filar-Nitzan associated with high-ranking Imperials, showed how good they are in covering their tracks, revealing not much more than some message drop points.

The Ugor are unique in the sense that they are one of very few unicellular species that have achieved full sentience. While hard to believe when looking at the sheer size of their bodies, an Ugor consists out of one single cell. They are able to manipulate their body into a wide range of shapes, often forming appendages to manipulate their environment or specialized pseudopodia that act as sensory organs. In their natural form they resembles large blobs, but when dealing with outsiders they usually wear environmental suits take on a humanoid form.

One or the Other

The third group of shapeshifters consists of species that have developed the ability to alternate between two distinct physiologies. Such behavior is seen in the Neti, the sentient plant species that live on Ryyk. They have the ability to change from their humanoid form into a tree-like being that can stay dormant for thousands of years.

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The Dazouri, natives of the Outer Rim world of Gibbela, appear to be short, hairless humanoids on first glance. However, if they are in any way threatened, wounded or irritated, they transform into hulking savages with large claws and fangs. In this “rage state”, they grow to three times their original height, and will attack everyone around them in a homicidal frenzy. The Empire once made an unsuccessful attempt to claim their world, but their scouting party never made it back. The Lahsbee of Lahsbane have a similar trait, although their transformation into the savage Huhk is a permanent change upon reaching puberty — they are therefore, not true shapeshifters. Some researchers believe there may be a genetic connection between the Lahsbee and the Dazouri. The Vilosorians were also able to repel the Empire from their homeworld with their shapeshifting abilities. In their case, their transformation follows a seasonal cycle, where they morph into dangerous carnivores during the warmer periods, as opposed to the docile creatures they are during the winter.

An analogous behavior to the Dazouri transformation is observed in the Felacatians, polymorphic felines from the Outer Rim world of Felacat. In their normal state, they have a humanoid build, not too different from humans save for their fur and tail. Under stress, or when exposed to prolonged hyperspace travel, they transform into their “animal form”, a panther-like creature with quills on its back and huge fangs. The transformation is almost instantaneous, taking only seconds, and makes the Felacatians extremely dangerous by enhancing their strength and senses. Practiced Felacatians can alternate between the two forms at will. Mikans have perfected their shapeshifting ability to the point where they can transform into a human shape. These beings from Mika (or “Jellyfish Cove”), in the Arkanis Sector, resemble purple jellyfish in their natural form, but use the human disguise to lure targets, usually as beautiful women. Their liquid tissue solidifies upon contact with sunlight, so they are only active during the night. There are no stories of Mikans ever taking on other shapes, but then again, encounters are usually fatal.

There are many more forms of shapeshifters out there in the galaxy, including non-sentients creatures. Who doesn’t know the gelatinous Umgullian racing blobs, who are the main attraction to Umgul’s many gambling visitors? And spacers bring back the weirdest tales about Quarfs, that can transform from horse-like creatures into dragons. Stranger legends speak of changeling creatures known as Sasori, Gyaos, and Clados, and there’s even rumors of a shapeshifting Wampa. Just remember, looks may be deceiving, don’t always trust what your eyes see!

Selected Reading

Adventure Journal 12: Shape-shifters (Pablo Hidalgo, 1997)
Alliance Intelligence Reports (Bill Smith et al., 1995)
Castaways of Endor (Daniel Wallace and Amy Pronovost, 2008)
Galaxy Guide 4: Alien Races (Troy Denning, 1989)
Republic Commando: Hard Contact (Karen Traviss, 2004)
The Essential Guide to Alien Species (Ann Margaret Lewis, 2001)
The Feral Queen (Robin Etherington, 2011)
The Unknown Regions (Ray Vallese, Bradley Will et al.

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