Drawing from the Imagination: Mythological Creatures in Star Wars, Part 1

Mythological creatures come in any shape and size, their appearance only limited by the boundaries of the human imagination. Earth’s history is full of mythological creatures and fabled monsters, some of which have found their way to the Star Wars universe, either in form or in name. While the best known creatures are probably from Greek mythology, the most prominently referenced specimens have their origin in the Old Testament. The behemoth and the leviathan are mentioned in the Book of Job and have become the metaphors for any large monster or sea creature, respectively. Star Wars knows several of these creatures. The Behemoth from the World Below and the Sith Behemoths were creations of Sith alchemy, as were several incarnations of the leviathan. Other leviathans lived on Dorumaa and Arrakan.

Mythology - Leviathan

Since the Bible didn’t include too many clues towards the appearance of these monsters, the behemoths and leviathans featured in Star Wars and many other stories come in many different forms. Therefore, the link between Earth mythology and the creatures and sentients of the saga may not be as obvious as with some of the other fabled beasts that made their way into a galaxy far, far away…

Story Inspirations

On several occasions stories involving mythological creatures have influenced scenes in the Star Wars movies or television series. Let’s start with a general idea: sea monsters. Even after the famous Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator introduced his Mercator Projection (1569) a lot of maps still featured a bunch of weird creatures. Medieval (and also Early Modern Period) marine maps thrived with markings of strange sea monsters. Those illustrations had heraldic and esthetic value, but they were also based on folklore. Adventurers, sailors and traders claimed to have seen gigantic sea serpents, enormous squids or huge marine mammals or sharks. These sea creatures may have vanished from our modern charts, but they still linger on in modern literature. Jules Verne’s novels Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea both feature enormous sea monsters (Mesozoic marine reptiles and a giant squid) and who can forget the voracious sperm whale Moby Dick and the infamous white shark Jaws?

We have at least one sequence in the Star Wars saga that must have been inspired by the legends of the sea monsters. Jar Jar Binks wondered if he wouldn’t rather have been punished in Otoh Gunga than have joined Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in their Bongo en route to Theed. Their shortest trip lead them into the honeycombed core of Naboo, venturing through the Caves of Eleuabad. These caves were home to some of the most dangerous marine beasts of the planet. During their journey the two Jedi and their clumsy companion encountered an Opee Sea Killer, a Colo Claw Fish and a Sando Aqua Monster. A lesser-known example that reminds us of the legendary sea serpents is the sentient Sea-Dragon, a native to the water planet Drexel.

Mythology - Naboo Core

The prophet Jonah, known in all three main Abrahamic religions, was swallowed by a whale and survived in its belly for three days. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus mentions Jonah’s adventure. This biblical sequence also inspired a short, but famous scene in the Star Wars saga. That sequence didn’t take place in the depths of the ocean, but in the cold vastness of space. When Han Solo realized that his beloved Millennium Falcon wasn’t hiding in a cave in the Hoth asteroid field, he hurried to the cockpit and urged Chewbacca to join him. The Falcon escaped right in time before risking permanent imprisonment in the belly of a gigantic Space Slug.

Another biblical creature is the serpent of Eden, a trickster who managed to tempt Eve to taste the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. Was it a coincidence that Savage Opress encountered the treacherous Morley, a member of the snakelike Anacondan species, during his search for his lost brother on Lotho Minor? Morley claimed that Maul was just a local legend, but in fact he was leading Opress towards his master’s lair. When Morley wanted to snack on Opress’ leftovers, the enchanted Nightbrother ended the life of the surprised Anacondan by choking him to death.

The story of Theseus and the Minotaur is one of the most famous stories in Greek mythology. This creature, part bull and part man according to Ovidius, lived at the center of a Cretan Labyrinth, designed by the respected architect Daedalus and his son Icarus. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus who managed to overcome the dangers of the labyrinth by using Ariadne’s weaving. A creature from Star Wars that shares similarities to the Minotaur is Gor, Grievous’ pet Roggwart. When Kit Fisto and his former Padawan Nahdar Vebb thought they were pursuing Nute Gunray to Vassek’s Third Moon, they ended up in Grievous’ spooky castle. The sinister lair of the Kaleesh cyborg was reminiscent of the labyrinth on Crete and Gor shared some features with the Minotaur. Gor possessed menacing horns and just like the Minotaur, Gor did have enhanced capabilities. The Minotaur was the offspring of a bull gifted by Poseidon; Gor received his cybernetic enhancements under the supervision of Grievous and EV-A4-D. So both creatures were gifted with ‘supernatural’ capabilities.

Mythology - Gor

A mythical creature that everyone knows is the dragon. While we’ll discuss dragons later, the image of the hero defeating a dragon is one of the most powerful mono-mythical elements in mythology. Siegfried, Beowulf, Saint George and Marduk all defeated dragons. We can also add Luke Skywalker to that list. Luke didn’t defeat a dragon, but Jabba’s rancor makes a perfect substitute. The rancor seemed invincible at first, just like a dragon. But as Siegfried did during his encounter with Fafnir, Luke managed to overcome his fear and managed to kill the rancor not by strength, but by quick thinking. Luke showed that he didn’t need his weapons anymore to defeat a formidable opponent.

Another example of a mythological creature that appears in almost every culture is the giant. One of the most illustrious giants was the Philistine warrior named Goliath who was defeated by David, the future King of Judah. The giant Gorax on Endor has a similar name to Goliath and he was truly a giant among the tiny Ewoks. While Goliath was (according to legend) defeated by David’s simple slingshot, the Gorax that was confronted by the Caravan of Courage led by Deej Warrick, was finally bested by Mace Towani who threw Chukha-Trok’s ax into the back of the giant’s skull.

The final story inspiration is one of a modern icon in popular (Japanese) culture. The giant monster Godzilla, awakened by nuclear radiation, was an immediate inspiration for the Zillo Beast in The Clone Wars. Supervising director Dave Filoni has been known to be a fan of Godzilla and that can easily be noticed in the name of the Zillo Beast. Further details in The Zillo Beast include the names and the designs on the helmets of Clone pilots, Goji and Rod, both inspired by Godzilla and Rodan, another monster in the Godzilla mythology. In The Zillo Beast Strikes Back we can also recognize several aspects of King Kong, another modern imaginary giant who actually faced Godzilla in the 1962 movie King Kong vs. Godzilla.

What’s in a Name?

Many of Earth mythological creatures seem to be known even in that galaxy far, far away (especially with the Galactic Empire and Admiral Natasi Daala). Numerous ships have been named after monsters from the fables of mankind.

The basilisk is a legendary reptile and considered the king of serpents. Although its most famous incarnation is indeed in the form of a serpent, like the one in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, older depictions include chicken legs, beaks and sometimes even wings. The link with chicken is due to its alleged origin. Basilisks were supposedly hatched from snake eggs by roosters. Basilisk occur in several places in Star Wars, such as a planet home to the Basiliskans, or a Mandalorian war droid. The Basilisk also was an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, serving under Admiral Natasi Daala in the Maw Installation.

Cerberus is the three-headed hellhound guarding the gates of the Greek underworld, and a sibling of the Lernaean Hydra and the Chimaera. Capturing the Cerberus was the final of Heracles’ Twelve Labors. In Star Wars, the Cerberus is the name of an Imperial Sentinel-class Landing Craft used in the Ground Assault addition of the PocketModel Trading Card Game (which may be the lander dropping the Sandtroopers in search of R2-D2 and C-3PO on Tatooine in A New Hope, but that has never been confirmed). A Nebulon-B2 Frigate and bulk cruiser, both in service of the Galactic Empire in X-wing Alliance, also bore the name Cerberus.

Mythology - Chimaera

Cerberus’ sibling Chimaera was a fire-breathing monster that appeared to have been cobbled together from several different creatures. It had the body of a lion, with the tail of a snake and the head of a goat growing from its back. Probably one of the most famous Imperial-class Star Destroyers from the Expanded Universe (and retconned into Return of the Jedi), the Chimaera served as Gilad Pellaeon’s and the Imperial Remnant’s flagship. After surviving the Galactic Civil War it was severely damaged during the Yuuzhan Vong Invasion. Admiral Natasi Daala recovered the scuttled ship and made it the flagship of the Maw Irregular Fleet that made its appearance in Legacy of the Force: Revelation.

A gorgon is a female creature in Greek mythology, with hair of living snakes. The three sisters that were known as the gorgons were Stheno, Euryale and, probably the most famous, Medusa. They were notorious for their gaze, which could turn a man into stone. Perseus eventually managed to defeat Medusa without staring into her eyes, cutting off her head. He continued to use the head as a weapon and eventually gave it to Athena, who earlier gave him the reflective shield he used to avoid Medusa’s gaze. The Imperial-class Star Destroyer Gorgon served as Admiral Natasi Daala’s personal flagship, who used it to launch an attack against the New Republic in 11 ABY. It was badly damaged and dismantled by the warlords of the leftovers of the Galactic Empire for use in the construction of new warships.

The manticore was a mythological monster from Persian legends. Similar to the Egyptian sphinx, it had the body of a lion with the head of a man. Some sources show it having wings and various tails have been added to its depictions, among them the tail of a scorpion. This Persian “man-eater” (which is a literal translation of the name) devoured its prey whole, leaving no trace whatsoever. Pliny the Elder included the manticore in his Naturalis Historia. Also part of Admiral Daala’s fleet guarding the Maw, the Manticore was commanded by Captain Brusc. It was destroyed in a collision with the remotely piloted Startide during the Battle of Dac in 11 ABY. The fourth vessel in Daala’s Maw fleet was the Hydra, which was pulled in to one of the Maw’s many black holes in 11 ABY, after the Sun Crusher flew through her control bridge.

Pegasus was born out of Medusa, after Perseus decapitated the Gorgon. Fathered by Poseidon, this creature was a winged stallion of the purest white. He was captured by Bellerophon, who rode the horse to slay the Chimaera. Pegasus later lost his rider en route to Mount Olympus. Zeus took Pegasus and made him into the constellation Pegasus, one of the 88 modern constellations. In The Prophecy (an RPG scenario in Adventure Journal 2) the Pegasus Strike Force, headed by the Liberty Gambler, also contained the warship Pegasus. Under the command of Alliance Captain Longmar, the Pegasus was active in the Mid Rim (and hunted by an Imperial ship called Behemoth).

Mythology - Phoenix

The phoenix is a mythological bird known for its longevity. It could regenerate itself, burning to death and rising anew from the ashes. The phoenix was associated with the sun and renewal in general, and was adopted in several mythologies, including early Christianity. In the game Star Wars: X-wing, the Phoenix is a BFF-1 Bulk Freighter stolen from the Imperial base on Orron III. An Assassin-class Corvette in service of the Galactic Empire, present at the Battle of Mylok IV in the game Star Wars: TIE fighter is also named Phoenix. Finally, a diplomatic ship used by the Galactic Republic during the Clone Wars also bore the name Phoenix. In A Friend in Need, an episode of The Clone Wars, this GX1 Short Hauler was used during negations with the Separatists on Mandalore.

Last, but not least, Scylla and Charybdis were two sea monsters from Greek mythology, occupying two sides of a narrow channel. Sailors crossing the channel would have to navigate between the two. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus also has to pass between the monsters, but Scylla managed to snatch six of his men from his ship. Viraxo Industries used the Scylla, an IPV-1 System Patrol Craft, and the Charybdis, a Marauder-class Corvette, to guard VXO-33274, one of their industrial complexes. Both ships were destroyed by Ace Azzameen, piloting the YT-2000 Otana in X-wing Alliance.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll have a closer look at the mythological creatures from Earth that have appeared in the Star Wars universe in some form or another.

Tim Veekhoven (Sompeetalay) is president, editor-in-chief, and cofounder of TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub. He’s an administrator for Yodapedia and has written the backstories for Swilla Corey, Tzizvvt, Wam Lufba and Maxiron Agolerga.

Kevin Beentjes (Wild Whiphid) is a molecular biologist working at the Dutch natural history museum. He’s an editor for TeeKay-421, an administrator for Yodapedia and fascinated with the myriad of alien life forms, in that galaxy far, far away.