This Halloween, four StarWars.com writers sit down to talk about creepy creatures and other elements of the galaxy that have been frightening them since they were children.
On the Comlink is a feature in which StarWars.com writers hop on a call (virtual or old fashioned) and discuss a specific Star Wars topic. In this installment to celebrate Halloween, Kristin Baver, Dan Brooks, James Floyd, and Jennifer Landa talk about their favorite frightening moments, how their fears have changed over the years of watching Star Wars, and why the villains of the galaxy were made for this spine-tingling holiday.
Kristin Baver: We're here to talk about scary Star Wars stories, which I'm very excited about. Halloween is [my favorite and Dan Brooks’s] favorite holiday, which I think shows on the website because there's just a boatload of Halloween content. But also, I think Star Wars really lends itself to that. To start us off, I'm curious what you think: is Star Wars inherently scary?
Jennifer Landa: If you're talking to the kid Jennifer, then yes, absolutely. When I was a kid watching Star Wars, I could really only stick with Return of the Jedi because Empire was just too scary for me. There's a lot happening in that film: the family drama is kind of scary. Luke gets his hand cut off by his father. Oh, my gosh! So yeah, [Empire] was very scary for me as a child. I've always been a 'fraidy cat, but Star Wars was cathartic for me because it allowed me to experience these scary moments and know that it was going to be okay. My daughter loves watching scary moments in TV shows or movies, and she'll watch it over and over again, to conquer that fear. And so for me, that's what Star Wars was. You might come across a scary beast. It's okay because Luke defeated the rancor. Or maybe you're a kid going up against somebody that is threatening. It's helpful knowing that it's possible for good to triumph. Doesn't always happen in the real world, but in Star Wars, it did.
Kristin Baver: That is a great answer! James, you made a face... [Laughs] Do you want to talk about what that face was?
James Floyd: That is the opposite of my daughter. My daughter avoids the things that are scary. And what's scary to her is not monsters and stuff. She's seven, and the thing that really scares her the most is when people do things that would get them in trouble. If somebody is breaking the rules, that is what freaks her out. And she's like, "Fast forward this part!" But as someone who grew up with Star Wars, while there were the monsters like the dianoga and the rancor, I think the part that really scared me the most was in Empire. It's when Luke faces Vader in the dark side cave on Dagobah and pops his head off, and it's his own face. That's a little traumatic when you're young. It's like, what is that about, even? Trying to figure out, wait...wait, is Vader really Luke or what's going on there? And plus, that face is pretty creepy because it's just staring at you.
Kristin Baver: It’s Luuuke with all the “u”s [from Legends].
James Floyd: Luuuuuke! [Laughter]
Dan Brooks: Yeah. That scene feels very 1980s children's storytelling, where they push it further than you think, like when you look at it through today's lens. And that scene is very dream-like and really nightmarish, even. And I think as a kid, that's kind of what you feel from that. To go back to the original question: is Star Wars inherently scary? I think it's just part of the DNA from the beginning. And I think that all comes from, you know, stuff that George Lucas liked and probably grew up with. For me -- and I said this in our debate article, Kristin -- the rancor has King Kong vibes. Like, this big creature grabbing someone, pulling them up. Rancor doesn't necessarily have the heart that King Kong does, but it's a movie monster in that vein.
Kristin Baver: I don’t know. If you ask Malakili, I think he would say the rancor has a heart.
Dan Brooks: Oh, maybe I'm wrong on that one. That's true. [Laughter] But I think it's just there from the beginning. There is classically scary stuff that's part of the stew of Star Wars.
Kristin Baver: Yeah, and it also has layers. When you're a kid...I was scared of Yoda -- of all things! -- because my sister had…actually I have it nearby. [Kristin holds up a vintage Yoda hand puppet] My sister had this Yoda puppet, and I hadn't seen the movie yet, and she would just make it silently nod at me. And it was the creepiest thing when you're, like, two or three years old.
Dan Brooks: That’s scaring me now.
Kristin Baver: Right? [Laughs] And so I remember being afraid of Yoda and then seeing the movie and being like, “I don't understand what I was afraid of.” I was definitely afraid of the rancor even though Luke defeats it. It's all snarly and it's got too many nostrils; it's all gooey and towering and terrifying. But I think the beauty of Star Wars is that it has those layers. So there are the things that scare you as a kid. And then as you become an adult and you watch it, there's also so many thematic discussions of fear and corruption and what it can do to a person. It's the classic good versus evil stuff. And I think a lot of that is also kind of scary even to an adult. It's not the same horror feel, for sure. But it still has a lot of really interesting facets to it that force us to examine what scares us in our own world and deal with it. But it's happening in a galaxy far, far away to these other people, so you can kind of look at it through that lens. It's safe.
Dan Brooks: I just want to pick up on something you're saying. I mean, we're all kind of talking about our kids now, but I do think that when you have kids, it changes the way you see the movies and changes your relationship with them. Watching Return of the Jedi with my kids, I saw the end in a whole new light, and I felt it in a totally different way. Just the idea of being a father and making these terrible mistakes. And obviously, I'm not going to do the things Darth Vader did. But, you know --
Kristin Baver: You did name your kid, Ben, man. [Laughter]
James Floyd: That’s a setup.
Kristin Baver: You’ve got more of a Han/Ben Solo kind of issue coming up...
Dan Brooks: Well, I hope not. [Laughter]
James Floyd: Gets you right through the heart, man.
Dan Brooks: Yeah. They do punch me a lot. They seem to enjoy that. But the idea of, you know, as you get older and you have a family, are you making the right choices? And are you being the best parent you could be? That's what I was getting when I was watching that scene again. It's a way I never would have seen the movies before, but that's kind of a fear. Are you living a good life as a father or a mother and doing the best by your kids?
Kristin Baver: It's funny that you bring that up because my sister had a very different and visceral reaction to The Force Awakens than I did. She had this very parental reaction to the whole Han and Ben thing where she was like, "I would never do that! How is this possibly happening?" And I thought it was just so fascinating because you're right. As you grow and change and new things develop in your own life, you kind of see these stories through a different lens. But Dan, you also mentioned our recent debate post. And so even though the internet now knows what he and I think, I'm curious, who do you think is right, me or Dan? [Laughs] But also, what do you think is the scariest creature in Star Wars?
Dan Brooks: Choose carefully.
Kristin Baver: That’s a setup. I know, it’s a trap.
James Floyd: It's a trap!
Jennifer Landa: There’s so many to choose from!
James Floyd: I wrote a “From A Certain Point of View” post several years back about this. And I put my money on the acklay just because it is so lethal and ferocious and kind of a combination of every type of scary thing. It's got the whole Harryhausen vibe, which is really, really cool with the claws and the striking motion. So it's like a crab, a spider, and it's giant. It shrieks really loud so it just instills fear. It doesn't really have any weak points. It skewers that one guy just because. Obi-Wan throws a spear at it and it just pulls out the spear and bites it in half. That's where I think it's at for the most terrifying.
Jennifer Landa: That's a good one. They’re just so many that are terrifying for a variety of reasons, whether it's their teeth, the sounds that they make, their size. I mean, honestly, I think for me, one of the more recent ones would be the knobby white spider.
Dan Brooks: That's a good choice. [Laughter]
Jennifer Landa: Is there an alliance here?
Dan Brooks: I think there might be.
Jennifer Landa: It's fresh in my mind. And you know what it is? I don't like spiders. Spiders are creepy. I think that a lot of people find spiders creepy because they move unpredictably, right? They show up on your ceiling, the next minute they're under your bed. They're terrifying. So that episode of The Mandalorian just cranks that up. The sound design with chittering sound is like nails on a chalkboard. They have that crunchy, slimy sound that they make when the babies hatch, and then the mom, I'm assuming she's the mama. When the mama spider shows up, Mando is like, "Oh, we gotta go, now!" That's kind of the first moment where we see he looks really panicked. So that's my vote.
Kristin Baver: That’s a good one.
Dan Brooks: That's a great choice.
Kristin Baver: It was also Dan’s choice.
Dan Brooks: Not to just restate what I said in our article, but I think part of what makes it so scary is the filmmaking of that episode and the way they presented it. To me, they were just leaning into, like, full-on horror movie mode. And I don't think they've done that before, at least not to that extent where it's like, nobody is having a good time in that scene. There's none of that, “The sarlacc pit is underneath me but I'm going to do a cool spin to get out...!” There's none of that. Mando is scared. Legit scared. Frog lady's doing her frog jump.
Jennifer Landa: That was amazing.
Dan Brooks: Yeah. As a piece of horror filmmaking -- I don't know how long the sequence lasts, like, 5-10 minutes -- it's so good. So it's a balance of the storytelling, and the filmmaking is great from a horror perspective. And then the creature itself, I think, really works. It takes something that we already have, that we are afraid of in our lives, and it just runs with it.
Kristin Baver: Yeah. And I think that whole episode, but especially that sequence, is also very different from the rest of the series, which is an interesting side road for it to take. And I believe the ice spider was also inspired by Ralph McQuarrie's art and some of the original things that he created, I think, for Empire. But I can't disagree with you. Spiders creep me out in real life, and I still can't look at that spider from...is it Lothal? The spider from Rebels.
James Floyd: Atollon.
Kristin Baver: Thank you.
Dan Brooks: The kryknas?
Kristin Baver: Yes. It's the krykna that they sell at Galaxy's Edge in Batuu. And I just like, I can't touch it. I can't be near it. I know it's a toy, but there's something...
James Floyd: Ooh! I know what somebody’s getting for Christmas.
Kristin Baver: A whole box of them? [Laughs] Although my pick is still the Drengir. Partially because I couldn't pick the ice spiders, but also because I think there's something really creepy about the Drengir. You kind of discount them initially. “Oh, there's nothing out there.” You look at it and you're like, “Oh, no, it's just some trees. It's fine.” And then it comes to life, but also the way it's depicted in the Marvel comics, where it's like...
James Floyd: Yes!
Kristin Baver: It's not only squeezing the life out of you, but the root system is going down your throat. It's going up your nose. It's getting into the veins of the Hutt and then bursting forth, kind of like in Alien, like a chest burster. It's just really low-key horrific, which is fascinating.
James Floyd: Yeah. It's kind of like a cross between trees and zombies that are just hungry and want you. And then almost like Venom; it's the symbiote thing that just gets inside you and then lashes out. And we saw what happened to Sskeer.
Kristin Baver: Poor Sskeer. Although, that said, I feel like we don't know enough about The Leveler yet to know for sure what it is. Is it a creature? Is it not a creature? Is it a man-made thing? I don't know. But that first page of Trail of Shadows when you see what it did to Loden Greatstorm is terrifying.
Dan Brooks: I'll say this for the Drengir. I think when you stack it against other Star Wars monsters, it's wholly unique. I know I picked the ice spiders in our debate and in this discussion, but to a degree, it's still just another creature. And this is much more. It doesn't really have a set shape, obviously. And the way it gets you is different and creepy. So for originality points I think it's really, really great. And my guess is we have Cavan Scott to thank for that. It's got his fingerprints all over it.
Kristin Baver: He does love horror.
[Editor's note: The Drengir is the product of several mad scientists, including concept artist Iain McCaig, and authors Scott, Claudia Gray, and Justina Ireland.]
And there are so many moments that just strike fear into our hearts. Jump scares or things that creep you out. Whenever we start talking about what we're going to do for Halloween on the site, and I think I may have even written about it before, but my mind always goes right back to the Nightsisters crawling out of their seed pods.
Jennifer Landa: That is so creepy.
James Floyd: Yeah.
Kristin Baver: Lurching through the mist, which is one of those moments in Clone Wars, where I was both surprised because it was something unlike I'd ever seen in Star Wars. And also, I guess I was a little shocked because in my mind I was like, “This is a children's show!” [Laughter]
There are some moments that might truly give a kid nightmares. So how do you define scary Star Wars and what makes it work?
James Floyd: Besides the Nightsisters, the brain worms episode of Clone Wars. A worm that goes in your nose is creepy enough. Like the tentacles of the Drengir getting everywhere. And then it changes who you are, that you don't get to be you anymore. Something else has taken control, and that's scary, too. So it's like a combination of those things and that your friends will see you as the enemy and you're not in control of your own body. And there's a worm in your brain.
Kristin Baver: [Laughs] Oh man, which can actually happen with a neti pot and a little amoeba thing that gets into the water. It's freakin' terrifying.
Jennifer Landa: Ugh, that’s right!
James Floyd: Great! Now you just made it even worse. [Laughter]
Dan Brooks: When I think of scary Star Wars, it's the great villain designs and, again, the great monster designs.
In terms of relating it to Halloween, one of the reasons why I think Star Wars works so well with it is, honestly, because it became part of Halloween culture. Because of how easy it lends itself to Halloween costumes. And I think that's just part of the way we feel about it now, especially around this time of year. I think people always couch Star Wars as like, a space fantasy or science fiction. But the horror elements have always been there from the beginning.
Kristin Baver: Yeah. And I think to your point, Darth Vader is one of the most recognizable designs in pop culture. And part of that is because he's terrifying. He has this unreadable mask of a face. And you can tell that there are eyes of some sort, but you have no idea what's going on behind that mask. And it does make for a great Halloween costume.
James Floyd: And he can kill you with his brain.
Kristin Baver: Yeah. He can just kill you by looking at ya. What's more terrifying than that? And also, fatherly.
Dan Brooks: I remember the first time I saw General Grievous, and I was like, how awesome is this guy? He's just so cool and scary. Halloween's the time to celebrate the scary stuff. Bad guys are scary. And Star Wars has some of the best in pop culture.
Kristin Baver: Absolutely.