Birds “in a Galaxy Far, Far Away”

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The worlds of Star Wars parallel our own in many ways. One finds there the social constructs of politics, religion, and technology, even fashion and music, playing out in climates and among creatures comparable to those on Earth. Major characters such as Princess Leia, Obi-wan, Finn, and Rey, of course, possess the physical and psychological qualities of humans. Varieties of nonhuman life remain familiar enough, too, as we find birds living “long, long ago” on some “far, far away” planets.

Avian-like Symbols and Wildlife

Granted, where creatures of Star Wars are often in appearance mammalian (e.g., Ewoks, Wookiees, Wampas) or amphibian/reptilian (e.g., Rodians, Dewbacks, Krayt Dragons), birds can be easily overlooked. Though not well represented, they do have a symbolic presence within the space opera, starting back with the first film released in 1977. During subsequent movies, avian life-forms materialize in other ways.

Birds are used for metaphorical purposes, as part of a moniker and a logo, in the original Star Wars (now known as Star Wars IV: A New Hope). The first instance occurs in the cantina scene when Han Solo speaks of the Millennium Falcon. The avian aspect of the name is apt for the carrier’s high-speed reputation since the peregrine falcon, with diving speeds exceeding 200 mph, is the fastest bird on Earth.1 That spacecraft plays a crucial role throughout the rest of the film, including in a pivotal scene not long after the introduction of another avian metaphor: the phoenix-like “starbird” logo of the Rebel Alliance.2 (By the way, this is the symbol that appears on X-wing Starfighter pilots’ helmets, such as the one worn by Luke Skywalker.)

While avian life-forms are not present as physical entities in the 1977 film, subsequent movies do confirm their existence. For example, in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, Padmé Amidala reminisces to Anakin Skywalker of her youth on Naboo listening to birdsong. Birds that resemble owls appear in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars.3 Finally, 2015’s Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens gives audiences their first close-up view of a non-animated avian creature, the so-called steelpecker,4 a vulture-like bird that scavenges metal scraps from the desert terrain of planet Jakku. In addition, actual birds—those from Earth, such as the northern gannet—and the call of a bald eagle have been identified in sequences of this movie.5, 6

Looking for More Feathered Species

In a few days, a new live-action installment in the Star Wars film franchise will hit theaters. Reports indicate that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will pick up at a point prior to the original trilogy. Also, the movie will launch a new set of characters. Perhaps in a scene or two, if we’re lucky, some additional avian-like species will appear gliding overhead or perched on a parked spacecraft.

Sources:

  1. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Peregrine Falcon.” AllAboutBirds.com: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Peregrine_Falcon/lifehistory#fig1.
  2. Ratcliffe, A. “5 Symbols in the Star Wars Universe,” 2/2/2016. StarWars.com: http://www.starwars.com/news/5-symbols-in-the-star-wars-universe.
  3. O’Keefe, M. “6 of the Cutest Star Wars Aliens and Creatures,” 11/17/2016. StarWars.com: http://www.starwars.com/news/6-of-the-cutest-star-wars-aliens-and-creatures.
  4. Ratcliffe, A. “8 Things You Might Not Know About the Creatures of The Force Awakens,” 8/29/2016. StarWars.com: http://www.starwars.com/news/8-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-creatures-of-the-force-awakens.
  5. Lund, N. “A Field Guide to the Birds of Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” 12/21/2015. Audubon.com: http://www.audubon.org/news/a-field-guide-birds-star-wars-force-awakens.
  6. As Lund notes in the above Audubon.com article, filming at Skellig Michael, a popular site for nesting seabirds, posed concerns for conservationists. (For more information, please see Hatch, N. “The dark side of ‘Star Wars’,” 10/12/2015. BirdLife International: http://www.birdlife.org/europe-and-central-asia/news/dark-side-star-wars.)
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13 thoughts on “Birds “in a Galaxy Far, Far Away”

  1. Well. This truly is beyond me, since I haven’t seen a single minute of any of the Star Wars films. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it, either. it’s just one of those things.

    However,: I do have a little offering that might relate to the topic at hand. Since I’m such a strange bird when it comes to Star Wars, I thought Jimmy Buffett’s little ode to another strange bird might be in order.

    And the post was interesting, even to me!

    1. Thanks for the link to the Buffett ode. I had not heard it before, but what an appropriate song for a post involving spacecraft! Oh, and I hold no grudges toward you for never having seen Star Wars. : ) Part of the appeal for me, I think, is having grown up with the movies a child.

  2. Spacecraft are birds of a different kind. And what is a Skywalker but a bird? Lots of references, to freedom (flight) and exploring (freedom, whether inner or outer). Peregrines are fantastic. I’ll wait for the Rogue movie to come to TV.

    1. I was shocked to learn that G. Lucas initially had “Skykiller” as the surname. Of course, “Skywalker” is way better. As a bit of a joke, I’ve dubbed the person in my wife’s painting above “Luke Birdwatcher.”

    1. The falcon moniker is pretty cool. Maybe the Millennium Falcon will have a cameo in the new movie. As a nod to its namesake, I’d like to see an actual falcon get some screen time, too. As always, Kerfe, thanks for stopping by!

    1. Initially I didn’t pick up on some of these, especially the “starbird” on the helmets. With all of the special effects, overlooking is easy. Thanks for reading my post—and for the compliment!

  3. I haven’t missed all the Star Wars movies but it has been a long time and only the first three I think. Really made me smile to see that someone wrote a Field Guide to Birds of Star Wars. But, truly avian symbols for the sheer issue of flight are the most natural of creatures to incorporate into these stories. After all, human flight tries to emulate what birds are built to do and they will always soar between the land and the heavens and make us both envious and dreamers of what is out there if we could fly. A fun post to make us consider all the creatures talented film makers have produced with earthly examples to extrapolate from. Although I think the pterodactyls going back anyway are haunting and otherworldly too…and they were here.

    1. The first three (IV, V, VI), I think, are the best. Though not perfect, the overall vision of those movies has had amazing staying power, considering the first one is now almost 40 years old. Judy, the most recent film, VII, was good, too . . . a nice homage of sorts to the original trilogy. In particular, it was nice to see that J.J. Abrams et al decided to finally include a feathered creature in a live-action SW movie. Having pterodactyls and prehistoric-looking birds would be cool as well!

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