Welcome to The StarWars.com 10, a feature where StarWars.com’s editorial staff huddles to discuss — in a committee — various topics relating to a galaxy far, far away. Today, as it’s that time of year, we pick the best creepy crawlies (big and small) of Star Wars.
Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without monsters. In every film within the saga and throughout The Clone Wars, our heroes have unexpected run-ins with creatures all over the galaxy, making the universe both richer and more dangerous. Whether they’re hiding out in asteroids or slithering in murky waters, monsters play a big role in Star Wars. These are the best.
Note: This list is based on a few things, including creature design, legacy, and overall cool factor. This list does not include sentient aliens, no matter how gross or monster-like they may be; thus, no Jabba, no Salacious Crumb, etc.
10. Nexu, Attack of the Clones
Appearing as one of three beasts set loose in the Genosian arena to kill Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Padmé Amidala at the climax of Attack of the Clones, the nexu is genuinely threatening, very ugly, and is ultimately a new kind of Star Wars creature. Primarily feline with its speed, claws, and climbing ability, the nexu also brings in visual elements of rodents with a hairless tail, and ups the creepy quotient with four eyes and a wide mouth filled with sharp teeth. Before the nexu, most Star Wars creatures were hulking and slow; this smaller, quicker, more animal-like creature brought a faster, eye-level element to monsters in the saga — the way raptors created a new kind of tension in Jurassic Park.
9. Dianoga, A New Hope
The first real creature seen in a Star Wars movie, the dianoga is a slimy, tentacled menace that reminds audiences of their I-think-I-saw-something fears of things that slither (“Something just moved past my leg!”). While not very visible in the scene in which it attacks Luke Skywalker in the Death Star’s trash compactor, that only adds to what makes the dianoga so scary: it’s lurking underneath, watching you with its singular eyestalk, waiting to drag you down. Historically, the dianoga illustrated that the Star Wars universe is a dangerous and often random place, filled with unseen terrors.
8. Brain Worm, The Clone Wars
The one monster that takes Star Wars into clear horror-movie territory, brain worms enter a host through their nasal passage and then take control of their victim’s mind and body. Debuting in the “Legacy of Terror” episode of The Clone Wars, brain worms have a simple design but are truly scary, slithering like snakes and turning their hosts into zombie-like drones. Even more unsettling: they’re born from the huge egg sac of the hideous Geonosian queen.
7. Sando Aqua Monster, The Phantom Menace
The “bigger fish” from The Phantom Menace‘s underwater sequence on Naboo, the sando aqua monster is one of the biggest creatures seen in a Star Wars film, and a fierce predator. Featuring a massive tail, rear fins, two strong arms with which it can grab and hold prey, and a big, big mouth, it’s simultaneously awe-inspiring and frightening, just like any great movie monster.
6. Acklay, Attack of the Clones
While the nexu brought something new to Star Wars monsters, the acklay was just instantly memorable when it appeared in Attack of the Clones. A huge, snarling, crab-like thing, the acklay has six claws, sharp fangs, and a tough skin/outer shell. Its relentless pursuit of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Geonosian arena makes it appear meaner, and of all the monsters in the prequels, it seems to have the most personality. (Acklay’s standoff with Obi-Wan — particularly when the Jedi wards off the creature with a spear — is a direct tribute to Ray Harryhausen, echoing a sequence created by the effects legend in 1961′s Mysterious Island, which finds shipwrecked men battling a giant crab with spears.)
5. Space Slug, The Empire Strikes Back
“This is no cave.” When a movie monster can be identified by one line of dialogue, you know it’s successful. Also known as the exogorth, the space slug — aptly nicknamed, as it’s a giant slug that lives in space — features heavily in one of The Empire Strikes Back‘s most famous scenes. (The Millennium Falcon unknowingly docks inside its belly and then must narrowly escape its closing jaws.) The space slug sequence puts a clever spin on the trash compactor scene from A New Hope, further illustrating the danger-all-around-you element of Star Wars, and how once you think you’re safe, you’ve probably just run into — literally, in this case — a bigger problem.
4. Sarlacc, Return of the Jedi
This is the one monster in Star Wars that’s completely stationary, which makes it all the more unique. The Sarlacc is found in a Tatooine sand well known as the Great Pit of Carkoon, with a teeth-lined ridge, tentacles to grab prey, an extending beak used to eat its victims — and then slowly digest them over a thousand years, according to Jabba the Hutt. The Sarlacc is maybe the most original of all Star Wars monsters; it’s much more of a thing than it is a traditional movie monster, and is the most unsettling. It combines many grotesque elements from classic creatures — the tentacles, the teeth — but the fact that Jabba takes his enemies to the Sarlacc as a form of execution adds much to its fear factor. (And its pig-like squeals are pretty disturbing, too.)
3. Zillo Beast, The Clone Wars
The Zillo Beast, debuting in The Clone Wars animated series, has become a fan favorite Star Wars monster. With a name that recalls a very famous movie monster, the Zillo Beast is a huge creature accidentally unearthed on Malastare during a Clone Wars battle. As it is captured for study by Chancellor Palpatine, there’s more of a tragic element to the Zillo Beast than any other monster on this list — it only attacks when provoked, and is actually very beautiful with its graceful movements and orange hue.
2. Wampa, The Empire Strikes Back
There’s a great Hollywood tradition of “guy in a suit” monsters, and the wampa is Star Wars‘ excellent contribution to that legacy (though a puppet was also used for some shots). A hulking behemoth covered in white fur, the wampa appears early in The Empire Strikes Back on the ice planet Hoth; closing in quietly, it quickly kills Luke Skywalker’s tauntaun, incapacitates the young Jedi, and drags them both back to its lair. The simple design of the monster works wonders, as it’s essentially a nightmarish version of a yeti, all claws and teeth. And the fact that it saves its “dinner” by hanging it upside down in its cave, feet frozen to the ceiling? Horrifying and cool at the same time.
1. Rancor, Return of the Jedi
The most famous of all Star Wars monsters, and a classic movie monster in its own right. Kept in Jabba’s dungeon, the rancor serves as Jabba’s own sick death penalty for his enemies, dispatching victims via a trap door into its lair. The rancor is a huge, roaring thing, grabbing and eating its victims on sight. This was a first of its kind Star Wars monster when it debuted in Return of the Jedi, and there’s nothing quite like it in film — it’s not really reptilian, or dinosaur-like, or mammalian. And more than any other creature on this list, it’s instantly recognizable and iconic today — clearly a movie monster of the highest degree, but also clearly Star Wars.
That’s it. What do you think? Did we nail it? Are we out of our minds? Did we overlook something? Let us know in the comments below!