A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #36: Star Wars Zoology—To Say Nothing of the Dog

Happiness puppyThe teaser for this week’s blog asked: What if your hero needs a dog?

For a writer of Star Wars novels, this is a legitimate concern: I might find myself writing something about Dash Rendar having a dog as a childhood pet only to remember that there may be no dogs, as such, in the GFFA.
The need for such things as pets, predators, wildlife and beasts of burden persists, so what’s a writer to do? While the Star Wars Universe is full of such things as banthas, tauntauns and mynocks, and while my characters may make reference to such creatures, I can’t just plop a tauntaun or a mynock down in the middle of Mos Eisley because these species are not native to Tatooine. Ah, but dogs, cats and goldfish are Earth species that may or may not exist in the Star Wars Universe. And I have learned that even among experts, there is disagreement about which species are present in the EU. I used the world “sheepish”, for example, to describe a character’s reaction to something and my editor asked, “Are there sheep in the GFFA?” I consulted the runes (i.e., the Handy Dandy Star Wars Encyclopedia) and heaved a sigh of relief. Sheep are cool.

(So are fezzes and bow-ties, but that’s a different Universe altogether.)

Cat psych

Still, there are ecological niches to fill, so when I need a creature, either to reference or write into the story, my approach is twofold.

I check to make sure that something doesn’t already exist. For example, I needed Dash to make a reference to a predatory bird that might be familiar to him on Corellia. So, I went online and looked up information on animals in Star Wars fiction. Wookieepedia offers a nice list with references. I found a perfect candidate and was able to determine that it came from approved Star Wars properties (in fact, I found it was invented for the role-playing source book Threats of the Galaxy and was mentioned in Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by my personal Jedi Master, Michael Reaves).

If nothing exists, I make it up. Now, I might get away with just calling something a Corellian Cat, but I’d rather not. That’s just plain lazy. It’s nice to be more artful, if I can. If I call something a Spotted Vral Kit, you’d get the idea, right?

Now, this is not to say that the basic animal types—avian, canine, feline—can’t exist in a Star Wars novel. There are going to be furred and flying critters on any planet that’s evolved complex life, most likely—and, heck, this is science fiction set in a galaxy long ago and far away. And those basic terms—or words close enough to be recognizable—are a very good shorthand way of getting the reader to picture the creature without having to describe it in boring detail.

250px-Corellian_banshee_bird_TofGI mean really, when I’m trying to convey that a certain spacecraft reminds Dash of a fleet, flying, feathered creature with a razor-sharp beak and a sinister aspect, do I really want to say all that, or would I rather write that the craft was: “…sleek as a dart. Its long, tapered hull ended in a deadly looking point that, slanting down from backswept stabilizer planes and a V-shaped forward viewport, reminded Dash of a Corellian banshee bird.”

See? Now you have some idea of what the bird AND the spacecraft look like. <wink>

Next time: Real Men Don’t Use Maps.

Also, I want to hear from you! What would YOU like to have me blog about? Doesn’t have to be Star Wars-related.

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #36: Star Wars Zoology—To Say Nothing of the Dog — 11 Comments

  1. If there are humans in SW that are coincidentally the same as humans from Earth, then why can’t there be other general species types that are simply the same?

    Dogs are mentioned in the novelisation of Ep IV when Luke recalls one he used to own. Threepio also uses the word dog as an insult in Ep II.

    Mynocks may not be native to Tatooine, but they may live there as seen in the game Super Star Wars.

  2. Not to be too nitpicky here, but dogs and cats *do* exist in the Star Wars universe. Luke thinks about a dog he once owned in the original Star Wars novel, and Lando recalls owning a dog in Flamewind of Oseon. Threepio even says “die Jedi dogs” in Attack of the Clones. Now, they could be referring to an otherworldly sort of dog, like the Cyborrean Battle Dogs, but given that we’ve seen real-world horses, llamas, and snakes in the live-action films, it’s probable that they’re just regular canines.

  3. You can be as nitpicky as you like. It’s fine with me. 🙂

    And yes, there are those mentions, BUT writers are now guided to be careful of such references. There are even terms we’re asked not to use—most of them earth specific. In fact, we’re asked not to use the word “earth” at all, not even to describe dirt. Likewise, Earth cultural concepts are also to be avoided. Sure, sometimes things slip through or are allowed because there doesn’t seem to be an alternative.

    I suspect, too, that as the Star Wars EU is further defined, the rules tend to become more set. Something that wasn’t highlighted as an issue previously gets noticed and someone finally asks the Powers That Be, “What do you think of this?”

    The Powers may say, “ix-nay on the og-day” to me and Michael, even though they allowed an earlier writer to mention the dog.

  4. Oh, and to answer the question about why there can be humans here but not, say, horses. The answer I’ve been given is that the GFFA is where humans originated, dominated and moved on to populate other planets.

    I suspect the answer may be a post-fix. Honestly when most of us are writing about humans living in galaxies far, far away, we’re probably not thinking too much about all the cascade effects and ramifications of how they got there or what they brought with them… Until someone asks. 😉

  5. What I’ve always wondered about pets in a galaxy where there are many sentient species is when does it go from a pet to a slave? How much smarter is a Gamorrean than a Kowakian Monkey Lizard? And on that note, is it ethical to take away another creature’s free choice because it is less intelligent and how much less intelligent does it need to be?

  6. That’s a great question. And it’s one I’ve dealt with in my short fiction on a number of occasions. Whose to say that the species you think is an animal is merely unable to communicate with you because it’s got a different sort of language altogether, while the extroverted critter that seems to be acting intelligently is just a clever but non-sapient mimic?

    You might be interested in my Rhys Llewellyn stories. Especially Marsh Mallow that deals specifically with this question. They’re all available on the BVC main site.

  7. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, Maya–while dogs might have earned a few mentions in old EU (and, frankly, in “Attack of the Clones”), we’ve never actually seen or read about an honest-to-goodness dog as far as I know.

    Ducks also have an interesting history with Star Wars. If I remember right, the original ANH novelization has Obi-Wan telling Luke, “Even a duck must learn how to swim,” to which Luke responds, “What’s a duck?” And ducks later do make an appearance in “The Phantom Menace.”

    The one that’s always interested me, though, is the “Millennium Falcon.” Because as far as I know, the only reference to falcons in the Star Wars universe is in the ship name itself.

  8. And in TPM, Captain Obvious announced they’ll be sitting ducks if the shields on the Queen’s Ship are blown away. Ergo, Dash Rendar needs a duck. That he can teach to swim.

  9. Not to mention that ducks ARE shown in The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Jar-Jar enter Theed.

  10. I love the idea of Dash having a duck, but I somehow doubt I’ll be able to sell that idea to Michael … unless there’s a way to get a real good laugh out of it.

    Picture this: Dash and Leebo are walking along a canal on Corellia. Leebo spies a low-flying aquatic waterfowl coming in for a landing. Egad! The silly avian is aimed right at Dash’s head!

    “Duck!” cries Leebo. But of course, being Leebo, he gives the warning a moment too late and Dash is pegged and knocked into the canal. The bird is knocked senseless.

    “What happened to you?” sidekick #2 asks when Dash hauls himself in soaking wet and with a black eye and a groggy bird tucked under one arm. “And what’s that?”

    “A duck,” says Dash.

    “He means he DIDN’T duck,” says Leebo.

    Dash blinks at Leebo. “You said it was a duck.”

    “No, I said YOU should duck.”

    “Okay, so don’t tell me,” says sidekick #2.

    Dash has acquired a “duck” which he immediately trains to do cute tricks…