The Natural History of Star Wars: Part II

Have you ever wondered: Are Ewoks and Jawas related to each other? What kind of plants were Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru growing on their moisture farm? Do the crystals in a Jedi’s lightsaber come from granitic pegmatites? In the lead-up to the museum’s Star Wars: Identities Nature Nocturne, Paul Sokoloff examines the natural history of George Lucas’s richly developed universe, indulging his inner Star Wars fan in an unusual way!

In my last blog post, I discussed how much of the natural world in Star Wars draws inspiration directly from our world. However, as the museum prepares for its upcoming Star Wars: Identities Nature Nocturne, I’ve been trying to mentally transport myself to that Galaxy Far Far Away to better prepare myself for the big night.

Visitors stand in front of an exhibition panel.

The first stop on visiting the Star Wars: Identities exhibition is a wall where you can select your species. As soon as I picked, I started to wonder, how would a biologist or an anthropologist classify extraterrestrial life? Would it be appropriate to give a Latin name to a sentient species in the Star Wars universe? What if we ever discovered real extraterrestrial life? Image: © Lucasfilm

The Star Wars Identities exhibition itself even lets you cast yourself into the Star Wars realm as a character you create in the gallery. (Star Wars Identities is at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum). Walking through this exhibition with a few of my work colleagues got me wondering: if our museum’s research and collections staff were transplanted into that universe, what would we do? Being professional scientists, many of us would no doubt find work cataloguing the life around us. So then, if we worked in the Star Wars galaxy, what would our research interests be?

The mouth of a sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus).

Do you remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where the mynock squishes up against the window on the Millennium Falcon? Lampreys have always reminded me of that moment. Image: Brian Coad © Canadian Museum of Nature

Judith Price, the museum’s resident parasite expert, and Claude Renaud, who researches lampreys, would likely be found in space-suits searching for mynocks. These bat-like creatures gave Leia a fright in The Empire Strikes Back, and like a tapeworm or a lamprey that feeds off its host, mynocks feed off of starship power cables.

Darth Vader.

Darth Vader’s intimidating lightsaber is made possible only through the use of specific crystals in the Star Wars universe. This mirrors real life: much of the technology that we use every day, including cars, cell phones and computers, is made possible only through the use of minerals. Image: © Lucasfilm

Our mineralogists, such as Paula Piilonen and Glenn Poirier, might be interested in talking to Jedis or Siths, seeing as how lightsabers are constructed around a crystal that focuses the beam. As such, they might be found deep in the caves of Ilum, the planet where the Jedi mine such crystals.

A muskox (Ovibos moschatus) on a rocky slope.

In parts of the Canadian Arctic, muskox lumber over the tundra in massive herds, not unlike the banthas of Tatooine. Image: Jeff Saarela © Canadian Museum of Nature

Mammalogist Kamal Khidas would be no doubt conducting fieldwork on Tatooine, the home planet of both Anakin and Luke Skywalker. There, massive herds of banthas roam the dunes that blanket the desert planet, not unlike the muskox of the Canadian Arctic. Similar to how the muskox is an integral part of Inuit and Inuvialuit culture, bantha are an everyday part of life to Tatooine’s indigenous culture, the Tusken Raiders.

A man stands on snow and uses an ice corer.

Michel Poulin studies diatoms in the most Hoth-like part of Canada—the frozen Arctic Ocean. Fortunately, he’s never needed to crawl into a tauntaun to keep warm. Image: Jeff Saarela © Canadian Museum of Nature

Michel Poulin, who studies the algae that grow under sea ice, would probably hide out from the Empire alongside the Rebel Alliance on the ice planet of Hoth. After all, if that “ice cube”—to quote Han Solo—can sustain larger animals like the tauntaun and the wampa, and has a breathable atmosphere, there’s likely some sort of plant at the bottom of the food chain keeping the ecosystem going.

Speaking of plants, where would I be? As a botanist, you’d probably find me on the forest moon of Endor, where massive trees tower over everything, especially the native Ewoks. And just like the Ewoks partied with the Rebels after the Empire’s defeat in Return of the Jedi, you could find yourself partying with us, and celebrating the Star Wars universe, at our upcoming Star Wars: Identities Nature Nocturne.

Several Star Wars characters.

The Canadian Museum of Nature’s Star Wars Identities characters. The real-life versions of these handsome characters are hard at work planning our Star Wars: Identities Nature Nocturne. Hope to see you there! Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

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