We live in a post-Last Jedi universe, where we know the truth about [REDACTED], how Kylo Ren looks without a shirt, and that, yes, the alt-right will even launch a campaign against fucking Star Wars. But prior to its release—a simpler era for us all—the greatest controversy around the film was the space penguins called Porgs, and whether they were too cute. Seriously, that was what we were all concerned about.
Now that we live on the other side of history, we can rest easy, knowing that the Porgs are, in fact, cool and good. Not only are they appropriately cute—which is to say, very, but not cloyingly so—as well as the fact that they are funny, sparingly used, and, perhaps most winningly of all, portrayed as an organic part of a broader environment. This is a trick the movie pulls off a few times with its creatures, which eschew the cartoonishness of prequel and Force Awakens monster designs in favor of much more magisterial, high-fantasy creatures.
It turns out there is a very good reason for that, at least in regards to the Porgs. As an interview with creature concept designer Jake Lunt Davies on Star Wars’ official website describes, the space penguins were actually an improvisation on director Rian Johnson’s part. Actual puffins were all over Skellig Michael, the island wildlife preserve where they filmed the Ahch-To scenes with Luke and Rey, and removing them physically would’ve been a pain, and possibly illegal, and doing so digitally would be a costly process even for a movie with a seemingly infinite budget. And so, as Davies describes, Johnson thought:
“Well, that’s great, let’s have our own indigenous species.” We’d already started work on the Caretakers, which again was a brief from Rian. We’d just been told “puffin people.” Yeah, there was going to be this race of people and puffins again were a source of inspiration for Rian. The puffins were sort of a big influence on everything, really.
Emphasis ours, obviously. The interview is peppered with great quotes from Davies like this, such as:
It was influenced by a seal and a pug dog and the puffin. The big eyes of a seal or the big eyes of a pug dog and the sort of funny, ugly face [of a pug]. I mean, pug dogs aren’t, by their nature, obviously cute.
The Porg is essentially this sort of egg shape with two eyes on the very top of his head and a sad mouth.
The rest of the interview details the design process for Davies’ team—iteration, modeling, finessing. There are a bunch of great pictures of the noble beast’s evolutionary grandfathers, too. The end result was an unquestionable net positive for the universe, a sci-fi creature for the history books.
Now let’s talk about those big horse things on the casino planet.