Cyrus R. K. Patell



July 4, 2021


It’s Independence Day in the United States, which seems like an appropriate moment to send out another issue of a newsletter about a shared universe that had its origins in a film about a rebellion against an imperial government. 





Imagine an empire ruled over by a man whom some accuse of being a tyrant and others describe as being mad. To counteract the rising crime rate brought about by overcrowding in slums, widespread disease, and high food prices, the imperial authorities enforce what is known popularly as the “Bloody Code.” It lists more than two hundred crimes that are punishable by death. By far, the majority of these arc crimes against property rather than persons. The code is designed to eliminate what the upper echelons of society consider to be an unredeemable criminal class. Children can be executed for stealing spoons. Inevitably, there is a rebellion. 


This description might remind you of the universe depicted in the original Star Wars trilogy, but in fact the empire that I have in mind existed not so long ago and not so very far away. Its ruler was named not “Palpatine” but “George III”; its capital was called not “Coruscant” but “London.” And the “rebellion” in question is neither the one led by Leia, Luke and company, nor the revolution led by those who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776; it is, rather, the Luddite Rebellion, which erupted in Nottinghamshire in 1811 when stocking-knitters broke into workshops and sabotaged the “wide-frame” machines that were threatening their livelihoods. 


The term “Luddite” has come to signify an irrational hatred of technology and progress. But recently historians have argued that the Luddites were not opposed to machines and technology per se; what they opposed was the use of machines to establish a system of economic and social domination. After all, those who became Luddites had worked since the sixteenth-century on relatively complex knitting machines, but machines that could be used by a single individual, working out of a cottage or a small shop. In the early nineteenth century, however, these artisans saw their way of life threatened by the introduction of large-scale machines, housed in massive buildings, that automated a good deal of the weaving process. And they recognized that these machines threatened to transform what had been the product of artisans into something that could be mass-produced. The Luddites were protesting the beginnings of the exploitation of the working classes that would accompany the onset of Industrialism.


In both the Luddite Rebellion and the rebellion that George Lucas imagined the first Star Wars trilogy, we find an attempt to preserve and promote individual agency, and to instill an attitude toward technology that harkens back to the conceptions of “art” or “skill” that are a part of the etymology of the term technology, an attitude that preserves the dignity of the individual. What motivates both the Luddites and the Jedi is not the fear of technology per se, but, rather, the fear that technology will be removed from their control and misused to enhance the agency of the few at the expense of the many. The Star Wars films suggest that human beings must not only remain masters of the technologies they create, but masters who recognize the responsibilities that accompany mastery. 


If this brief account piques your interest, I have a lot more to say on the subject in Lucasfilm: Filmmaking, Philosophy, and the Star Wars Universe, which will be published on August 12 by Bloomsbury.





The Star Wars universe teems with wildlife, from the tauntauns on snow-capped Hoth to porgs on the island of Ahch-To. To celebrate May the Fourth/Star Wars Day this year, Lucasfilm released Star Wars Biomes, a wordless documentary with bird's eye views of stunning planetary landscapes (basically, National Geographic in space—the nature film just begs for David Attenborough's voiceover). I mention the biodiversity of the Star Wars universe because studying the Star Wars franchise as a transmedia phenomenon, rather than a nine-part film series, allows audiences to explore Star Wars as a constantly evolving ecosystem. If, as Marie-Laure Ryan writes, transmedia storytelling is really transmedia worldbuilding, then Star Wars is the prime example of how to create immersive fictional environments.


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Stories sprout from the strangest seeds; there is no better example than the dianoga, the cephalopod that nearly drowns Luke in the trash compactor of A New Hope. One of the most recognizable Star Wars creatures, the following (abridged) life history of the dianoga exemplifies how key story elements transform throughout the transmedia terrains of Star Wars.

1977: The dianoga gets its name from one of the early versions of the script for A New Hope, which mentioned the fearsome "Dai Noga" warriors. At one point, the dianoga would appear in the dungeons of Alderaan. Originally designed with a full body, the tentacled creature was scaled down to only its eye stalk for the Imperial trash compactor scene.

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1978: Kenner Toys releases its first Star Wars creature figurine, the dianoga. Only available with the Death Star Space Station playset, the oddly neon green plastic toy resembled a mutant shark more than the film's omnivorous cephalopod.


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1979: Fans publish a cartoon with an irreverent dianoga backstory called "The Scrod." These pages are from a fan magazine, back when there wasn't a wealth of information easily available about every single Star Wars creature.

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1989: Presented as the work of a Rebel historian, Galaxy Guide 1: A New Hope is published to complement Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The reference book describes how dianogas migrated from their home planet, Vodran, by stowing away on garbage ships in their microscopic larval form, explaining how the dianoga boarded the Death Star.

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2001: The Wildlife of Star Wars: A Field Guide by Bob Carrau and Terryl Whitlatch releases color illustrations of the dianoga, showing the full fanged maw of the dianoga for the first time.

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2015: The name “dianoga” enters the new Disney canon in Ryder Windham’s Ultimate Star Wars reference book.,


2016: Game developers add a dianoga to the Death Star maps on Star Wars Battlefront as an Easter egg.

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2017: To celebrate the 40th year anniversary of A New Hope, Nnedi Okorafor's short story "The Baptist" in From a Certain Point of View retells the trash compactor scene from the dianoga's perspective. Okorafor gives the dianoga a name—Omi—and describes how the sentient creature was forcibly displaced from her swampy home world and captured by the Empire. Notably, Omi becomes the hero rather than the monster of the story, as her Force powers "baptize" Luke by submerging him in water.


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2019: The dianoga appears as an animatronic robot inside the water tanks of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. As park-goers drink from the water fountain, the dianoga pops its head out of the water. You can hear the sounds of the dianoga squelching and moving through the pipes in the bathroom.

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2021: In The Bad Batch "Battle Scars" episode, Wrecker and the rest of Clone Force 99 fend off a gigantic dianoga in the underbelly of an abandoned Star Destroyer on the trash planet Bracca. This is the first time the full body and scale of the dianoga has appeared in canon screen media.

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Next Issue: Bastille Day!

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