George Lucas knew that amid all the human actors and state-of-the-art effects, even a small critter, if ill-conceived, could throw the entire “Star Wars” world out of whack. “If that puppet had not worked,” the filmmaker once said of Yoda’s introduction in “The Empire Strikes Back, “the whole film would have been down the tubes.”
Yoda helped open the bay doors to a range of cute, toy aisle-ready “Star Wars” inventions, from rolling droids to the weaponized woodland critters of Endor. Such bots and beasts continue to be introduced, despite the nadir that was Jar Jar Binks, the Gungan nomad modeled after both Disney’s Goofy and your most obnoxious nightmares.
Ahead of Friday’s “The Last Jedi,” here is our definitive ranking of the 10 most adorable creature-shop creations in the main “Star Wars” cinematic galaxy (which excludes, alas, the Convorees, Kiros Birds, Loth-Cats and Chadra-Fan):
The towering snow lizards of Hoth can look menacing from a distance, but just look at that camel-like face close up: What’s not to like?
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Perhaps it’s tough to love a face you can’t see, but these cowled, glow-eyed humanoids had their own winning style beneath the dark robes. As a pack scavenging the sands of Tattooine for any part or captured droid they could sell, they were about as cute as junk dealers come.
8. The Caretakers of Ahch-To
The manatee nuns from “The Last Jedi” may not take an immediate like to Rey, but we sure like them. These wise caretakers in cream-colored habits are as cute as they are intense.
7. Crystal foxes
“The Last Jedi” dazzles on the planet Crait with a native translucent fox known as a vulptex. These wild, shimmering foxes (vulptices) find a way to survive within this rugged, salt landscape – and appear tailor-made for a stunning screen saver or virtual pet.
Yes, Lucas went overboard with the killer teddy bears of Endor, populating film and TV projects with these forest fuzz-warriors. And it was their very engineered-for-cuteness factor that first divided “Star Wars” fans as pro- and anti-Ewok a long time ago – even if some naysayers softened a bit after the bar was lowered in 1999 by Jar Jar Binks.
“The Last Jedi’s” new space puffins are also built for maximum adorability, with big, soulful eyes so worthy of a Keane painting that they practically exert an emotional Force of their own. Even better for Disney: They’re the perfect size for a stocking stuffer.
Disney chief Bob Iger famously ordered this one up himself: a small, “soccer ball” of a droid to be introduced in “The Force Awakens.” The rolling, flying mechanic is to the new generation of Rebel leaders what R2-D2 was to the old.
As the bristling “walking carpet” with a heart of gold, the Wookiee co-pilot grows even more dear in fan affections since the death of good buddy Han. May his Millennium Falcon forever fly on, a dozen parsecs at a time.
2. R2-D2 and C-3PO
Although the narrative may separate them, they are an inseparable joint entry here, befitting their place as a great action-comedy team. R2-D2 is the droid that Resistance royals are forever looking for – the beeping do-it-all mechanic and sometime projector. And C-3PO is the know-it-all, fussy butler of protocol, languages and odds-making.
From his puppetry to his vocal performance, Frank Oz – recommended to Lucas by Jim Henson – devoted his range of talents to creating the wee, green Jedi Master who forever guides Luke out of his mental swamp. The creative result is a character who was textured, beloved and – bonus for the toymakers! – easily commodified.