Star Wars ships might come from a galaxy far, far away, but their influences are decidedly earthbound. We recently mentioned that a half-eaten burger inspired the Millennium Falcon, but food wasn’t the only thing on ILM’s mind during the vehicle design process. Some were based on even weirder sources like extinct Rhinos.
Inspiration For The AT-AT
Whether you pronounce it ‘at at’ or ‘A.T. A.T.,’ the Imperial Walker is a formidable sight. At 73ft tall, the AT-AT—All Terrain Armored Transport if you’re nerdy—is a lumbering behemoth that literally shakes the ground as it walks. So, it should come as no surprise that the inspiration for the towering nightmare came from the largest land mammal in history: the Paraceratherium.
Extinct Ancestor Of The Rhino
Paraceratherium was a genus of hornless rhinoceros that went extinct 23 million years before Star Wars decided to base a ship on it. This literal monster stood at a height of roughly 16 feet and weighed close to 44,000 pounds. That might sound like nothing compared to the much larger AT-AT, but we wouldn’t want to run into one in a dark ally late at night.
Meanwhile, to make the AT-AT’s lumbering gait perfect, the designers at ILM studied the way elephants walk and copied them as closely as possible.
The Iconic X-Wing Came From A Game
No discussion of Star Wars ships is complete without the iconic X-Wing. The X-Wing fighter was the ship that allowed the Rebels to take out both Death Stars. Named for the X shape made when all four wings are open, the X-Wing is sleek, fast, and based on a popular British pub game.
The X-Wing Is A Dart
Colin Cantwell, a former model maker at Lucasfilm, once confessed during a 2016 Reddit AMA that watching people play darts inspired the X-Wing’s unique look. “It had to be ultracool and different,” recalled Cantwell. “A dart being thrown at a target in a British pub gave me the original concept.” A Star Wars ship based on a hand-flung projectile seems about par for the course.
Now, basing a ship on a pickle, on the other hand….
The Pickle Ship
Look, we didn’t say that there wouldn’t be any more Star Wars ships based on food, just that they wouldn’t all be. The Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, or “the good guy’s Star Destroyer,” was designed to be organic and lumpy to contrast its pointy, wedge-shaped counterpart. That lumpy, organic design earned the Star Cruisers the nickname “pickle ships” from those starving fiends at ILM.
The Pickle Controversey
The “pickle ships” nickname is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Supposedly, the name came after the ship was already designed. However, Cantwell can’t officially rule out pickles being the initial inspiration for the ships either. “It was about 30 years ago that I came up with the concept,” he said during the same AMA to explain any possible lapses in memory.
A Ship Literally Made From Spare Parts
For another one of the Star Wars ships not inspired by food, we turn to the Nebulon-B frigate. The medical frigate, first seen at the end of the Empire Strikes Back, was designed to look like an outboard motor. Inspired by a suggestion from George Lucas, the design team at ILM used preexisting hulls and artillery pieces from off-the-shelf model kits—a technique known as “kitbashing”— to create the motor-shaped frigate.
Iconic Sci-Fi Designs
Ultimately, Star Wars and its iconic ships are a testament to the weird sources artists sometimes use for inspiration. While most people look at a pre-historic fossil and see bones, some people see highly advanced death-dealing military transports capable of crushing humans flat beneath their giant feet.