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In the lead up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, beyond questions of lineage and identity, the biggest discussion revolved around Porgs. The strong new candidate for cutest Star Wars creature inspired love and adoration from many and fear and loathing from others. Director Rian Johnson mentioned that they would provide a sense of comic relief on the island. Initially, the director revealed that the Porgs were inspired by the puffins that call Skellig Michael Island (Ahch-To) home. But the real reason for their inclusion in the film may not have been to sell merchandise or generally be cute; instead, it seems they may have been added to solve a problem. Star Wars: The Last Jedi creature concept designer, Jake Lunt Davies, explained how they came to be.
Rian [Johnson] had gone to shoot this sequence on Skellig Michael, which is the real island location that stands in for Ahch-To, and that island is covered in puffins. It's a wildlife preserve and everywhere you look there are hundreds of birds dotted around the landscape. From what I gathered, Rian, in a positive spin on this, was looking at how can he work with this. You can't remove them. You physically can't get rid of them. And digitally removing them is an issue and a lot of work, so let's just roll with it, play with it. And so I think he thought, 'Well, that's great, let's have our own indigenous species.'
This is a great example of creativity and adaptability on the part of Rian Johnson. One of the drawbacks to shooting on location is that not everything is within your scope of control. With hundreds of birds all over the island, it would be painstaking to try and ignore or hide the presence of birds. Thankfully there was no attempt to physically remove these puffins from their protected habitat or to remove them digitally with money that was clearly better spent on the film's beautiful effects. So, a necessary evil wound up being a blessing in disguise. The abundance of puffins on Skellig Michael led to some of the film's comic relief, as well as being the genesis for what will probably go down as one of the Star Wars saga's most iconic creatures.
The island of Ahch-To feels more full and alive with the bird creatures dotting the landscape. The Porgs could also be seen as a physical representation of life on the island and the force's existence in all things, even this remote place. By putting a positive spin on the puffin situation, as Jake Lunt Davies explained to StarWars.com, Rian Johnson also created some of the funniest scenes in the film. The scenes with these wide-eyed creatures helped to break up the visual and emotional bleakness of Ahch-To. Because they were not overused, the Porgs were a welcome sight when they appeared. Any fears about them playing an integral role in the story were misplaced. The Porgs managed to live up to their considerable hype because they never became distracting or veered towards Jar Jar territory.
You can see the Skellig Michael puffins make their feature film debut in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in theaters now.