From the first time Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi walked into the Mos Eisley cantina, and we saw the wretched hive of scum and villainy for the first time, fans of Star Wars were truly transported to a galaxy far, far away. The collection of humanoid aliens as well as other creatures that have been part of Star Wars has been one of its most defining characteristics. Star Wars without interesting creatures simply wouldn't be Star Wars, and yet, the creatures are always recognizable. This ability to create something that is both understandable and alien goes back to George Lucas himself.
In a new profile on the creature designers of Star Wars, Terryl Whitlatch, who was a creature designer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, revealed to CNN that the key to designing good creatures, came directly from George Lucas,and was the ability for the audience to understand what they were looking at instantly. According to Whitlatch...
George always reminded us that if a design cannot be read in a nanosecond, as soon as it's on screen, it's a bad design. The characteristics and behaviors of real animals are what made their way down into designing creatures for Star Wars. George wanted them to look and behave like real animals in their ecosystems.
The creatures of Star Wars might be alien, but if they're too alien, the audience will have trouble understanding what they're looking at, which will take them out of the story. To that end, George Lucas wanted to be sure creatures could clearly represent what they were, and felt like they belonged there, no matter how unusual they looked otherwise.
It clearly worked. So many parts of Star Wars that were just meant to be background dressing have built their own fan base over the decades. It seems every alien and creature, no matter how inconsequential, has its own backstory if you care to learn it. This is probably because of George Lucas' lesson. Because everything could be read so easily and fit together so well, fans felt they knew and understood these creatures as well as the main characters. According to Whitlatch, this attention to detail existed for even the most "unimportant" creatures...
It's in the expression of the animal, a very subtle tell in the eye. George wanted that in every single animal, no matter how fleeting its time was on the screen.
While George Lucas may no longer be directly involved in the future of Star Wars, it feels like these lessons have continued forward. We can look at a porg and understand it as a creature like a puffin, which inspired it. There's no explanation needed, we know what we're looking at as soon as we see it. We can be sure this attention will continue in the future of Star Wars, whatever that turns out to be.