Myths define cultures. “Myth” refers to stories that a culture tells to explain aspects of their culture, history, or society. The way we think about different aspects of our lives are still affected by ancient myths. For example, the Edenic myth, the story of Adam and Eve, still influences the way some think about snakes. These ancient, and modern, mythologies touch on every aspect of life, from the origin of our countries (Remus and Romulus; George Washington) to the way we tell our science fiction stories. In this series, I will explore the animals and beasts of ancient myths and history and their role in the Star Wars saga!
One common theme in myths are the dangers of sea creatures. Ancient cartographers frequently included sea creatures in their maps to denote dangerous areas. Many ancient cultures described the dangers of the sea with reference to sea creatures, whether real (such as whales or giant squids) or imaged (Loch Ness monster, for example). Even today, sea creatures capture our imagination as allegorical tales, such as Godzilla or the Cloverfield monster. In this piece, I will explore both the sea creatures in The Phantom Menace and why sea creatures still capture our attention.
The Creatures in the Myth
As Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Jar Jar Binks leave the underwater city of Otoh Gunga, they go through the most dangerous parts of the ocean to return to land. In the Bongo sub, they encounter three main creatures: the Colo claw fish, the Opee sea killer, and the Sando Aqua monster.
Colo claw fish have a bioluminescent tail. Bioluminescence is created by a chemicalreaction in the body, and the light can either help in mating or hunting prey. These lights can either attract a mate, or, depending on their mood, food. The Colo claw fish is a favorite food for Sullustans and humans looking for sea food. Concept artist Terryl Whitlatch combined aspects of the earwig, crocodiles, and moray eels into the design, explaining the long, slender body with powerful rows of teeth in the jaw.
The Sando aqua monster was aptly named, as they grew from 160-200 meters. Their average life span was 100 years, in part due to their biology, but probably helped by their massive size, their tremendous musculature, and their ability to hide, even in the deep. They eat most of their prey in a single gulp – even Bongo subs! They frequently consumed entire schools of fish at once.
Finally, the Opee sea killer was a powerful amalgamation of different biological traits. It had claws and armor like a crustacean, but it had the jaw of fishes like sharks. Their long tongues allowed them to pull in prey from afar. The sea killers were also mouth breeders.
The Myth Behind the Creatures
The Babylonians had a tale about the goddess of chaos and water named Tiamat. She is sometimes known as the creator of the lesser gods of the pantheon, and she could, at times, assume the form of a sea dragon. Perhaps other cults viewed her as an evil entity, wherein she would only embody chaos. It is easy to imagine how disastrous out of control waters could be for early generations, explaining the divergent stories about her and her origins.
After this, sea creatures play a large role in a lot of ancient myths. In the Jewish tradition, sea creatures were images of the primordial chaos in the world. Partially inspired by Babylonian myths, the sea became embodied by Rahab. Rahab, imagined as a giant sea demon, was one of the enemies of God, imagined as the ruler of the sea who caused trouble by creating disasters like waves, floods, and more. The Israelite God would destroy her, calming the seas (Psalm 89:5-12). Later, Rahab is linked to the sea, and her destruction to the calming of the sea (Isaiah 59:9-10). The sea then became home to the demonic forces that stood against God (Daniel 7-9).
There are other early myths in Sumer, like Enki, the god of water, who was seen to bring water in order to benefit civilization as the direct result of requests from Ninsikil. Enki would inspire the Greek god Capricorn, ruler of magic, water, and wisdom. Sea creatures still pervade pop culture today. Godzilla is a beast who rose from the sea in an allegory about American nuclear abuses. Cloverfield focuses on a monster from the sea who brings chaos to New York City.
The Creatures as Part of Myth
The “sea creature” as embodiment of chaos theme is prevalent in The Phantom Menace. All three creatures pose a giant threat to the Jedi and Jar Jar as they attempted to leave the Naboo Abyss in the same way that Rahab posed an enemy to the Israelites. The route was the fastest way to leave Otoh Gunga to warn the Naboo about the coming invasion, but that most assuredly meant that there would be danger on the way. Following the theme of “sea creatures embodying chaos”, the creatures themselves would be the greatest obstacle for the group to overcome. These creatures may take out the group, leaving the Naboo defenseless without the Sith needing to raise a finger to intercede. Sidious may have been relieved to hear that natural causes and forces took out the biggest roadblock to his plan coming to fruition!
Lots of ancient religions used nature to describe theological elements. Just as ancient Jewish belief and the Enuma Elish used sea creatures to explain the theological aspects of the sea and chaos, Obi-Wan and Jar Jar learn a lesson about life by watching these creatures. The Sando aqua monster saves the sub from being eaten alive, prompting Qui-Gon to explain: “there’s always a bigger fish!” This would serve as the theme of the Prequel Trilogy. Darth Maul may be taken out, but there is a bigger fish: Darth Sidious. Even he is a small fish compared to the growing darkness in Anakin Skywalker’s soul.
 Star Wars: Everything You Need to Know
 Ultimate Star Wars
 The Wildlife of Star Wars: A Field Guide