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!
Attack of the Clones feeds on a long history of stories of man vs. animal, of which the climax we might say was seen in the Roman Colosseum. It is harder to think of the Roman Colosseum as a “mythical” event, as we have concrete evidence of those fights happening. But remember: myth is not a word for “made up”. It refers to tales that shape our stories today, and when we think of certain animals or cultures, the Colosseum fights still arise frequently. For Christians, thinking about ancient Rome brings up thoughts of being fed to lions. Earlier cultures also featured tales or practices where people were fed to animals.
The Creatures Behind the Myth
When Obi-Wan investigates the mysterious bounty hunter behind the attempt on Padmé Amidala’s life, he finds himself on Geonosis. There, he learns of the Separatist plot to go to war against the Republic. Before he can warn the Republic of the extent of their plans, he is captured. Padmé and Anakin Skywalker, originally set apart to protect the Senator, go to Geonosis to rescue Obi-Wan. They are captured on Geonosis as well, and the trio is brought into a Geonosian colosseum to fight three deadly beasts.
Anakin Skywalker is pitted against the Reek, an ox-like creature with three massive horns. The reek are native to the planet Ylessia, but have been sighted on both Geonosis and Saleucami. The beasts stand at a massive 2.04 meters tall, cutting an imposing figure against any who come against one. Usually, they are herbivores, but can be drawn to anger and carnivation if provoked. The Geonosians fed the reek at Petranaki Arena meat to increase its aggression when prey was brought in. Their immense weights hampered their speeds, but their immense force could still kill a human on contact. Both Anakin Skywalker, and later General Grievous, discover the reeks’ ability to be used as a rider mount.
Padmé Amidala is pitted against the ferocious nexu. The nexu were ferocious felines, with four eyes with infrared vision, making them deadly predators in the night. Nexus are quick and nimble, generally about 5 meters long, making them agile and deadly hunters. Thankfully, their small frame did not provide much protection when hit with some force, as Padmé does with her chain. The nexu also had reptile-like sharp quills.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is pitted against the gigantic Acklay. Acklays were amphibious creatures native to Vendaxa, both a reptile and crustacean. Their gigantic pincer arms and razor-sharp teeth were perfect for catching underwater prey, using the spear-hands to impale the prey and its razor sharp teeth to break through their bones and bodies. The acklay similarly had a hard outer shell, something Obi-Wan discovers in the arenas. The acklay also has an organ underneath their jaws which sense electricity, helping them better identify the location of their prey.
The Myth Behind the Creatures
The Romans may not have been the first to pit animals against humans as a form of corporal punishment. Though hard to know for sure whether it was for religious ritual or for capital punishment purposes, early African and Asian provinces were known to feed people to lions. This may be because lions were so populous in those regions, and were important parts of religious practice. Other religious beliefs featured lion-like creatures eating humans, such as Egyptian mythology surrounding Ammit, who ate exceptionally sinful humans.
Historians of Alexander’s conquest note that he had a propensity toward feeding people to animals as a form of punishment. In Rome, where lions were rarer, combat against lions was banned in the 7th century. This did not stop the practice, but instead expanded to include more animals, such as bears, leopards, tigers, and black panthers. Humans were frequently sent against these animals, either armed or unarmed.
The Romans then used animal combat, primarily, as corporate punishment for the worst offenders. The most frequent example is early Christians, who were executed as dissenters from the state religion, practicers of magic, and for high treason against both the Roman gods and state. Others fed to the animals included deserters from the army, sorcerers, rebels, and patricidal murderers. This practice was not abolished until the end of the 7th century AD.
Animals were not only put out as objects to be fought: they could also be shows of power or ways to show off Rome’s opulent wealth. The more foreign the animal, the more impressive the show of force. Unfortunately, both this showmanship and the fighting drove many animals to extinction: “So many wild beasts were killed in the Colosseum and other Roman arenas that some exotic animals became virtually extinct. The Hippopotamus were captured from the River Nile in Egypt but following the Roman era they disappeared from this habitat. Many of the great wild animals from Africa and Asia such as elephants, lions and tigers were hunted to the point of extinction.”
The Creatures as Part of Myth
Unlike the last article, the reek, acklay, and nexu are not symbols for greater religious symbols or meaning. Instead, they are symbols of the Separatist’s barbarism and ferocity. Though the Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS) would eventually conduct warfare using mechanical forces, it is important to note that they started the war with living creatures. Finding animals native to Vendaxa, Ylesia, show us the growing range of the Separatists subtlety, without having to tell us how far they have grown. Just knowing that these animals come from all over the galaxy show that they have a longer reach than we might expect.
It is easy to make the case that the Republic is a sort of Roman Empire. Both Empires were taken down by their extreme opulence. Due to the corruption that seeped into both governments, they were taken down by outside forces that wouldn’t normally have the strength to taken down entire governments. The Republic, unlike Rome, never executed their prisoners by animals. It is a deep irony, then, that the CIS, the head of a large droid army, would execute political prisoners by beasts. Maybe the Roman Empire comparison can be cut both ways, referring to both Separatist and Republic governments.
The Prequel Trilogy is concerned with showing that the Clone Wars was a truly grey conflict. There are, after all, “heroes on both sides”. The Republic is a new Roman Empire, but without the execution-by-beasts. If Lucas strained to make a comparison between Rome and the Republic, it is curious to note which aspects he left out or attributed to other people. The Separatists do execute prisoners by beasts, an enemy to both humans and beasts. While the Republic is bad, they still have avoided outright barbaric tactics, such as the ones that the Separatists are using. By letting the CIS leaders control these beasts, Lucas could be interpreted as saying “the Republic was bad, just like Rome, but they had yet to succumb to the worst parts of their government. The CIS, though, did take advantage of the worst parts of the Empire, proving that in spite of the ambiguity, the Separatists are clearly the bad guys.
After all, they did abuse animals. And what’s worse for our porgologists than abusing animals in a galaxy far, far away?