I’m obsessed with Twi’leks. Really preoccupied with them. I’ve actually fleshed out a lot of Rylothian culture, language, physiology, etc., on my own. But you might not know, and could be forgiven for not knowing, because it’s not like I post about them much at all. I tend to avoid talking about Twi’leks because I get fed up very quickly with the aggression of people of people who want to defend a, frankly, archaic way of viewing them.
Now, to be honest, I was never passionate about how I viewed Twi’leks. It was what it was, like the pronunciation of “AT-AT.” Some people thought this, some people thought that; I didn’t care. But the first time someone chewed me out for casually stating that all Twi’leks have ear cones, I was actually shocked. And then it kept happening. And the more it happened, the more passionate I got. It’s a stupid thing to be passionate about, but if you’re going to yell at me for saying ossicones are a basic part of Twi’lek physiology, I’m going to enforce my own position with equal fervor.
So here we go. Twi’leks do not have human ears. Their auditory organs are called ossicones. This is an indisputable fact.
That’s right, I said “indisputable.” Let’s walk down the trail of evidence together, shall we?
The historical trail is actually a little out of order, because the first point I have to make is that the name Twi’lek was supplied by the Expanded Universe in 1987. Prior to that, the 1983 novelization of Return of the Jedi identified Bib Fortuna and Oola as members of the same (unnamed) species.
But before that, when the filmmaking team designed the creatures of Jabba’s court, there was no intention for these to be representatives of males and females of the same species. There’s actually nothing in common between them apart from the fact that both have two fleshy tails attached to the skull–and those tails aren’t even physically similar! This goes well beyond sexual dimorphism. So the first time we saw Oola and Bib Fortuna in May 1983, there was nothing to draw the automatic conclusion that they were the same race.
June 1983 saw the release of the novelization, where James Kahn, working from production notes, scripts, design sketches, and not from the completed film, first asserted that Bib and Oola were the same race. It’s reasonable to assume he had no actual idea what the completed forms would look like, and beyond that, the book is full of bizarre impossibilities like Threepio smiling. The assertion of Bib and Oola being the same race is no different from his assertion that Obi-Wan and Owen Lars were brothers.
Still, this idea developed, and West End Games took them both and gave the name “Twi’lek” to the race. They also explained that lekku was the proper name for the headtails, and twi’lek originated in the twin lekku (no explanation for how the word twin was Basic but not lekku…). None of the handbooks described any particulars of physiology except for the headtails. Not one handbook ever described Twi’lek auditory organs.
After Return of the Jedi, the first image of a Twi’lek seems to be from 1992: Adon’aris, a male Twi’lek, appears in Mission to Lianna with bumps rather than ears.
It’s also worth pointing out that Adon’aris, male Twi’lek, does not have a conical skull like Bib Fortuna’s, although he does appear to have wattles.
By the way, let me get this conical skull business out of the way: almost no one, including people who ardently insist that Bib Fortuna is a model member of his species and his appearance should be used to define normative male Twi’leks, actually accept Fortuna’s physiology as normative. Because male Twi’leks have almost never been depicted with Bib Fortuna’s conical skull. It’s never even addressed, but look this bizarre cranium:
So Bib Fortuna has pale peach skin, head-tails well over a meter long, forehead knobs, wattles, goiters, red eyes, pointed teeth, and fingers all the same length with talon-like nails. Even examples of conehead male Twi’leks don’t have all these other features. I really don’t understand how anyone can look at Bib Fortuna standing next to a known Twi’lek and seriously insist, “Yep! Those two are the same race!” Even the only other male Twi’lek presented in the films looks nothing like him, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself with that.
Let’s keep on the historical track. The next entry is 1995. As Twi’lek auditory organs remained undefined, Kathy Tyres wrote in “Oola’s Tale” (Tales From Jabba’s Palace, edited by Kevin J. Anderson) that the bumps on Oola’s headdress were merely ornamental, with nothing to do with the shape of her head. In fact, she even went so far as to emphasize that the headdress had knobs that entered her ear canals!
If anything, if the EU had final authority, this would be explicit proof that all Twi’leks had ears — canals and lobes — like humans. However, we understand that this is George Lucas’s creation, and his word is final. Little assertions like this can be made errors if G-canon makes an emphatic statement to the contrary.
Which it did.
The Special Edition re-release of the Star Wars Trilogy came on the scene in 1997. Before this date, as Lucas started writing the Prequel Trilogy, and as he worked on the improvements for the Special Edition, he used the Expanded Universe terms in his notes and writing — including Twi’lek. So he knew what he was writing about when a new female Twi’lek entered the scene:
Lyn Me has white skin and has her head covered. While her invisible ears leave the question open as to what Twi’lek auditory organs are like, the fact that her appearance is far closer to Oola’s than Bib Fortuna’s does suggest that he is an outlier. With the advent of the Prequel Trilogy, this suggestion surely crystallized into obvious fact, with an entire slew of female Twi’leks on the scene to demonstrate normative Twi’lek physiology. With twelve film-established representatives, it becomes clear that ossicones are canon.
Or at least it establishes female Twi’leks beyond any doubt. I said a second ago that the only other male Twi’lek depicted by G-level canon doesn’t look anything like Bib Fortuna. But neither does he look like any of the Twi’lek females established by G-canon!
This is Orn Free Taa, established as the Twi’lek senator from Ryloth in The Phantom Menace. Yet his physical characteristics raise a hundred questions and answer none. He has the same more-or-less spherical cranium of humans and female Twi’leks. His forehead is smooth and he lacks wattles. His hands are unlike Bib Fortuna’s, which might be due to corpulence, except he only has three fingers and a thumb. Like Bib Fortuna, he has ear canals with very tiny flaps. But he for some reason has four growths out of his head — two normal lekku down the back and two huge flaps of fat on the sides!
The explanation for this is his extreme weight, which causes fat to be stored in these flaps. Even if one accepts this, it does nothing to explain the other differences between himself and Bib Fortuna, and between the two of them and the other females. It’s clear the films just don’t offer enough information to justify the conclusion that male and female Twi’leks have vastly different physiological appearance as a matter of sexual dimorphism.
Sexual dimorphism is the concept that males and females of a species may have significantly different appearance. Such sex differences are quite common in nature, from brightly colored male birds in contrast to the females’ plain feathers, the presence or absence of antlers, or great differences in size. Actually, sexual dimorphism in mammals (like Twi’leks) is usually restricted to size, with males being larger than females. But this difference between male and female Twi’leks isn’t a mere contrast in size. It introduces a completely different, complex sensory organ based on sex alone! And apart from the (obvious) difference between reproductive systems, I didn’t find any type of sexual dimorphism in nature that causes male and female members of a species to have completely different organs. To put it bluntly: while organs of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste might differ between species, there is no way those organs would differ so greatly within a species simply based on sex! The system of a “humanlike” ear functions completely differently from an ossicone, and it defies logic that male members of a species would have a radically different complex hearing organ from female members of the same species!
Now, by this point, you may be impatiently shrugging off known nature and saying that this is science fiction and if a science fiction race wants to have sensory organs that differentiate based on sex, so be it. You may insist that the depictions by Star Wars canon are the final authority and that I must shut up and put up with ears on my Twi’lek men.
However, I would counter by pointing out that the Expanded Universe is completely inconsistent in its depiction of lekku!
There’s the “Handlebar Head” or “Ox Horn” lekku…
There’s the “I thought they were head-thighs, not head-tails”…
The “Lekku are basically just pigtails, right? I mean, whatever hair can do, yeah?”
The “I forget… do headtails stick directly out of the top of their heads, or…?”
And, just so you don’t think I hate everything ever drawn in the history of drawing, the “Yes, I saw the movies and know what a Twi’lek looks like!” category:
Depictions of male Twi’leks aren’t any more uniform, although they generally defy those categories. (Except for the Hawk Ryo stuff. What in the actual netherworld of the Force is supposed to be on his head?!) But what is really interesting about even the inconsistent portrayal of male Twi’leks: it’s not until after the prequels that male Twi’leks achieve really pronounced earlobes. Earlier artist depictions tend to give male Twi’leks ear canals with understated flaps, or the same bumps as the females (remember Adon’aris?). And before the prequels, some artists depict males and females with the exact same ears.
And you can tell me all you want about “artist representations” and “artistic freedom” and “poetic license.” Okay. I agree it’s as realistic for a warrior to parade around in her panties as it is for her to have head-tails as thick as thighs. And it’s very true that there are some deeply questionable depictions of Han, Luke, and Leia throughout the comics and in video games. However, questionable artists’ renditions should not ever be made the foundation of physiology!
I think I have refuted the possibility that sexual dimorphism would cause completely different organs of hearing to exist within a species. I suggest that the earliest depictions of Twi’leks were ambiguous, and that ears and cones have historically been assigned to both male and female “Twi’leks” without evident preference. Sexual dimorphism could cause male and female lekku to have different shape and length, but I find that the rest of Bib Fortuna’s appearance cannot be reconciled to any regular depiction of Twi’leks, male or female.
So how do I account for Bib Fortuna and Orn Free Taa? I believe they are unhealthy specimens of Twi’lek half-breeds. Bib Fortuna seems to have some kind of space-syphilis while Orn Free Taa is morbidly obese. I assume Orn Free Taa is half-human, but Bib Fortuna’s conical skull continues to give me pause. Do Coneheads exist in that galaxy?
Anyway, I hope this has corrected some of the misapprehension about Twi’lek appearance. On a personal note, I have to add that as someone who never read comics, I did not ever see male Twi’leks consistently depicted with human earlobes until after I started playing The Old Republic. I hope you can appreciate that 2011 is a very late date to throw a completely different physiological fact out and expect it to be canon! The best thing to accept is that Lucas was silent on this, the EU was inconsistent, and I have tried to form the most logical conclusion possible based on the facts.