How Luke Skywalker Beat the Puffins

In 2017, Star Wars fans across the world finally got to see what Luke Skywalker, the famed (but sadly fictional) Jedi, was up to for oh, about thirty years. We knew that he had almost entirely disappeared from the galaxy far, far away from which he hailed, and we also knew that our new hero, Rey, was able to track him down to a small, rocky island on the watery planet Ahch-To. But it wasn’t until Star Wars’ eighth episode, The Last Jedi, until we learned why Luke exiled himself to this previously unmentioned planet.

And we were also introduced to these guys: porgs.

Porgs, in Star Wars lore, are seafaring birds native to Ahch-To. They’re not all that important to the plot of the movie although they’re proven to be a popular addition, adding a few comedic moments and, as evidenced by the image above, a ton of cuteness. Based on the fan reaction, porgs are a welcome addition Star Wars universe. 

You can thank the puffins for that.

Puffins are a real creature — that is, they live on Earth. There are three separate puffin species but for our purposes, let’s focus on the Atlantic puffin. They, like porgs, are also quite cute — here’s a picture — and also like porgs, you’ll find them on tiny, rocky, tree-filled islands. Like, for example, on the one seen below.

That’s Skellig Michael, a crag off the southwest coast of Ireland. And if you’re a big Star Wars fan, you may also recognize it as Ahch-To; that’s where the Star Wars crew filmed those scenes. The setting is picturesque, remote-looking, and checks all the other boxes you’d want if you were creating an isolated place for a Jedi master to go to and hide. But it came with a problem: a lot of puffins. More puffins than filmmakers could handle, even. On the official Star Wars website, character and costume designer Jake Lunt Davies explained the puffin problem

[Writer/Director] 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.

Stuck with an island full of puffins they can’t get rid of, be it physically or digitally, Johnson came up with another idea: replace them. Digitally, that is, and with a brand new species to the Star Wars universe. Whenever the CGI team saw a puffin on film, they’d superimpose a moving image of the cuter, Jedi-adjacent Porgs.

The new porg artwork proved popular among the filmmaking crew and expanded beyond Ahch-To/Skelling Michael, and even made a prominent appearance in an early movie trailer (as seen in the top image above). The porgs become a fan favorite, and no puffins were harmed in the making of the movie.

Bonus fact: The Star Wars movies were filmed on Earth, despite the filmmakers’ efforts to convince us otherwise. But part of the movie’s lore has made its way into space. In 2007, the Space Shuttle Discovery made its way to the International Space Station, docking at the ISS for ten days. As NASA notes, among the notable items to make the trip was Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber from Return of the Jedi. 

From the Archives: The People Who Protect Chewbacca: The odd problem Star Wars had with hunters.