The world of Star Wars doesn't seem like a construct of fiction. George Lucas and the creators behind the various films in the franchise have created a world that looks -- nay, feels -- real, like a living and breathing entity that exists outside of the stories being told on screen. It's no stretch to imagine that as Han, Luke, Chewbacca, and Obi-Wan Kenobi are escaping the port in Mos Eisley, something just as interesting is happening just around the corner, perhaps in a seedy cantina or the back alley of an open-air market. And few facets of the franchise contribute to this feeling quite as heavily as the aliens and creatures that populate this world.
Everything from the various designs to the innovations behind how the aliens were brought to life lends itself to creating the sense of each species feeling authentic, feeling deliberate, feeling alive. Amidst the hundreds of non-human characters in the Star Wars franchise, a select few stand out as especially fascinating, be it for their canonical backstories, the roles they play in the stories they appear in, or, to put it simply, because they look so dang cool.
The Trandoshans owe a lot to the bounty hunter Bossk for their spot on this list. His brief but memorable appearance in the Empire Strikes Back bounty hunter lineup is a quintessential example of less being more in Star Wars. He doesn’t have a single line of dialogue but his striking image is more than enough to cement his fearsomeness. Years later when they were expanded on in The Clone Wars and Rebels, the Trandoshans lived up to the expectations set by Bossk. What’s cooler than a hunter society of lizard people? Not Boba Fett, we’ll say that much.
Joining the Trandoshans in the brief-but-memorable category are the Pau'ans. You might recognize them as the aliens who greeted Obi-Wan when he was on the hunt for General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith. They're among the best of the creature designs in the prequels, resembling something you'd see crawling around Transylvania at night with their long frames and jagged fangs. It only makes them more intriguing when you learn that they're a peaceful, reserved race that took part in the Rebellion against the Empire. As they say, never judge a book by its vampire fangs.
The Clawdites, or Changelings as they're commonly known in the Star Wars world, made their first appearance that we know of in Attack of the Clones in the form of Zam Wessell, an assassin employed by Jango Fett. We say "that we know of" because, being a shapeshifting race, the Clawdites could have been anywhere throughout the franchise if you think about it. While their original form sort of resembles a dried-up prune person, they possess the ability to transform into any humanoid creature roughly their size. That includes, obviously, humans, making it all the more shocking when Wessell's true form is revealed.
There's something fundamentally unsettling about what we see of the Sand People over the course of the franchise. From their brutalizing Luke in the original film to their kidnapping of Anakin's mother in Attack of the Clones, they seem like a sort of earlier version of man, a hunter-gatherer society that communicates through guttural roars. Plenty of creatures seen in Star Wars are frightening due to their exteriors, their fangs, wings, or claws. But the Sand People, clad under thick layers of robes and masks, are a different kind of frightening. They're scary due because we don't know what's under those robes, and because they have no sinister motives, no hidden allegiances. They're simply a primal race of fierce, territorial not-quite-humans.
Zabrak (Darth Maul)
If we're talking design alone, it's tough to think of a creature or alien species in Star Wars that's cooler than the Zabrak. What should, in theory, look like the notebook doodle of a nu-metal fan from 1997 has instead become perhaps the single most iconic design from the prequel trilogy. With their red and black patterned skin and crown of devil-like horns, they make for a striking, frightening image. It doesn’t hurt that the most famous Zabrak, the Sith lord Darth Maul, is one of the coolest characters Star Wars has to offer.
The design of the Kaminoan is great, but it's the quiet suspense surrounding their story that earns them a spot on this list. While Attack of the Clones has plenty of problems, one of its successes is the concept of the planet Kamino and its inhabitants. A hidden planet populated by aliens who create clone armies? That's not just great Star Wars, that's great science fiction, period. Throw in a killer design sense that draws heavily from the traditional 'grey men' concept of extraterrestrials and you've got an unforgettable alien race.
The bounty hunter Zuckuss may have been a bit overshadowed by some of his counterparts like Boba Fest, IG-88, and Dengar, but make no mistake, he and his fellow Gand are terrifying. Hailing from a fog-ridden planet, the Gand are bug-like creatures who breathe ammonia and live in an intensely spiritual hunter society that relies on divinations and omens to help find their targets. Five-foot bounty hunter insects that can see spiritual visions? That's ripped right out of a horror movie, and we mean that in the best way possible.
Star Wars creature design really got a chance to shine in the scenes at Jabba the Hutt's palace in Return of the Jedi, and the Gamorrean guard is an easy standout from the variety of creatures present there. They skew a bit more on the cartoonish side with their stocky frame and pig-like design, but one look at them makes it clear why Jabba had them standing guard at his palace. They're brutish and fearsome, clearly not a species to be trifled with.
The design of the Togruta is Star Wars aesthetics at their best. Even before their ranks included one of the greatest characters in the franchise, Ahsoka Tano, they were easy standouts. Their bright orange skin and striped 'head tails' made a tremendous visual impression, and with characters like Ahsoka and Jedi Shaak Ti, they were elevated from background decoration to an imperative alien race in the world of the films and TV shows.
Hailing from the planet Kowak, these maddening creatures are known for their shrill laughter and generally for being little s***s. You're definitely familiar with Salacious B. Crumb (yes, he has a middle initial), the personal pet of Jabba the Hutt who gouged out one of C-3PO's eyes in Return of the Jedi.
Not to be confused with the Togruta, the Twi'lek are the other alien species seen in Star Wars with head tails, albeit theirs tend to be less rigid and sometimes come solo rather than in pairs (seen most prominently in Jabba the Hutt's right-hand man Bib Fortuna). The Twi'lek are similarly visually striking, with many having bright skin in colors like blue, green, and orange. They're also subtly prominent throughout the series, seen everywhere from dancing in Jabba's palace to serving the Jedi Order as Knights.
Rogue One features the first appearance of the Iakaru in the form of Bistan, a monkey-like Rebellion fighter raining fire down on Imperial forces in the battle of Scarif from a U-Wing. As far as first impressions go, you couldn't ask for much better. You don't need a cool backstory or a prominent character role for a species to be memorable. Sometimes all it takes is a space monkey with a big gun.