Strip away its epic storytelling, and the Star Wars universe is proudly defined by its iconic creature and droid designs. That creativity has turned characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO into official franchise mascots over the years. When The Force Awakens introduced the gyroscopic BB-8 to the world in 2015, fans thought they'd reached the pinnacle of charming droids in the galaxy far, far away.
But the sequel trilogy had one more trick up its sleeve when the The Rise of Skywalker brought single-wheeled D-O into the equation. A derelict robot companion discovered on the abandoned ship of Jedi hunter Ochi, D-O (who is voiced by director and co-writer J.J. Abrams) was originally going to show up in Babu Frik's workshop, according to the film's art book, which goes on sale this week.
The ultimate cone-shaped design for the skittish character was modeled after the look of a duckling, the point being that D-O imprints and latches onto BB-8 like a newly hatched bird after the latter brings him back to life in the Pasaana desert. A page later, it is stated that Abrams may have wanted something based off the needle-nosed agents in MAD Magazine's iconic and long-running Spy vs. Spy comic strip. Wish granted!
"It’s a bit of a challenge compared to BB-8. BB-8 is spinning off of familiar droids like R2-D2; his face and the shapes and his panels and things. D-O’s something a bit further left field, something we haven’t seen before," the art book's author Phil Szostak tells SYFY WIRE. "His face is not as human ... as C-3PO, obviously, but even R2-D2 and BB-8. It’s always a challenge to make the characters relatable and emotional, and I think they really accomplished that with D-O."
As with many sections in the book, the exploration of D-O presents a number of scrapped design concepts, some of them influenced by cameras of the 1970s and '80s. Several sketches show him moving via the use of treads, not a solitary wheel, but that eventual characteristic proved to make the character unique, especially when compared to other famous droids in the series.
"The first time everyone saw BB-8, jaws hit the floor, but then D-O’s just a whole other level," Szostak, whose Star Wars role extends to serving as Lucasfilm's creative art manager, says. "Just because of how small he is, and it’s a single wheel balancing a little more precariously than BB-8 even has to. He’s an amazing character [and], obviously, super cute."
D-O's reluctance to allow Rey (Daisy Ridley) to pet him was directly inspired by George, one of the two dogs owned by Rise of Skywalker co-screenwriter Chris Terrio (Argo, Justice League). Abused and neglected at a shelter in Arkansas, George "didn't know how to accept kindness" and just copied everything Charles (Terrio's other dog) did once he finally found a loving home.
"Getting the opportunity to talk to Chris Terrio really opened my eyes to the character," Szostak continues. "Not necessarily the look, but he is like a little puppy dog. That was really an amazing thing to hear, and anyone who’s ever had a pet can relate to an animal, especially one that’s not well taken care of."
For Szostak, the introduction of D-O (who, within the canonical Star Wars timeline, was built after Artoo but before BB-8) offered a chance to draw a parallel between two of the movie's heroes.
"One thing I also love about D-O is that he represents an opportunity for BB-8 to have learned a lesson from Rey," he explains. "Rey heals the snake, and BB-8 is there to witness that, and then [he] does the same thing for D-O. It’s a beautiful thing — he powers him back up and gives him life again."
And while we're on the subject of BB-8, the art book presents a wild piece of concept art for a BB-8 tank. Drawn by creature concept designer Jake Lunt Davies, the idea was really more of a goof and didn't stand much of a chance of making it into the actual film. Still cool, though!
"[It] was just kind of a hilarious idea that, of course, you knew, in all likelihood, would never get chosen," Szostak says.
The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker goes on sale from Abrams Books tomorrow, March 31. You can pre-order a copy for $40 right here.