Wat Tambor attack of the clones header
More info i
Credit: Lucasfilm

The most important Star Wars character of all time is Wat Tambor, leader of the Techno Union Army

Contributed by
Dec 3, 2019

In some ways, the greatest Star Wars creations are visual effects, but in the case of lightsabers, Wookiees, R2-D2, and Darth Vader, the most enduring Star Wars things aren't for your eyes, but instead for your ears.

Most hardcore Star Wars fans know that legendary sound designer Ben Burtt is responsible for R2-D2's beeps and the hum of a lightsaber, but did you know that this guy also had a scene-stealing moment in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones? Basically, it's here that Star Wars fandom can be boiled down to two kinds of people: Those who are aware that Ben Burtt was a great sound designer, and those who think of him as the voice of a green tooth-headed quasi-cyborg with the dubious first name of "Wat."

If you're rational, you fall into the first camp. If you're me, you're firmly in the second. According to at least one interview, Ben Burtt described the character Wat Tambor as his "favorite Star Wars robot," but who is Wat Tambor? The answer: Wat Tambor is the most pivotal and strange Star Wars character of all time.

First of all, despite creating the voice for Wat Tambor's two lines of dialogue, Ben Burtt is technically wrong. Wat Tambor is not a robot. True, he speaks in a halting, robotic manner, and even adjusts himself with little dials on his metal chest in order to spit out one of his two lines in a Star Wars film, but he's not a robot. Tambor is a Skakoan, a member of an amphibious race of aliens who, when off-world, are required to wear a pressure suit to simulate their home planet's environment.

If you were really hung up on that thing George Lucas said once about repeating visual motifs in the Star Wars films — "it's like poetry, they rhyme" — you might be inclined to suggest that Wat Tambor's pressure suit foreshadows Anakin's fate to live inside of a breathing apparatus as Darth Vader. But, isn't it more fun to just think of Wat Tambor as a goofy alien who is even more important than Darth Vader? Because, in terms of the logistics of how the Star Wars galaxy is changed, Wat Tambor is, in fact, way more important than Darth Vader. And that's because unlike Darth Vader, Wat Tambor literally delivers the goods.

Wat Tambor and Obi-Wan Kenobi; ships passing in the night. (Credit: Lucasfilm)

Wat Tambor's first of two appearances in live-action Star Wars films is in Attack of the Clones ... and in that story, he changes everything.

In some ways, the plot of Attack of the Clones can be boiled down this: Here are the very specific nitty-gritty details of how a complicated sci-fi war was waged, in which both sides began the war without having a standing army. Of course, we know from the title of the movie that the Republic eventually gets an army of clones who attack, but the "bad guys" — the Separatists — employ an army of battle droids. Now, we had met armies of battle droids in the previous film, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, but what Attack of the Clones makes clear is that new, more intense battle droids are brought into the Separatist war effort to make sure the droids are formidable to rumble with the Jedi.

Enter Wat Tambor. As Obi-Wan listens in, we hear (though don't entirely see) Wat Tambor utter one of his two galaxy-shaking lines in his hilarious faux-robot voice: "With these new battle droids we've built for you, you'll have the finest army in the galaxy."

What battle droids does he refer to, pray tell? These would be the "super" battle droids who cause the Jedi such trouble in the arena fight at the end of the film, and, if you've been watching The Mandalorian, these are the same variety of battle droids hassling young Mando and his family in those flashbacks.

So, you see, already, how influential Wat Tambor is? His super battle droids took out a bunch of Jedi on Geonosis and, seemingly, orphaned young Pedro Pascal, causing him to become The Mandalorian in the first place. Had Wat Tambor not created the new battle droids for Count Dooku and the Separatists, the Clone Wars would have never happened because the Republic would never have been cajoled into accepting the clone army they didn't actually want. And this also means Mando would have possibly never become an orphan. And if Mando had never become an orphan, who would have rescued Baby Yoda???

A super battle droid in 'The Mandalorian.' Wat Tambor made these things!

All of these events were set into motion because of the only other scene in Attack of the Clones in which Wat Tambor speaks. Again, as Obi-Wan listens in, Count Dooku convinces a bunch of shady folks to commit their forces to the Separatists. This is when Wat Tambor gets his big close-up; adjusting himself like a broken 1983 Tandy floppy disc drive fused with Max Headroom's cadence, he says, "The Techno Union Army is at your disposal, Count."

Throughout both versions of The Clone Wars cartoons (the 2002-2005 Genndy Tartakovsky non-canon one, and the more famous 2008 version) the Techno Union Army and Wat Tambor make a handful of appearances (including an arc where he invades the planet Ryloth), but it's not like you ever get the sense that Wat Tambor is a good union leader. Perhaps the best analogy for Wat Tambor is that he's a little like Jimmy Hoffa; he and the Trade Federation clearly believe that getting involved with the mob (the Separatists) will help their commerce guilds and techno unions, but the reality is, the Separatists are way worse than any real-life mob. (Side note: Notice Martin Scorsese didn't say anything bad about Star Wars movies during that whole Marvel movie rant. Is it possible he was inspired to do The Irishman after watching Wat Tambor and Anakin Skywalker in the prequels? I think the answer is a big yes.)

Speaking of Anakin Skywalker, he clearly knows how legit Wat Tambor is by the time of Revenge of the Sith because when he goes to take out all the Separatist leaders, the next-to-last guy he smacks with this lightsaber, is, you guessed it, Wat Tambor. But wait, is Wat Tambor actually dead?

No, Wat Tambor, don't get up. Anakin will be right there. (Credit: Lucasfilm)

You're probably pretty familiar with this shot of Anakin Skywalker (this actually happens to be the screen you'll get for the summary of Revenge of the Sith on Disney+ right now), but there's a chance you never noticed that Wat Tambor is, like, casually getting up from his seat after Anakin has taken out nearly everyone else in the evil Separatist council.

In the theatrical release of the film we never see Anakin actually take out Wat Tambor, we just get this shot of Wat getting up, seemingly to adjust his dials and maybe offer Anakin some even cooler new droids. Supposedly, Wat Tambor does die in this scene. If you do some Googling, you'll learn there's a deleted scene where Anakin takes out Wat, but, you'll not find it in the contemporary Disney+ "extras" for Revenge of the Sith. And, unlike a lot of prequel-era deleted scenes, it's sort of hard to track down the actual video of Anakin killing Wat.

Hold on Anakin. Wat wants to talk. (Credit: Lucasilm)

So, what's the deal? The official Star Wars databank mentions that Wat had to "answer for his crimes" on Mustafar, and that's where we get this picture of him and Anakin having an intense chat. But, weirdly, even though Wookieepedia claims Wat Tambor is 100 percent dead, it's very hard to locate him in the aftermath of Anakin's rampage. A normal person would just accept that Wat Tambor's death was lost on the cutting room floor, but if you're a Wat Tambor loyalist, you may suspect he's still out there.

In other words, everyone knows that Anakin killed all the Separatists on Mustafar, but what a few hopeful fans hope is, maybe he didn't?

If Wat Tambor is still out there, then perhaps the former foreman of the Techno Union Army made Palpatine a bunch of spaceships for The Rise of Skywalker. I mean, those Star Destroyers had to come from somewhere, right?

Make Your Inbox Important

Like Comic-Con. Except every week in your inbox.

Sign-up breaker
Sign out: