Star Wars’ Whale-Ships Show How the Franchise’s Tech Can Evolve

It’s common to hear Star Wars fans observe that technology in the universe has stagnated. Whether it’s during the reign of the First Order, in the midst of the Clone Wars, or back in the days of the Old Republic, the technology of the time seems to differ only aesthetically. Starships zip around the galaxy through hyperspace, popular sidearms are laser-shooting blasters, and a varied array of robotic droids whirl and bleat as they go about their tasks. Indeed, it’s more common for Star Wars characters to access advanced technology from the past than to develop it in the present. Every once in a while, however, a visionary comes along and breaks the technological status quo. One such individual was the ill-fated doctor Cylo, whose creations hint what’s possible as the franchise moves forward.

Technically, the idea that technological progress in Star Wars has stalled is incorrect. While virtually every imaginable technology has been invented for millennia, they continue to experience incremental improvements over time. For example: while functionally similar, a top-end starfighter from the years of the Old Republic would be outclassed by even a run-of-the-mill Rebel Y-Wing fighter. However, in a galaxy where cybernetic replacement/augmentation is commonplace, Cylo’s expertise in the field did more than make his predecessors’ designs .5% more efficient. Some of Cylo’s creations were nothing short of breakthroughs, the likes of which the galaxy has never seen. While the most famous, and ambitious, of the Cylo Directive was the creation of non-Force sensitive assassins to serve as Darth Vader’s replacement, little compares to his creation of living starships.

Gargantuan, void-dwelling fauna aren’t a new concept in Star Wars. 1980s The Empire Strikes Back featured an Exogorth, or « space slug », that the crew of the Millennium Falcon unwittingly flew inside believing it to be an asteroid cave. More recently, Star Wars: Rebels featured a pod of creatures called Purrgil – space-fairing whale-like creatures that could navigate hyperspace. In a similar vein, Darth Vader (2015) #5 by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca introduced Cylo’s aptly named « whale-ships. »

The whale-ships are large, organic beings modified by Cylo’s technology, fully-subjugated under his control. While the vessels relied on their natural biology for movement, they were also equipped with ample living and research space, a command center directly above the brain, and were outfitted with batteries of turbolaser cannons for defense. Cylo’s craft proved themselves formidable in combat and posed a legitimate threat to Vader’s flagship, the ludicrously imposing Executor. In the backmatter to the collected series, Gillen speaks about imagining cutting-edge tech that still fits with Star Wars canon, stating, « cybernetic space whales are the absolute outer limit of what I think is reasonable. »

Cylo’s whale-ships were also equipped with cloning facilities far more advanced than those present on Kamino that created the Galactic Republic’s clone army. While the Kaminoan cloning process produced genetically identical individuals, they proved to be just that: individuals. Clone Troopers proved to have personalities as distinct from one another as any other being. Cylo’s clones, however, were identical replicas of himself, down to his age, personality, and memories. Even Cylo’s most distinctive physical feature, a Rodian eye on one side of his face, was retained by his copies. While Cylo’s blending of flesh and machine was his specialty, his display of biological manipulation was in itself beyond anyone else in the galaxy.

Like all of Cylo’s creations, the limits of cybernetic augmentation were still no match for one power in the galaxy: the Force. Vader would exploit this weakness to send both Cylo and his final whale-ship into the heart of a sun using a mind trick to take command of the living vessel. While Cylo’s creations died with him, he still brought new concepts to the Star Wars galaxy, envisioning a new age of technology for the galaxy far, far away.