Aside from the Ewoks, the Mon Calamari are the most extensively represented non-human species in the STAR WARS. (Jawas don't count because we don't see any parts of their bodies.) The total number of distinct Calamarians seen in Return of the Jedi is at least eight distinct individuals: Admiral Ackbar; three of four bridge crewmen; one trooper; and three dignitaries (of whom at least two were in civilian dress). Since the Mon Calamari are so numerous onscreen, they are a potentially fruitful topic of investigation. Unlike species which have thusfar been represented by single members, it is possible to compare different individuals and thus to distinguish the general traits of the species from personal characteristics.
The Mon Calamari are not a numerous species in the galaxy, since they have only recently achieved interstellar travel and spread beyond their home system, but they gave sponsorship to the Rebel Alliance at a crucial point in its history, and they supplied space vessels of appreciable size that were suitable for upgrading to match human naval technology and confront the Imperial Starfleet.
The home planet of the Mon Calamari, which is almost entirely covered in water except for the low-lying islands where the Mon Calamari arose, is called by at least two names. The most commonly used name in the human literature is "Calamari" which is unspecific, bland, and probably amounts to little more than a human colloquialism. The true name of the planet is Dac, according to a 1982 article in Bantha tracks. A young species, knowing only its own system, is likely to use a monsyllabic name for its singular homeworld; "Dac" is probably the planet's name as given by the Mon Calamari themselves.
One special mystery concerning the Mon Calamari is their relationship with the Quarren. Both are said to be from the same homeworld, and they shared a civilisation uneasily before contact with the Empire. There are substantial biological differences between them, especially in fundamentals of the body plan such as the number of digits on the limbs. If they really did evolve on the same world, then they are not from closely related taxonomic groups.
If they evolved independently, without a sapient or near-sapient recent common ancestor, then did they just happen to achieve intelligence at the same time? That would be an exceptional coincidence, since intelligence takes only a few million years to go from basic animal levels to sapience; the duration of complex multicellular life on a planet is probably something like hundreds of millions to billions of years, and intelligence could conceivably arise anytime in that timespan.
If they did not evolve to sapience simultaneously, then which one has been sapient for a longer period of time? Within only a few thousand years of technical society, a sapient species quickly controls its entire planetary environment. Why then did the development of the first technical species not forestall or subsume the second species' evolution towards sapience? Was it the non-inquisitive Quarren who were first, and they deliberately restricted their activities to their darker ocean depths?
One official publicity photograph from The Phantom Menace throws these questions into a peculiar new light. The picture, from the streets of Mos Espa on Tatooine, shows a Quarren in local garb. (There are also unconfirmed television reports of at least one more member of the species.) This was more than a decade before the supposed first contact between the Mon Calamari and the outside galactic civilisation. Perhaps the Quarren had an older spacefaring history or prehistory that they never mentioned to their Mon Calamari partners. Or perhaps the Quarren on the planet Dac are in fact a lost colony from a spacefaring race that evolved elsewhere. Perhaps the individual in Mos Espa was secretly "abducted by aliens" such as underworld smugglers or pirates using the Mon Calamari sector as a temporary hideout, and he was eventually freed or abandoned and left bewildered on the desert world.
More recent references paint a peculiar and frightening picture of the status of the Mon Calamari in the final decades of the Old Republic. In his youth, Obi-Wan Kenobi knew a Jedi initiate belonging to the Mon Calamari species [The Rising Force, p.17]. This suggests that the Jedi regularly abduct Force-strong children from pre-contact primitive civilisations. Secondly, the Black Sun criminal organisation included a Mon Calamari official long before Palpatine's chancellorship. Before his elimination [Darth Maul], Vigo Morn kept alien henchmen in a fortress on his homeworld. Thus the relatively benevolent Jedi were not the only secret visitors to pre-contact Dac. While the general public remained unaware of the offworld civilisation, elements of the criminal classes exploited contacts with their galactic counterparts.
The preview of the Mon Calamari in a 1982 issue of Bantha Tracks explicitly names their homeworld as Dac.
The watery Mon Calamari homeworld, as represented in Behind the Magic, shows little sign of any substantial landmasses.
This lone Quarren specimen in the boyhood city of Anakin Skywalker represents an intriguing problem in the history of contact between the Mon Calamari and the greater galactic civilisation.
Vigo Morn, a Mon Calamari who had clandestine contact with galactic organised crime decades before his world had open contact with other civilisations.
The eyes of Mon Calamari are much larger than what is necessary for vision in the shallow-water and land environments where the species is supposed to live. According to Behind the Magic, their vision is keen even in "dark seas", but other references indicate that they belong in clement surface waters. Their large eyes are a physical liability, since they would dry more readily than ordinary skin, and they are delicate and vulnerable to physical damage. It is unknown whether Mon Calamari are able to regenerate lost or mutilated eyes, but even if they can, the large eyes are still predisposed towards serious injury and the temporary blindness thus occassioned would be a great disadvantage to the individual.
If the size of their eyes is not dictated by the usual sensory needs, there must be some other important secondary adaptive benefit. One interesting explanation is that the eyes play an important role in the social activities of the Mon Calamari. The eyes are much more mobile and potentially expressive than those of humans. In contrast, the wide, bony jaws, horny carapace on the upper head, and the limp dangling tissue of the lower face do not seem very expressive at all. It is likely that much or most nonverbal communication between Mon Calamari involves eye gestures.
It even seems likely that Mon Calamari eyes contain most of the features used to visually distinguish one individual from another. Just as humans are instinctively sensitive to subtle features of an entire human face, the Mon Calamari may have an acute awareness of fine details within the eye. It is noteworthy that Admiral Ackbar, who spent a large part of his life in contact with humans, never fully acquired the skill of judging human moods, age and other conditions [X-Wing Rogue Squadron p.21]. This may be because human eyes are so tiny and expressionless compared to the Calamarian equivalent.
Image of a Mon Calamari soldier. This is not, as was mistakenly reported in some published sources, Admiral Ackbar. Ackbar's eyes are a nearly uniform yellow-gold; this individual has more reddish streaks in his eyes.
For Ibtisam, the most significant feature of a human prince is the quality of his eyes.
Two more of the Mon Calamari serving under Admiral Ackbar. Both specimens have less wrinkled faces and tauter jowls than Ackbar's. The barbels are different lengths as well. On the first individual, the nasal barbels are especially long; on the second example, a bridge officer, all barbels are short. These may be marks of individuality, gender, health, virility or age.
Considering the large size and articulation of the Mon Calamari eye, and the specialised functions that they may carry out, it is not surprising to read that the qualities of Mon Calamari vision differ greatly from that of humans. In several references to Calamarian warships (eg. Essential Guide to Vehicles & Vessels), Calamarian computer control systems, particularly holographic display units, are said to be uncomfortable or unconvincing to human users. Since holography recreates the entire wavefront of light corresponding to the original object, the incompatibility cannot simply be a matter of the difference of eye spacing. Indeed a holographic projection remains just as valid if the viewer uses only one eye to look at it.
One possibility is that Calamarian eyes are sensitive to a somewhat different wavelength range of the electromagnetic specttrum. Put simply, the Mon Calamari may see colours, either in the infrared or the ultraviolet, that humans cannot; and some of the colours visible to humans may be indistinguishable to Mon Calamari.
This would account for the exception dullness of Calamarian naval and military uniforms as seen by humans: combinations of white, beige and grey with rare splashes of yellow. In contrast to the officer insignia of the Alderaan-sponsored human rebels of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back, and the predominantly human Imperial Forces, Calamarian officer insignia are seemingly colourless conglomerates of metallic components. Plain insignia are inherently useless, since they do not aid recognition. Although they are almost indistinguishable to humans, these rank plaques may in fact appear to be vividly colourful and visually striking to Mon Calamari eyes.
The cover of Cracken's Threat Dossiers shows General Cracken with both Alderaani and Calamarian insignia. Since his Calamarian badge appears the same as Calrissian's, and his Alderaani badge is the same as General Rieeken's, we have a hint of equivalence. It looks as if this is a badge for a lieutenant-general [according to the interpolated system of Alderaan-style badges described in the page about Rebel Alliance Insignia]. There is one catch: we don't know whether the Calamarian badges differ in colours that are visible to Calamari and invisible to humans.
The fact that the human rebels in Return of the Jedi adopted what appear to be Calamarianised uniforms and insignia is probably and understated sign of the aliens' growing influence within the Alliance. (Especially in the aftermath of the rout of former-Alderaanian forces on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.) This fashion is almost certainly Calamarian, rather than being derived from another rebel group, because Mon Calamari civilians wore similar dress years before contact with interstellar society [see X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Requiem for a Rogue].
Various Mon Calamarian dignitaries (in the background) accompany Mon Mothma, General Madine and Admiral Ackbar.
Mon Calamari officers and crew dominated the bridges of their naval vessels at the Battle of Endor, and the only humans present were relegated to junior technical roles.
Admiral Ackbar, to the right, with insignia clearly visible. In one image, a seated Calamarian officer (who is named as such in Behind the Magic, and may perhaps be a captain or commodore) has a more horizontally elongated rank plaque.
General Madine, who is unambiguously an army officer, wore a uniform in Calamarian-infuenced aesthetics. His insignia is a slightly orderly jumble of components with meaning unobvious to human vision. His rank plaque appears to be identical to those worn by Calrissian, Princess Leia, and the other human officers standing behind him; but it has different proportions from the badges worn by Ackbar and naval officers under Ackbar's command.
General Lando Calrissian and Princess Leia Organa (military rank unknown) wore essentially the same kind of Calamarian-style uniform. The shirt/blouse and pants are identical. The jacket differs, and the Princess lacks the collar gadgets. In keeping with human custom, the Princess, as a female officer, wears her insignia on the opposite side of the torso.
Clear side view of Admiral Ackbar in uniform: beige jerkin, white shirt and white trousers with a yellow outside seam, which is similar to the trouser stripes of Princess Leia and Calrissian.
The style and colour of Mon Calamari dress used before contact with humans was essentially the same as the fashion seen in Return of the Jedi. This image is from a flashback vision in X-Wing: Requiem for a Rogue.
The skin of Mon Calamari is moist and well suited to their amphibious lifestyle, however it does not glisten with excess water. Superficially, the skin looks tough and leathery, at least on Mon Calamari in shipboard environments comfortable to human guests (eg. the rebel conference and the Home One bridge in Return of the Jedi). Perhaps the roughness is illusory, and the skin actually has a texture like a micro-sponge. If there are scales on Mon Calamari skin, they are too fine to be seen by the casual human glance.
All individuals seen in Return of the Jedi had red-salmon coloured skin with faint olive-green patches on the armoured mantle of the head. The intensity and extent of these patches varied depending on the individual. For example, Admiral Ackbar had subtle, roughly rounded patches, but the Calamarian seated to his left on Home One's bridge had dark, vivid tiger-like stripes instead. Whether these characteristics are inherited or are an indicator of a person's age or physical condition is not yet known.
One Calamarian pilot who flew in Rogue Squadron in the early years after Endor, named Ibtisam, had distinctively blue and green skin instead. It could be speculated that her blueness is a gender difference, if not for the fact that Jasmin Ackbar, another young female Calamarian pilot in X-Wing Wraith Squadron, shared the usual red tone. Shenir Rix, who was a female Mon Calamari spy for the Empire [in the computer game Rebellion], represents yet another skin variation: brown. Admiral Ragab was a silver-coloured Mon Calamari in X-Wing: Rogue Squadron. Perhaps the colour alternatives represent racial or subspecies variations (such as those seen in goldfish, humans and cattle) or else it may be the mark of a non-serious health condition. Perhaps it is a sign of being in a certain phase of the Calamarian life-cycle. Assuming that Admiral Ackbar appoints his officers and crew without prejudice, Return of the Jedi indicates that blue-skinned Mon Calamari are uncommon.
Five Mon Calamari naval personnel, each with a distinctive pattern of green patches. The most remarkable example, on the right, has tiger-striped markings.
Ibtisam, a Calamarian pilot, has distinctively blue skin, unlike the eight or nine individuals seen in Return of the Jedi.
Shenir Rix, a remarkable Mon Calamari female loyal to the Galactic Empire. She has dark brown skin, and her eyes are a matching colour too.
Very little is known about the internal characteristics of the Mon Calamari. It is known that they are amphibious can survive in comfort under muddy water, as shown in the Classic STAR WARS comics series when Calamarian forces commanded by Admiral Ackbar attempted to save the Millennium Falcon from giant aquatic worms. This implies the possession of effective gills or similar organs, and it probably says something indirect about the species' metabolism.
The Last Command comic adaptation shows a Mon Calamari captain clutching his injuries during a battle with Grand Admiral Thrawn's forces. According to this image, his blood was green. If the fluid is really the captain's blood, and not just a smearing of oil from an unseen nearby battle-damaged machine, then itmight account for the olive-colored skin markings on the Mon Calamari head. The dark green patches of skin may be akin to "rosy cheeks" on lightly pigmented humans: areas where there is an unusually high concentration of blood vessels close to the surface.
The Mon Calamari heads are large compared with the heads of sapients of more humanoid build. Roughly half of the head consists of a bulbous elongated dome protected by a boney cranial shell. The soft tissues of the face and the bony jaws extend from under this mantle. The protected area of the head presumably contains the brain, which may be large compared to that of a human. There seems to be something distinctive about the Mon Calamari brain, since in Dark Apprentice it was mentioned that Imperial military surgeons on Carida saw fit to undertake extensive research on the modification, replacement and control of Mon Cal brain parts. According to the Bantha Tracks profile, this species is known for its intelligence and chess-playing abilities. However it seems likely that a good portion of the surplus brain is devoted to processing visual information from the oversized eyes.
Additionally, the size of the Mon Calamari head may be a hint that it contains other vital organs as well. We could speculate that the head may also contain internal gills like those of a squid or octopus, in order to perform blood oxygenation immediately near the brain (rather than relying entirely on lungs in the torso). It is interesting to observe the pair of tubes protruding from the head behind the eyestalks; if the Calamarian head actually does contain internal gills with muscular-driven water-flow, then these tubes may be where the deoxygenated flow exits. In juveniles the cranial dome is much smaller than for adults, as seen in STAR WARS Galaxy Card #98. The pictured children have domes that are proportionately less than half as large as those of adults. This may be a sign of less advanced brain growth, and if there really are gills in the head, then the youths may be less able to survive under water.
If gill size is related to head size, then the Mon Calamari may in fact be a kind of reverse-amphibian. They may come onto land or seaside shallows to raise their children, who gradually gain the ability to spend more time underwater as they mature. The adults may live in the oceans primarily.
In The Last Command, the captain of the Orthavan seems to have bled green fluids.
Profile and rear views of the Admiral Ackbar mask shows the valve-like aperture behind the eye clearly. Also note the muscular sheath of flesh extending below the dome; it may pump water through cranial gills, if they exist.
STAR WARS Galaxy card #98 shows several juvenile Mon Calamari in school. Their cranial domes are underdeveloped compared to the adults'.
At one point in the Battle of Endor, Admiral Ackbar has a runny nose. This probably doesn't have the same meaning as a runny nose for a human; in an amphibious being it's more likely to be a reaction to excess dryness or perhaps tension. Alternatively, he may be bleeding after the concussion of thermonuclear detonations against the hull of Home One [as described in the ROTJ novel] which presumably were launched from bombers among the early waves of Imperial starfighters.
It is worth mentioning a few things about the feet of Mon Calamari, although these organs are not seen in detail in the canon or spin-off literature. Mon Calamari feet are roughly the same size as human feet, but the details of toes, claws, webbing or flippers are not known. They can wear footwear that resembles that worn by humans, although the shoes of the classic Admiral Ackbar action figure are conspicuously domed.
The Mon Calamari are able to stand upright in the humanoid fashion, at least for short periods of time. An aquatic species need not have had such an ability. Having feet enabling an upright posture and walking means that the Mon Calamari are evolved to spend a large part of their lives out of water.
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