In the more than 30 years since the debut of Return of the Jedi and its moon full of Ewoks, Star Wars fans are quick to dismiss any "cute" creature in the galaxy as being a way to cash in on merchandising as opposed to the creatures being integral to the story. In the case of The Last Jedi and its popular porgs, the reason for their creation wasn't for the narrative or for merchandise, but as a cheap way to mask the hundreds of native birds that populated the island of Skellig Michael.
"(We) had gone to shoot this sequence on Skellig Michael, which is the real island location that stands in for Ahch-To, and that island is covered in puffins," designer Jake Lunt Davies told StarWars.com. "It's a wildlife preserve and everywhere you look there are hundreds of birds dotted around the landscape."
The abundance of the birds caused the production team to improvise.
"You physically can't get rid of them, and digitally removing them is an issue and a lot of work, so let's just roll with it, play with it," Davies pointed out. "And so I think [writer/director Rian Johnson] thought, Well, that's great, let's have our own indigenous species.'"
The porgs weren't the only indigenous inhabitants of the island, as the Caretakers also lived there to maintain what remained of the Jedi Temple.
"We'd already started work on the Caretakers, which again was a brief from Rian," Davies recalled. "We'd just been told 'puffin people.' Yeah, there was going to be this race of people and puffins again were a source of inspiration for Rian. The puffins were sort of a big influence on everything, really."
Despite how adorable the creatures were from the get-go, the designer wasn't prepared for just how much the general public would become fascinated with his creation.
"It was a huge surprise. You are concerned about audience reaction," Davies admitted. "I want to create something that I can be proud of, obviously. And then I kind of forgot about it really, because we got caught up in the next one and in Solo, and then they released the trailer and the little clip behind the scenes with the porgs. I was surprised when, suddenly, the Internet goes crazy for it and it turned into a meme fest."
You can see the porgs in The Last Jedi, in theaters now.