The Origins Behind 8 Star Wars Character and Species Names
Much of the success of the Star Wars franchise has to do with the fact that while it features plenty of spaceships and laser swords, the themes and conflicts are all grounded in very human experiences. Creator George Lucas even took his cues from the real world when populating his universe with names suited for alien creatures, droids, and Sith lords. Some of the most popular names from Star Wars have their roots in languages found here on Earth, while others pay homage to classic films and even some politicians.
1. DARTH VADER
Darth is simply a variation of the word dark, while Vader comes from the Dutch word for father (though in the movies it's pronounced more like vater, the German word for father). While it seems like Lucas might have tipped his hand on Vader's relationship with Luke and Leia with that name in the first movie, the decision to make Darth a Skywalker wasn't finally made by Lucas and company until development on The Empire Strikes Back was well underway. Lucas has gone on record saying the Skywalker family drama was always part of his plans, while other stories contradict that. Either way, if you knew Dutch or German heading into the original Star Wars, you might have been able to figure the whole saga out before all your friends.
The name R2-D2 was conceived in the editing bay of George Lucas's 1973 teen comedy, American Graffiti. The term originated with the film's editor, Walter Murch, who used to say "R2, D2," which was shorthand for "reel two, dialogue two," referring to the movie's various dialogue tracks. Lucas, who was jotting down notes for what would become Star Wars during this period, instantly took a liking to the offbeat term.
For BB-8, director J.J. Abrams didn't want to complicate matters, so the naming process was as simple as looking at the droid's design. “I named him BB-8 because it was almost onomatopoeia ... It was sort of how he looked to me, with the 8, obviously, and then the 2 B’s," the director explained.
4. CAPTAIN PHASMA
The reflective chrome surface of Captain Phasma's uniform directly inspired her name, which also has its roots in a cult horror classic. “Phasma I named because of the amazing chrome design that came from Michael Kaplan’s wardrobe team,” Abrams said in an interview. “It reminded me of the ball in Phantasm, and I just thought, Phasma sounds really cool.”
5. NUTE GUNRAY
Nute Gunray, the sleazy Viceroy of the Trade Federation, seems to have gotten his first name from Newt Gingrich and his last name by swapping the syllables of Reagan. You're never going to hear Lucas admit this one outright, but fans and news outlets have been dissecting the name ever since it first appeared in 1999's The Phantom Menace.
The lovable (or supremely hateable, depending on your tolerance for militarized teddy bears) little fuzzballs from 1983's Return of the Jedi didn't get their name from politicians or classic works of sci-fi; instead, the story behind the word Ewok has its origins right in Lucas's backyard. He got the term by rearranging the syllables in the word Wookiee and rhyming it with Miwok, the name of a Native American tribe that used to inhabit central California, not terribly far from where Skywalker Ranch is located.
If the word Wookiee sounds like nonsense, well, it is. The name actually originated during Lucas's 1971 debut sci-fi film THX 1138. In it, actor Terry McGovern played a voice on a radio providing background chatter during the film's vehicular escape sequence. One of the lines he improvised was "I think I ran over a Wookiee." McGovern came up with the word in honor of his friend, Bill Wookey, and apparently the name stuck in Lucas's mind when it came to coming up with a species for Chewbacca.
There are two main theories behind the word Jedi—the first one points to Jidaigeki, which is a Japanese term for "period dramas" in theater or on the screen. This origin certainly makes sense, since Lucas modeled so much of the Star Wars mythology on the samurai movies of directors like Akira Kurosawa (they all fell into the Jidaigeki genre). The other inspiration for Jedi is Jed or Jeddak, a term for tribal leaders in Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter adventures, which also played a large role in the formation of the swashbuckling Star Wars style.