Star Wars’ porgs are puffins on another planet

(Florian Seefried/Getty Images)

“We like this cute animal because he looks small and a little bit clumsy, but he is a genius, he is so smart.” Schau said. “So they understand that the porg has something of a puffin.”
As it turns out, the porg-puffin resemblance is no mere coincidence. (Disney/Lucasfilm)

“If you go to Skellig at the right time of year, it’s just covered in puffins, and they’re the most adorable things in the world,” The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson told Entertainment Weekly. Meanwhile, puffin rescuer Schau suspects the connection could raise real-life interest in the birds, as researchers locally and around the world are beginning to learn more about their importance. https://t.co/7XM2PGkqsj—
@JohnBoyega

Please be advised: #Porgs are not on any #AhchToMenu-Luke hasn’t been a meat-eater since Aunt Beru made that nice #WompRatBrisket back home. Cute or annoying? Schau has retired from the movie industry, and has since founded the Puffin and Petrel Patrol rescue group. In fact, some of the porgs seen in the movie actually are puffins, just digitally altered, while others seen in the movie are puppets. It was easier to digitally alter puffins to porgs than to remove them entirely. Atlantic puffins have healthy population numbers in Newfoundland, but the populations in Ireland, as well as Iceland, are more threatened. pic.twitter.com/KYBHECaRJ2—
@HamillHimself

The franchise’s cuter creatures have long dealt with the tension between needing to appeal to children, who drive merchandise sales, without alienating longtime fans wary of characters they see as existing just to sell toys. They live by the ocean, they waddle a little when they walk, and they are definitely adorable — you could be forgiven for thinking we’re talking about puffins. Hollywood to Witless Bay: The double life of the Puffin Man

“I think it touches something very special which goes very deep into the heart of the people when they see this little innocent bird,” said Juergen Schau, who founded the Puffin and Petrel Patrol rescue group in Witless Bay, after retiring from Sony Pictures Entertainment. Take, for example, the popularity of Finding Nemo, which Smith said hurt conservation efforts for clown fish because of the demand for them as pets. Puffin and Petrel Patrol, in partnership with CPAWS, rescues pufflings — baby puffins — who end up on shore after becoming lost. This porg soup is delicious….. 17, 2009 in Berlin, Germany. (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

Just offshore from Witless Bay is the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, home to North America’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins. “When you see it visually, it really does have a strong effect on you.”
Puffins aren’t pets
But while puffins aren’t likely to end up as pets, the appeal of charismatic minifauna can end up harming them. But the charming creatures described are actually porgs, one of the new characters in the Star Wars franchise. Inspiration on Skellig Michael
Schau, who spends summers and the Christmas holidays in Witless Bay, said he has heard from people from Canada, the United States, and other parts of the world who want to know more about puffins after seeing the porgs on screen. Conservationists are concerned Skellig Michael, a small Irish island, is at risk of becoming overwhelmed by tourists after the success of Star Wars, putting the location’s fragile ecosystem at risk. (Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm)

Qualities like their big eyes, round bodies and waddling walks mean porgs could be defined as charismatic minifauna: a small animal that humans connect with, and feel protective toward, said Katie Smith, a UC Davis PhD candidate in ecology. The intergalactic creatures are inspired by the real-life Atlantic puffins that live on Skellig Michael, the island off Ireland’s southwestern coast where the scenes of Luke Skywalker’s retreat were filmed. The couple spend summers and the Christmas holidays in Newfoundland. Turning the island’s nesting puffins into something else in post-production was easier than trying to remove them all digitally. The Atlantic puffin population litters Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland, where The Last Jedi was filmed. The round and cute porgs are native to a remote island on the planet Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker is found in The Last Jedi, released earlier in December. An Atlantic puffin on the shore at Spillar’s Cove, near Bonavista, N.L. (Atlantic Laboratory for Avian Research/UNB)

Puffins may not be well-known to residents of Hollywood, but a former movie executive-turned-puffin-rescuer in Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t surprised their qualities are appealing when translated into space birds. “We have this innate desire to caretake for animals that have juvenile characteristics,” Smith said. “He can dive 100 metres deep, he can feed a lot of little birds, and he is very important for our ecological area in general.” But the porgs — just like the puffins that inspired them — actually have characteristics that place them into a category of animals that humans tend to find appealing. Even the film’s stars are divided on porgs. The mixed reaction to porgs is a divide that goes all the way back to Return of the Jedi, when furry Ewoks came to the rescue. Juergen Schau, seen here in a file photo at the premiere of Das gelbe Segel at CineMaxx at Potsdam Place on Nov. Fans aren’t sure
But not all Star Wars fans have fallen in love with porgs. A porg, right, appears in The Last Jedi, next to iconic Star Wars character Chewbacca. (Submitted by Ronald O’Toole)

“We have to beware, especially when using these animals in popular media,” Smith said. Concept art of the porg, from StarWars.com, really shares a resemblance with the Atlantic puffin. Juergen and Elfie Schau at home in Witless Bay. Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens with $220M US, 2nd best weekend of all-time

It’s no coincidence that those features are ones we also love in human babies, Smith said. (Jerzy Strzelecki/Wikicommons)

“Even if it looks not like a puffin I already got several messages, emails from people from Toronto, from America, from Europe, saying, ‘Juergen, there’s a puffin in Star Wars, in the new one,'” Schau said.