The sarlacc (plural sarlacci) is a fictional creature in George Lucas's science fiction saga Star Wars. It first appeared in the film Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) as a multi-tentacled alien beast whose immense, gaping maw is lined with several rows of sharp teeth. The sarlacc in the film inhabits the Great Pit of Carkoon, a depression in the sand of the desert planet Tatooine. This creature is one of the largest of several sarlacci scattered across the Star Wars galaxy.
In the original Return of the Jedi, the sarlacc is simply a barbed hole in the desert sand which characters fall into and are consumed; some are pulled into the sarlacc's mouth by its tentacles. In the 1997 Special Edition of the film, computer-generated tentacles and beak emerge from the opened mouth. Besides Return of the Jedi, the creature and others like it are featured in Star Wars literature.
Like other aspects of Star Wars, the sarlacc became a part of popular culture. The creature was incorporated into the merchandising campaign that accompanied the release of Return of the Jedi. It is the subject of analysis and humor in works of literature unassociated with Star Wars.
Description and characterization
According to the Star Wars Databank, the sarlacci inhabit remote, inhospitable locations in the galaxy, whereas those who study the sarlacc argue over its taxonomic classification. While most claim that the sarlacc is an arthropod (as in The Essential Guide to Alien Species and The Wildlife of Star Wars), others point to its anchored root system and spore-based method of reproduction as evidence of a plant origin. A sarlacc reproduces by releasing spores through outer space, which arrive on a planet or asteroid, forming a pit used for capturing prey.
Steve Sansweet's Star Wars Encyclopedia describes the sarlacc as an "omnivorous, multi-tentacled creature with needle-sharp teeth and a large beak". The sarlacc rests at the base of a giant pit where the entirety of its body is buried except for the gaping mouth, which may reach three meters (10 feet) in diameter. Astrophysicist and science fiction author Jeanne Cavelos compares the sarlacc to the antlion, an insect that burrows a pit in the sand during its larval stage. Both creatures catch and consume prey that falls into the pit.
Because most sarlacci inhabit isolated environments and rely on prey to stumble into their pit, they rarely feed. As a result, sarlacci have evolved an efficient digestive process, which slowly dissolves prey into nutrients over a period of several thousand years. Victims are kept alive throughout digestion. If no living prey is available, a sarlacc relies on its root system to absorb nutrients. One sarlacc located on an airless moon feeds on cometary material rich in oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen that drifts into its mouth.
The sarlacc's stomach is lined with vessels that attach themselves to a swallowed victim and maws for quick digestion or breaking apart large prey, whereof the maws close when exposed to bright lights. The stomach also contains mind-altering neurotoxins which keep victims from struggling and escaping. The toxins induce hallucinations in prey which "suggest that the sarlacc somehow absorbs the intelligence of all its victims, who live on in disembodied torment". A sarlacc can communicate with its victims through this stolen consciousness: In one Star Wars short story, an unnamed Jedi woman explains that "sarlacci do interesting things with messenger RNA: over the course of millennia, they can attain a sort of group consciousness, built out of the remains of people they've digested. I talked to such a sarlacc, once a few decades ago".
Appearances in Star Wars stories
The sarlacc first appeared in the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, wherein Jabba the Hutt attempts to destroy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) by dropping them into the creature's mouth; but Luke frees himself and the others with the aid of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), while Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) strangles Jabba.
In the anthology Tales From Jabba's Palace (1995), edited by Kevin J. Anderson, Dan'l Danehy Oakes's story "Shaara and the Sarlacc: The Skiff Guard's Tale" is told from the point-of-view of one of Jabba the Hutt's unnamed skiff guards, who tells Boba Fett that his sister Shaara and her Imperial stormtrooper captors are thrown into the pit, whereupon the sarlacc swallows the stormtroopers, but expels Shaara, for reasons unknown. In the short story "A Barve Like That: The Tale of Boba Fett", by Daniel Keys Moran under the pseudonym of J. D. Montgomery, Boba Fett struggles to free himself from the belly of the sarlacc. As Fett is digested, the creature converses with him mentally in the voice of an alien named Susejo, eaten by the sarlacc four thousand years earlier. Having caused his jet pack to explode, Fett uses a concussion grenade to blast himself free.  Years later, Fett is recognized by the sarlacc upon approach. 
In the non-canonical Dark Horse comic book "Fortune, Fate, and the Natural History of the Sarlacc", written by Mark Schultz and illustrated by Kellie Strom, the sarlacc seen in Return of the Jedi is the offspring of an older sarlacc on Tatooine. Shortly after the execution of an unknown alien named Grubbat Fhilch, the sarlacc releases a spore that attaches to an Imperial stormtrooper's dewback. The stormtroopers hire a group of Jawa scavengers to clean the dewbacks and one of them discovers the spore. Not knowing what it had found, the Jawa places the spore into a jar of water. The spore grows into a young sarlacc and soon escapes from the jar only to be swallowed by a spider-like creature. The sarlacc, however, kills the creature and eats it from the inside out. The young sarlacc buries itself in the sand and forms the Great Pit of Carkoon.
Sarlacci have made minor appearances in Star Wars video games such as Super Star Wars (1992),Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996), Star Wars: Demolition (2000), Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (2002), Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike (2003), and Star Wars: Battlefront (2004). The MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies (2003) shows one of the smaller sarlacci in the Star Wars galaxy on the remote planet Dathomir. It has also made an appearance in Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, Star Wars: Empire at War and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008), where a sarlacc much larger than the one on Tatooine is first an ally of a Jedi Knight, and later used as a base for the Empire (even building structures inside the creature itself). A duel is fought beside the sarlacc in this game between Darth Vader's apprentice Starkiller and Jedi Master Shaak Ti. The duel ends with Ti falling backwards into the massive sarlacc's open mouth.
Concept and creation
The design of the sarlacc creature—originally called the "Sloth Pit"—seen in Return of the Jedi evolved during the concept, creation, and filming processes. Early concept sketches portrayed a creature with several moving tentacles and a pronounced beak; but Star Wars creator George Lucas, did not have the technology or financial resources to realize this concept in the 1983 film.
Special effects artists Stuart Freeborn, Phil Tippett, and the crew of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) constructed a pit in the desert sands of Yuma, Arizona, that contained a gaping mouth with jagged teeth and tentacles. At the time, the pit (with Jabba the Hutt's aircraft) constituted one of the largest motion picture sets ever constructed. A hydraulic system was designed to animate the creature, but the blowing sand clogged the mechanism. The film crew instead used poles and wires to move the creature's tentacles. Lucas was not satisfied with the effect, complaining, "There was nothing alive about the whole thing."
Working on the giant set was an arduous task, according to the crew members involved. Tippett told Starlog magazine, "We were working the creature at the bottom of a gorge, so we got no breeze. Sand constantly fell down upon us". In addition to operating the sarlacc, many technicians were standing in as skiff guards in full wardrobe. Tippett remarks, "[We] were covered with [sand and] glue from the costumes. I almost cracked on that one. I think I cried, it was so terrible." Actress Carrie Fisher recalled that many of the crew and stunt men who fell into the creature during filming suffered broken legs and sprained ankles. ILM crew members received some satisfaction when they dismantled the set at the conclusion of filming and sold it to Mexico as scrap. The one condition of the sale was that the materials were not to be resold as souvenirs.
The sarlacc design underwent a series of changes when Lucas released the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi in 1997. Employing the new technology of computer-generated imagery (CGI), ILM amended the creature's appearance with the addition of CGI tentacles and a beak inside the sarlacc's mouth. According to Lucas, it "just looks much more realistic and more threatening ... it helps the scene considerably." Subsequent depictions of the sarlacc in Star Wars fiction are based on this revised design.
Lucas did retain some of the special effects from the 1983 film in the Special Edition. The tentacle that captures the skiff guard Kithaba and pulls him into the sarlacc mouth is from the original film, as well as the tentacle that attaches to Lando Calrissian's leg.
In popular culture
Aside from Star Wars fiction and merchandising, the creature has appeared in critiques of the Star Wars films as a sexual metaphor. One popular fiction author uses the sarlacc as a descriptive term for slowness, a reference to the sarlacc's extended digestive process.
The sarlacc became part of Return of the Jedi's merchandising campaign that accompanied the theatrical release of the film. Parker Brothers produced a board game in 1983 called Battle at Sarlacc's Pit that was sold in the United States and Canada. Players collect points for battling their way through Gamorrean Guards, Boba Fett, and a Nikto on Jabba the Hutt's sail barge, pushing them overboard into a cardboard sarlacc. The game, which sold for only a few years, is a collector's item.
Hollywood journalist and humor writer Peter Biskind muses that George Lucas went to great extremes to remove aspects of sex and sexuality from the plot of the Star Wars films. Biskind, however, asserts that Lucas created a "nightmarishly explicit image of threatening female sexuality" in the form of the sarlacc: "The Jabba episode culminates in an explicit vagina dentata fantasy, as Luke and his pals have to walk a phallic gangplank into the pullulating maw—festooned with long, curved teeth—of the giant sarlacc in its 'nesting place'." Premiere magazine reviewer Tim Bissell complained, "Lucas sent his trilogy’s most arresting character Boba Fett to a "death" so inglorious—falling headlong into the vagina dentata of Tatooine’s sarlacc—that its only payoff was a burp gag."
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- Dan'l Danehy-Oakes, "Shaara and the Sarlacc: The Skiff Guard's Tale," Tales from Jabba's Palace, p. 345.
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- Mark Schultz, "Fortune, Fate, and the Natural History of the Sarlacc," illustrated by Kellie Strom, in Star Wars Tales 6 (Dark Horse Comics, 2000).
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