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A Tusken Raider riding a bantha. This particular shot was filmed in a part of Death Valley named Desolation Canyon, which Star Wars fans call "Bantha Canyon".[1]

Banthas are creatures in the Star Wars universe. They are large elephant-sized mounts, with long furry tails, that are native to the planet of Tatooine.[2] They were found throughout the galaxy on several worlds, and are easily domesticated. They were used for transportation, carrying heavy loads, and as beasts of war.

The first bantha to appear on-screen was in the original 1977 Star Wars. Computer-generated imagery was not used to create the creature. Rather, an elephant was dressed in a costume of fur and fake horns. This proved problematic for George Lucas during filming. The elephant was unaccustomed to heat, and during the filming of Tatooine scenes in Death Valley, California, its costume kept coming off.[3][4][5] Lucas retained the original shots of the elephant, rather than replacing them with CGI, for the 1997 re-release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.[6]

The elephant was a female Asian Elephant from Marine World Africa USA, named Mardji. In addition to her movie role, she appeared in television commercials for Skippy Peanut Butter. In 1995, aged 44, she was euthanized because of an untreatable and painful bone condition in her front legs.[7]

A song entitled "Oh Bantha", which paid tribute to the gastronomy of these fictional characters, was written and performed by popular actor John O'Hurley and released on "Tusken Raider Tunes, Parody Songs from a Galaxy Far Far Away", a limited edition Star Wars-themed novelty album. The first official Star Wars fan publication, Bantha Tracks, which existed for 35 issues from 1978 to 1987, is named after the bantha.[8]


Further reading[edit]

  • Brandon Alinger (1999). "Visiting The Set – Desolation Canyon". Star Wars in Death Valley.  — maps and coordinates for "Bantha Canyon", with comparisons between stills from the film, filmed in Spring 1976, and photographs of the canyon taken in October 2000


  1. ^ Harry Medved (2006). Hollywood Escapes: The Moviegoer's Guide to Exploring Southern California's Great Outdoors. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 144. ISBN 0-312-30856-6. 
  2. ^ Jeanne Cavelos (1999). The Science of Star Wars. St. Martin's Press. p. 70. ISBN 0-312-20958-4. 
  3. ^ Dale Pollock (1983). Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas. Harmony Books. p. 175. ISBN 0-517-54677-9. 
  4. ^ Dana White (2003). George Lucas. Twenty-First Century Books. p. 84. ISBN 0-8225-4975-1. 
  5. ^ Peter Hartlaub (2004-05-05). "It takes computer effects to make movie monsters — but elbow grease helps". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications Inc. 
  6. ^ Gary Arnold (2005-01-01). "The Drama Behind Star Wars". World and I. News World Communications, Inc. 
  7. ^ ""Star Wars" Elephant Put To Death". Contra Costa Times. Walnut Creek, California. 1995-11-28. pp. A03. 
  8. ^ Jonathan L. Bowen (2005). Anticipation: The Real Life Story of Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace. iUniverse. p. 49. ISBN 0-595-34732-0. 

External links[edit]

  • Bantha on Wookieepedia, a Star Wars wiki
  • Joe Jankovic. "Elephants in Space". The Star Wars Pages.  — a picture of the actual bantha mask worn by Mardji, on display in the 1970s/1980s
  • L. Mangue. "Mardji the Elephant". Nerf-Herders-Anonymous.  — behind the scenes pictures of Mardji, both in and out of costume