It’s common to hear Star Wars fans observe that technology in the universe has stagnated. Whether during the reign of the First Order, in the midst of the Clone Wars, or during the era of the Old Republic, the technology of the time seems to differ only aesthetically. Starships criss-cross the galaxy through hyperspace, the most popular handguns are laser-firing blasters, and a diverse array of robotic droids whirl and bleat as they perform their tasks. Indeed, it’s more common for Star Wars characters to access advanced technology from the past than to develop it in the present. Every once in a while, however, a visionary comes along and shatters the technological status quo. One such individual was the hapless Doctor Cylo, whose designs hint at what’s possible as the franchise progresses.
Technically, the idea that technological progress in Star Wars has stalled is incorrect. While virtually every technology imaginable has been invented for millennia, it continues to see incremental improvements over time. For example: while functionally similar, a high-end starfighter from the Old Republic years would even be outclassed by a run-of-the-mill Rebel Y-Wing fighter. However, in a galaxy where cybernetic replacement/augmenting is commonplace, Cylo’s expertise in the field has done more than make the designs of its predecessors 0.5% more efficient. Some of Cylo’s creations were nothing short of breakthroughs, the likes of which the galaxy has never seen. While the most famous and ambitious of the Cylo Directive was the creation of non-Force-sensitive assassins to replace Darth Vader, few compare to his creation of living spaceships.
Gargantuan wildlife living in a vacuum is not a new concept in Star Wars. The 1980s The Empire Strikes Back featured an Exogorth, or “space slug”, which the crew of the Millennium Falcon unwittingly stole inside thinking it was a cave of asteroids. More recently, Star Wars: Rebels featured a group of creatures called Purrgil – whale-like creatures that could navigate hyperspace. Along the same lines, Darth Vader (2015) #5 by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca featured the aptly named “whales” of Cylo.
The whalers are large organic beings modified by Cylo’s technology, entirely under his control. While the ships relied on their natural biology to move around, they were also equipped with a large living and research space, a command center directly above the brain, and were equipped with batteries of turbolaser cannons for the defense. Cylo’s contraption proved formidable in battle and posed a legitimate threat to Vader’s flagship, the ridiculously hulking Enforcer. In the Collected Series’ backmatter, Gillen talks about imagining advanced technology that still fits Star Wars canon, stating that “cybernetic space whales are the absolute outer limit of what I think is reasonable.”
Cylo’s whalers were also equipped with far more advanced cloning facilities than those found on Kamino that created the Galactic Republic’s clone army. While the Kaminoan cloning process produced genetically identical individuals, they turned out to be just that: individuals. The Clone Troopers have proven to have personalities as distinct from each other as any other being. Cylo’s clones, however, were identical replicas of himself, down to his age, personality, and memories. Even Cylo’s most distinctive physical feature, a Rodian eye on one side of his face, has been retained by his copies. While Cylo’s blend of flesh and machine was his specialty, his display of biological manipulation was inherently beyond anyone in the galaxy.
Like all of Cylo’s creations, the limits of cybernetic augmentation were still no match for a single power in the galaxy: the Force. Vader would exploit this weakness to send both Cylo and his final whaling ship into the heart of a sun using a mental trick to take command of the living ship. While Cylo’s designs died with him, he still brought new concepts to the Star Wars galaxy, envisioning a new era of technology for the galaxy from far, far away.