"It's a Trap!" art by Matt Leyen
If you've seen Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, you know what a valuable ally Admiral Ackbar is. A member of the Mon Calamari species, the distinct-looking, immensely experienced commander is the brains behind the attack on the second Death Star. He also famously figures out that the rebels have been lured into a trap on Endor, as evidenced by his dramatically-stated catchphrase, “It's a trap!” He has returned for the new trilogy, popping up in The Force Awakens to help formulate a plan that will lead to the destruction of the First Order's ominous Starkiller Base. Whenever the good guys need a strategy, he's got one.
While by no means as front-and-center a figure as Yoda or Chewbacca, Admiral Ackbar is nonetheless a key figure in the universe George Lucas created. But how much do you really know about him? You probably recognize him when you see him, and you most likely know his signature line of dialogue, but that might be about it. That's where this list comes in. We're about to take a deep dive into this fascinating character with some trivia that will give you a renewed and deepened appreciation for him, both within Star Wars and outside it. He might not get a ton of screen time, but there's a lot to dig into.
Here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About Admiral Ackbar.
15 He debuted in a comic strip
If you think Admiral Ackbar's first appearance came in Return of the Jedi, think again. Before he popped up on movie screens, the character appeared in print. From November 1982 to January 1983, a strip called Revenge of the Jedi (which fans will know was the movie's original title) ran in newspapers across the country. It was here that the world got its first glimpse of him.
Writer Archie Goodwin and illustrator Al Williamson were tasked with creating the strip as a build-up to Jedi. One of the various plot threads tells the story of how Ackbar and the Mon Calamari decide to join up with the Rebel Alliance. During the course of this, he offers an early demonstration of his tactical brilliance, getting a sunken Millennium Falcon raised from a mud swamp by agitating the monsters under the water.
14 He was a slave to Grand Moff Tarkin
The various Star Wars reference books provide a wealth of detail about the assorted humans, aliens, and creatures that populate the franchise -- things the movies don't have time to include. For example, we know that Ackbar hails from aquatic planet Mon Cala (sometimes referred to as Dac), which was invaded by the Galactic Empire. They left Dac virtually decimated, in more ways than one. Resources and technology were stolen, and some of the planet's residents were enslaved.
One of them was -- you guessed it -- Ackbar. In fact, he was among the very first to be forced into slavery. Even more notably, he was assigned to none other than Grand Moff Tarkin, working as the Death Star commander's interpreter and all-around servant. Eventually, Rebel forces came calling in an effort to take down Tarkin. That didn't work, but they were able to free Ackbar. Gratitude for what they did spurred him to formally join the fight against the Empire.
13 His catchphrase has popped up in weird places outside Star Wars
When you think of Admiral Ackbar, the words "It's a trap!" inevitably come to mind. The line has become synonymous with the character. Those words are, in and of themselves, simple and to the point, yet they mark an unexpected twist in the plot of Return of the Jedi, which gives them undeniable power.
The catchphrase has taken on a life of its own, well outside of Star Wars. In addition to fueling a popular internet meme, "It's a trap!" has been spoken by fish in a bowl Klaus Heissler on Family Guy, and by Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. Jon Stewart used a variation on it for a joke on The Daily Show, while Robot Chicken included it in a cereal ad parody. People have even based homemade techno songs around the line. And these are just a few of the examples of how Ackbar's signature slogan has invaded pop culture.
12 He has a first name
Onscreen, Admiral Ackbar is referred to only as...Admiral Ackbar. His appearance is brief but vital, requiring no mention of his first name. As it pertains to the story, that information is trivial. Still, these kinds of things are important in Star Wars lore, as fans love to have as many specific details as possible. Such minutia also helps to make Lucas's universe richer, fuller, and more complete.
Rest assured, there is an answer. The Star Wars reference book The Essential Guide to Warfare reveals that the Admiral's full name is Gial Ackbar. Of course, there are Star Wars spinoffs that are canon and those that are not. The Gial moniker is 100% official, though. It was confirmed to be canon in another reference tome, Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need To Know, and has been used in several of the canon novels since.
11 His actor who physically portrayed him got the job simply by asking
Admiral Ackbar is portrayed onscreen by puppeteer Tim Rose. The Illinois native began his career working for Jim Henson on various Muppets projects. As he tells the story on his official website, Henson and George Lucas admired each other's work, and he was subsequently “loaned” to Lucasfilm to work on Return of the Jedi.
While designing animatronics for the movie in FX whiz Phil Tippets' workshop, he spotted some designs for Admiral Ackbar and inquired who the character was. No one had a complete script, and Tippets told him Ackbar was “just another background character that appears later in the movie.” Intrigued by the look and already familiar with the control system needed to operate him, Rose asked if he could play Ackbar. He was told yes, having no idea of the character's importance within the story. No audition required – he just asked for the role and got it.
10 His voice actor got the job done in an hour
For the physical portrayal of Ackbar, Tim Rose was placed inside the character's chest, and he used his hand to operate the Admiral's head and mouth, just like a puppet. A few shots required him to get into a full costume and wear a mask that encompassed his whole head. But while he controlled the movements of the character, he did not provide the voice. That task fell to Erik Bauersfeld.
Bauersfeld got the gig because he was a known Lucasfilm entity, having produced a radio drama the company was working on. The actor was shown a photograph of Ackbar upon being hired, but no other information was provided. Based solely on that picture, he worked to devise a voice that he felt matched the Admiral's unique physical attributes. Once that voice was in place, Bauersfeld spent about an hour recording all the required dialogue. The rest, as they say, is history. Incidentally, Bauersfeld passed away in 2016 at the age of 93.
9 He wasn't always an amphibian creature
Admiral Ackbar's unusual appearance is one of the most interesting things about him. He pops out at you, even among all the other bizarre-looking creatures in the Star Wars universe. Initially, though, he was supposed to appear a little less odd than he does. In Lucas' original conception, he had more human-like attributes than amphibian ones.
You can thank Jedi director Richard Marquand for that change. Lucas allowed him to pick out what he wanted Ackbar to look like from a stack of design concepts. Marquand purposefully chose the wildest one he could find – the one we all know and love. His pick was met with derision by a few Lucasfilm staffers, who thought the visuals were weird. Ultimately, though, Marquand stuck to his guns, saying he wanted to send a subtle message to kids in the audience that unattractive creatures (or people) aren't necessarily bad, and can even be heroic.
8 He helped design the B-wing starfighters
In addition to being a savvy military tactician and strategist, Admiral Ackbar helped to design one of the more notable aircraft in Star Wars mythology. He was a member of the Shantipole Project, a think tank with the purpose of creating the most effective starfighters possible for use during the Galactic Civil War. They wanted ships that would give them a heavily competitive edge, while also possessing versatile functioning.
Ackbar assisted in coming up with the blueprints for the B-wing heavy assault starfighters. The B-wing is one of the Goliaths of Star Wars aircraft, packed to the gills with weaponry, making it a true force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with. Given its name because of its resemblance to the letter B when flown in an upright position, it proved a useful piece of machinery during the infamous Battle of Endor.
7 He wasn't phased that Darth Vader was Leia's father
The revelation in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father – and, as confirmed in Jedi, Princess Leia's – comes as a real shock. One of the reasons why it's such a seminal moment in film is that this nugget of information completely changes the entire dynamic of the epic story, revealing an array of dramatic implications. One of them is that two of the galaxy's greatest heroes have strong ties to its greatest villain.
That sort of thing could lead to serious blackballing. Admiral Ackbar doesn't shun Leia for her familial connection, though. As referenced in Claudia Grey's canon book Bloodline, he actually sent messages of support to her in the years after the troublesome truth came out. This speaks volumes about his respect for her. Ackbar sees Leia for who she is, not who spawned her. And, of course, they served together again in The Force Awakens.
6 He is a master of weaponry
Achieving the rank of Admiral requires many years of service, as well as extensive training. Ackbar not only trained in devising military strategy, he also studied weaponry and fighting. In fact, he is a master of the kar-shaks, a type of weaponry preferred by Mon Calamari. One end of the weapon is a hook, the other a net. The kar-shak was introduced in the 2015 novel Aftermath by Chuck Wendig.
In the book, Ackbar practices fighting with kar-shaks, taking on holograms of Imperial Stormtroopers. Despite the fact that, as an officer, he's substantially less likely to see direct combat, he expresses that staying proficient in these fighting techniques is important to him. Ackbar explains, “I'm older. The reason I do this – stand here and take my kar-shak and continue to practice my kotas – is because I wish to stay sharp. And flexible. And ahead of my enemies.”
5 He was captured by the First Order and saved by C-3PO
The 2016 comic Star Wars Special: C-3PO 1: The Phantom Limb tells the story of how the titular protocol droid ended up with the red arm he sports in The Force Awakens. It also introduced a new plot thread into the canon: Ackbar has been captured by the First Order and is being held aboard one of their battlecruisers. Disney XD's television series LEGO Star Wars: The Resistance Rises picked up on that idea.
In the story, C-3PO is the one who figures out where Ackbar is being held. He embarks on the rescue mission with BB-8 and Poe Dameron, who disguises his ship as one from the First Order's fleet so that they can infiltrate the starcraft. Once inside, they locate the Admiral in a holding cell, but the droids inadvertently unleash a horde of other beings from their cells, too. They escape the creatures, as well as Captain Phasma, then find themselves pursued by a squadron of X-Wings after blasting back into space. It's a classic Star Wars rescue.
4 He was falsely accused of treason by a rival
Being a decorated military leader and fighting in so many significant battles will easily earn a guy a few enemies. Gial Ackbar certainly has some, most notably Borsk Fey'lya, a Bothan who became a central figure in the Alliance to Restore the Republic. He and Ackbar had a long rivalry that culminated with an attempt to usurp the power of the Admiral once and for all.
The incident, part of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, is complicated, but the gist of it is that an effort was already in place to undermine Ackbar. Money that was not his had been placed into his accounts by Grand Admiral Thrawn, the schemer who took over the remaining forces of the Empire after its fall. Fey'yla exploited this, having his rival arrested and sent to trial, during which time he repeatedly intimated treasonous action. Fortunately, it was an assertion he couldn't back up factually. Ackbar temporarily could not command his fleet, but was ultimately exonerated and allowed to return to his position.
3 A comedy website envisioned him as a talk show host
Because he's so important but doesn't have a lot of screen time, Admiral Ackbar has always possessed a certain offbeat appeal. He looks cool, yet is vague enough that all kinds of different personality traits or qualities can be projected onto him - namely humorous ones. The website CollegeHumor took the witty step of creating a short animated piece that imagines Ackbar as an intergalactic Jerry Springer.
Ackbar! The Star Wars Talk Show has the Admiral admonishing Darth Vader ("You are a father! Start acting like it!") and dealing with pandemonium when foul-mouthed surprise guest Princess Leia comes out and reveals that brother Luke is "diving into my sarlacc pit." Ackbar goes to a commercial break with the following teaser: "Your second honeymoon -- it is a trap?" Available on YouTube, the three-and-a-half minute clip contains an impressive number of Star Wars jokes in such a short time.
2 A university attempted to use him as its mascot
Whenever there's a contest or a poll to name something or choose a new character to represent an institution, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will try to push through a completely absurd choice. Just ask the people who famously voted to name a scientific research vessel "Boaty McBoatface."
A similar thing happened in 2010 when the University of Mississippi decided it needed a new mascot. Four of the students there decided that Admiral Ackbar would be a perfect -- or at least a hilarious -- choice. They campaigned to make it happen. Controversy ensued after it gained traction, with some Ole Miss folks deeming it embarrassing.
Lucasfilm showed a sense of humor, issuing a statement saying, "The last time we checked in with Admiral Ackbar, he was leading the Rebel Alliance Fleet on a critical mission, so it will be difficult for him to show up for the games." Incidentally, a black bear was eventually chosen as the mascot.
1 He's dead (kind of)
This one is kind of confusing. Star Wars has been around so long and has been represented in so many various types of media that there are multiple different canons. In the current cinematic canon, he is, of course, very much alive and well. We glimpsed him in The Force Awakens, and he'll be seen again in the upcoming The Last Jedi.
On the page, it's a different story. The Unifying Force is the final entry in a sprawling 19-book series called New Jedi Order. The story includes Luke, Han, Leia, and their respective children making an effort to defeat an army of aliens called the Yuuzhan Vong. On page 310 of the book, a character named Tycho Celchu interrupts a strategy meeting with bad news: “I regret to inform everyone that my wife, Winter, has just contacted me from Mon Calamari with news that retired Admiral Ackbar has died.” It's a throwaway line, yet one that signals the passing of (one version of) a beloved Star Wars hero.
What's your favorite thing about Admiral Ackbar? Do you have any other bits of obscure trivia about him to share? Hit us up in the comments.