CONFIRMED: the Umbaran Starfighter is an Apatosaurus cervical

January 21, 2013

The last time we reported on the Apatosaurus cervical-shaped Umbaran Starfight from The Clone Wars, we’d heard from the concept artist Russell G. Chong, who had done the final design on the startfighter, and who told that he wasn’t aware of a sauropod original to the design.


But Russell was not the original designer. He put me onto David Hobbins, who had generated the original rough design that he’d honed. I wrote to David early in January to find out more:

Date: 4 January 2013 22:57
From: Mike Taylor <>
To: David Hobbins
Subject: Is the Umbaran Starfighter from Clone Wars inspired by an Apatosaurus vertebra?

Hi, David. You don’t know me, but I was put onto you by Russell G. Chong. Matt Wedel and I are palaeontologists, specialising in the neck skeletons of sauropod dinosaurs. Matt noticed that the Umbaran Starfighter seems to be closely modelled on an Apatosaurus vertebra — see these four blog posts [1, 2, 3, 4] (You don’t need to read them all, the first one gives the flavour.)

We’re trying to figure out whether this is deliberate as it appears, or just a crazy coincidence. The design was finished by Russell, but he wasn’t its originator, and thinks you might be the man — or know who was.

Can you comment?

David wrote back a few days ago. Here is his message (reproduced with permission):

Date: 16 January 2013 15:58
From: David Hobbins
To: Mike Taylor <>
Subject: Re: Is the Umbaran Starfighter from Clone Wars inspired by an Apatosaurus vertebra?

Hi Mike,

I read the blog posts — interesting commentary! I remember the original design perfectly, and you are absolutely right, I was inspired by the skeletal forms of dinosaur bones. It’s pretty cool that you were able to discern that!

I’ve looked for the original photo I took of the vertebra, but it seems to be lost in the archives. I can’t confirm that it was of an Apatosaurus vertebra exactly, but it’s quite possible. I was at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and took a number of photos that day.

Nature renders complex and beautiful designs; I often find myself drawn to studying organic forms and patterns as inspiration in my vehicle designs.

And he clarified in a subsequent message:

Date: 16 January 2013 20:51
From: David Hobbins
To: Mike Taylor <>
Subject: Re: Is the Umbaran Starfighter from Clone Wars inspired by an Apatosaurus vertebra?

The bone was presented as a single vertebra on public display. I’m uncertain that the collection will be the same now. I took the photo back in 2007 just before the California Academy of Sciences moved into their present location in Golden Gate Park. I’m sure there have been a lot of changes since.

I will continue the search for the original photo. Will let you know right away if I find anything.

So this is great news! Matt’s initial hypothesis is confirmed from the horse’s mouth. All we need to wrap this investigation up is a photo of the original exhibit.

Does anyone out there have a photo of an isolated Apatosaurus vertebra that was on exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco before it moved to Golden Gate Park? Or does anyone know someone who works at CAoS that we could talk to?

Update (later the same day)

This discovery has been covered at sci-fi fan site io9!

The rest of the posts in what we’re calling the Umbaran Starfighter Saga:

23 Responses to “CONFIRMED: the Umbaran Starfighter is an Apatosaurus cervical”

  1. Mike Taylor Says:

    Interesting, ech. I hope David will drop by to confirm or deny.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hmm, possibly not. The exhibit in the photo that ech found is evidently the same one in this Flickr photo, from which we can see the the glass box contains two Apatosaurus cervicals but both are mjssing their cervical ribs.

    This other photo from the same stream shows the vertebrae in close-up. It’s not obvious how they could have inspired the Umbaran Starfighter.

    By the way, both photos are part of the “Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” collection, whose description clarifies the origin of the exhibit:

    This was a traveling exhibit put together by the American Museum of Natural history. This is from when it was at the temporary California Academy of Sciences in San Fransisco. It was an extensive exhibit discussing all the new discoveries made in the last decade. It talked about theropod and sauropod biomechanics, display and defense, extinction theory, and ended with a spectacular diorama of Liaoning Province, China, during the mid- Cretaceous period.

  3. Andrea Cau Says:

    This also demonstrates that cladism works well! :-)

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Its kind of sad that the original pictures of this specimen were taken at the California Academy of Sciences, seeing as the museum essentially got rid of all their public paleontology displays with the exception of a cast T. rex skeleton. There are very few good paleontology museums open to the public in north and north-central California, so if you want to see any fossils in that region you would have to trek all the way up to Rocklin and hope that the museum there is open.

  5. Crown House Says:

    Yeah, Umbarasaurus rulez! :))

  6. […] CONFIRMED: the Umbaran Starfighter is an Apatosaurus cervical (Jan. 21, 2013) […]

  7. […] CONFIRMED: the Umbaran Starfighter is an Apatosaurus cervical (Jan. 21, 2013) […]

  8. One wonders if the starfighters could interlock; and if so, if they did, what shapes they could make. Were they limited to the horizontal generally, or jutted out at a 45° angle… hmmm. Food for thought.


  10. Nathan Myers Says:

    Umbaran Starfighter flotillas lie.

  11. […] “Now, wait,” you may be thinking, “I thought you guys said that sauropod necks weren’t sexually selected.” Actually we made slightly different point: that the available evidence does not suggest that sexual selection was the primary driver of sauropod neck elongation. But we also acknowledged that biological structures are almost never single-purpose, and although the long necks of sauropods probably evolved to help them gather more food, there is no reason that long necks couldn’t have been co-opted as social billboards. This seems especially likely in Apatosaurus, where the neck length is unremarkable** but the neck fatness is frankly bizarre (and even inspired a Star Wars starfighter!). […]

  12. […] 4. CONFIRMED: the Umbaran Starfighter is an Apatosaurus cervical […]

  13. […] As we’ve previously noted more than once here at SV-POW!, apatosaurine cervicals really are the craziest things. For one thing, they are the only dinosaur bones to have inspired the design of a Star Wars spaceship. […]

  14. Warren Says:

    I’m dragging up a four year old post, but I thought it was the most relevant place to comment. Has anyone noticed this before? Michael Westmore, make up artist on Star Trek: The Next Generation, based Klingon foreheads on dinosaur vertebrae:

    Go to 3:40

    I’m nowhere near astute enough to recognise any particular species or specimen in the prosthetics, but given how convoluted some Klingon heads were, ‘sauropods’ sprang to mind. Am I completely wrong, or just a bit wrong?

  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    Wow! I have no idea about this! Great spot, Warren!

    I have to admit I am not super-clear on how those midline-symmetric features are based on vertebrae, but I’m prepared to believe it from the horse’s mouth.

  16. Matt Wedel Says:

    That. Is. Awesome! I am promoting this to a post of its own, with full credit to you, Warren, for bringing it to our attention. How cool!

  17. […] thanks to Warren for letting us know about this. Fittingly, he put it in a comment on the final post in the Umbaran starfighter saga, in which we hypothesized and then confirmed that […]

  18. Naomi Says:

    Wow!! That is what I also realized when I first noticed that starfighter. I was not sure but thanks for verifying that. Such a beautiful design could only have been inspired from nature!

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