This post contains mild spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Admiral Raddus is the Star Wars’ universe’s Winston Churchill, a gruff, jowly military leader who supports the heroes in their mission to steal the Death Star plans. He’s a brand new character designed specifically for Rogue One, but if you still can’t shake the feeling that you’ve seen him before, that might be because there’s already another squidlike admiral roaming the Star Wars universe:
That’s Admiral Ackbar, a character from the original trilogy who also has a small part in The Force Awakens. First seen in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, he commanded the rebel forces during the Battle of Endor and made a big impression, most notably for voice actor Erik Bauersfeld’s memorable, meme-ready delivery of the line, “It’s a trap!” Ackbar comes from an amphibious alien race called the Mon Calamari, a species we don’t see too often in Star Wars movies, as they’re usually kept in the background. (The name was inspired by creature designer Phil Tippett’s lunch.) Raddus is not only the most prominent member of the species since Ackbar, he’s also yet another top-ranking military commander for the Rebel Alliance. Coincidence? Almost certainly not.
Despite being set in a galaxy far from ours, Star Wars is a human-driven saga, which means that when an alien gets a featured role, there’s usually a good reason behind it. Making Raddus another admiral is more than a simple homage to Ackbar; it’s evidence that the Mon Calamari are naturally suited to command positions, particularly when it comes to the Alliance Fleet.
Before we go any further, we should acknowledge that not every Mon Calamaro is an admiral (#notallMonCalamari). In the nooks and crannies of the universe, you will also find Mon Cal princes, Jedi, senators, even ballerinas—go rewatch Revenge of the Sith if you don’t believe me. But as a species, they’re scarce on the big screen, and the two most identifiable serve in at the highest ranks of the Rebel Alliance—more specifically, as commanders of their fleets. That’s no accident.
See, the Mon Calamari hail from an aquatic planet called Mon Cala, and while there are a few cities above the surface, most of the planet’s life resides in the vast ocean below. Mon Cala is also inhabited by another species, the Quarren, and their history with their neighbors hasn’t always been peaceful. Their longstanding conflict finally erupted when the two races wound up on opposite sides of the Clone Wars, forcing the Mon Cala to first fight their nemeses and then a force of Separatist invaders. That means the Mon Calamari have accrued plenty of military experience. As a matter of fact, before he was an admiral, Ackbar was a captain of the guard on his home planet, where he honed his abilities as a tactician and worked on his catchphrase.
While a lot of the combat in Star Wars is inspired by World War II aerial dogfighting, in some ways it might be more appropriate to think of a space battle as an underwater fight. As in the air, fighting underwater requires the strategist to think in three dimensions, with the possibility of attacking—or of being attacked—coming from every direction. That makes the Mon Calamari well suited to space warfare. And in addition to having that mindset, they also appear to be neutrally buoyant, able to float or sink at will in the water, which is great practice for a zero-gravity environment. (Just ask NASA, where astronauts sometimes train underwater.)
On top of all that, when the Empire took over the galaxy, they invaded Mon Cala and subjugated the Mon Calamari to their rule, giving them a clear incentive to side with the rebel forces, in Rogue One and later on. So you have a race of military-minded strategists who are naturally adapted to space combat and have a personal stake in the conflict. If you’re a totalitarian government, it probably isn’t such a good idea to make that race your enemy. But if you’re the Rebellion, it’s great to have them on your team.