Now that we're all 100% certain that the Space Jockeys will be making a cameo in Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus, it's time to sit down and get the lonely space pilot's story straight. For example, are they elephant people or suits? How tall are they? What is their role in Prometheus ?
We rounded up every single quote, DVD commentary, concept art piece, and interview from the director and crew working on both Alien and Prometheus in hopes of uncovering this mysterious space race's true mission. Spoilers ahead...
What's In A Name?
The lonely sentinel was never officially titled the "Space Jockey." The nickname was attached to the beast during production on Alien. Scott has stated he has no idea who christened the creature. People needed something to call this creature, and somehow Space Jockey stuck (as you can see in this earlier storyboard). But the creature has also had a host of other names including The Pilot (Giger's original nickname for it), Pilots, James Cameron called it the "Big Dental Patient," and later on on Mala'kaks. Their "scientific" name is "'Mundus gubernavi" (Universal Pilot).
The First Victims
The Jockies are presumably the very first victims of the Xenomorph species (that we know of). Responding to a possible distress call, the crew of the Nostromo lands on the Moon LV-426 and enters a downed space craft. What they find is the giant Jockey, its chest hollowed out by what the audience can only assume is a xenomorph.
From Where Did The Space Jockey Originate?
The look, feel, and presence of this lounging corpse was completely inspired by the work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. In fact, it was Giger's haunting artwork that catalyzed screenwriters Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett's Starbeast movie pitch, which O'Bannon would later rename Alien.
O'Bannon wanted to bring the terrifying creatures from the artist's dark world to life. In 1977, while Scott was developing O'Bannon's screenplay, Giger published the art book Necronomicon. Scott loved Giger's work on the piece "Necronom V" so much that he asked Giger to develop an alien pilot based off the creature riding the larger alien. And as you can see, not too much changed design wise from Giger's mind to the screen.
A Suit Or An Elephant?
The latest Prometheus still image — which we've lightened considerably to illuminate more Space Jockey goodness — shows off actress Noomi Rapace (as the character Elizabeth Shaw) wandering down a dark hallway. In the background stands two upright Space Jockeys, thus reinforcing the belief that these beings are more biosuit than actual creature. And this recent interview with Filmophilia, Scott verifies that they are, in fact, suits.
[Prometheus] does actually raise all kinds of other questions, because if someone could, a being, could be as monstrously clever to create something like we experienced in the very first one [ie. the Alien xenomorph] – I always figured it's a weapon, and I always figured that [the ship in the first Alien] was a carrier of weapons. Therefore, who is that, inside that [Space Jockey] suit? That wasn't a skeleton, that was a suit. And if you open up the suit, what do you get inside it? And why were they going, where were they going?"
What Does the REAL Space Jockey Look Like?
Now that we've verified that the giant elephant face creature is actually a suit, what does the real Space Jockey look like? Well, we think we spotted it inside the first ever Prometheus trailer. Check out the creature looming to the right of this screengrab. He's big enough to fit inside that suit. Plus he's wearing an entirely different outfit from the rest of the cast. Could this be the real Space Jockey?
UPDATE: Some of you are saying that the figure in the throne room is wearing the same suit as the crew aboard the Prometheus, so I uploaded this image for you to debate it out. There are some similarities but I don't see it being exactly the same.
So What's It Doing In Prometheus?
In the director commentary on the 20th Anniversary Alien DVD (released in 1999) Ridley revealed his larger plan for these beasts:
I always wanted to go back and make an Alien 5 or 6, where we find out where they came from and go there and answer the question, "who are they." Mars is too close so they can't be gods of war, but the theory was, in my head was, this was an aircraft carrier, a battlewagon of a civilisation, and the eggs were a cargo which were essentially weapons. So right, like a large form of bacteriological stroke bio-mechanoid warfare. Once again you can not, you just can not beat this score, it is great. And again the set is pretty spectacular really.
This space jockey, I've always thought was, the driver of the craft who is now after many ages, of course it would be dustless, but has started to look like a perfect example of Giger's mind. Which is "where does biology end and technology begin?" because he seems to have grafted the creature into what essentially was, let's say a pilot's seat. But clearly from here, this is where the transmission would emanate from, probably in an automatic transmission. So this creature obviously had experienced... maybe one of the eggs had been disturbed and a creature had got out, had attacked the rest of the crew, don't ask me where they got to, but he's pretty gruesome, but let's say he's part of the civilisation he came from and now had melded into his seat.
But why do the Space Jockeys NEED a weapon of mass destruction in the form of a xenomorph? Perhaps that is what is being explained in yet another Prometheus trailer screengrab which shows Charlize Theron's character (Meredith Vickers) standing in the Jockey's throne room, which appears to be some sort of giant holographic map.
Or maybe the answer is inside this alleged screenplay recap. Caution: the studio has insisted that this old synopsis is not accurate AT ALL. Still, we wonder if the Xenomorphs are actually the alien God's (the Space Jockey) clean up crew.
The Space Jockey Temple You Never Saw, Except in Alien Vs. Predator
In O'Bannon and Shusett's original draft, when the Nostromo landed on planet LV-426, they find the space jockey who has clawed out a triangle in to his control panel, amidst a giant dust storm.
Once the storm has settled, the clouds part and a giant pyramid is revealed. The crew enters the pyramid and uncovers this tableau created by Giger of the alien life cycle — which you can see depicts how the Space Jockeys made sacrifices to the alien hosts.
Here's the entire pyramid scene from the Alien Vault book by Ian Nathan.
Illustrations by Chris Foss, showing the Space Jockey temple.
More illustrations from Foss of the pyramid structure where the crew from the Nostromo was originally planned to discover the alien eggs.
Scott dumped the pyramid plot due to pacing, but it was later picked up and altered in the Alien Vs. Predators films where the Predators swapped in for the Space Jockeys. But instead of worshiping the Xenomorphs with alien sacrifices, they used the beasts as a sort of Predator bar mitzvah, forcing humans to hatch the baby xenormorphs from their chests to be hunted down by young Predator Warriors inside a giant pyramid maze.
Space Jockey Facts
- The Entire Space Jockey scene in Alien was almost scrapped due to the high price tag. Just the set cost a walloping $500,000 to create. But Scott fought, and the alien pilot stayed.
- The original Space Jockey is 27-feet tall.
- The Alien inspired book Original Sin by author Michael Friedman gave the Pilots the official name of Mala'kak.
- The Dark Horse Alien comic by Mark Verheiden paints the Space Jockeys as an evil race who want nothing more than to enslave the human race, but not until after they work together to beat the Xenomorphs. This never actually happens.