Scenting Star Wars – What Would Chewbacca Smell Like?

We can watch films in IMAX 3D, but smell-o-vision has never been perfected and let’s face it, current attempts to improve it just make it into a torture device – something that Kylo Ren might enjoy using in his special chamber. Maybe one day we’ll go to see a Star Wars film and have the option of tapping into the extra dimension of smell. In the meantime, I got together with a fellow nose nerd Nick Gilbert to imagine what some of the characters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens would smell like. This was, of course, exactly what the world needed. You can thank us later. We also interpreted our highly scientific observations to fragrances you can actually buy and wear (because you probably don’t want to smell like engine lubricant or matted fur).

And what better way to illustrate this mashup than the mashup art of Brian Kesinger (used here with permission; check out his Etsy store and Instagram for more).

Brian Kesinger PoePoe Dameron

Portrayed in the film by Oscar Isaac

Pia: There’s got to be a bit of a sweaty note because, come on, being in an X-Wing cockpit for hours, squeezed into those uniforms… I imagine a kind of plastic-y smell, too – though maybe their dashboards are a little bit more sophisticated. He is also a bit of a hero type and has definite sex appeal.

Nick: I see Poe as smelling of a bizarre mixture of ‘handsome-man-smell’ and the grease and metal of an X-Wing hangar. And a bit of sweat.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
Rien Rien by Etat Libre d’Orange, an intensely sexual pleather or…
Synthetic Series Garage by Comme des Garçons – smell of the hangar where he spends time fixing his X-Wing before flying off and being heroic and gorgeous.






Brian Kesinger Rey and BB8BB-8

Pia: This droid rolls on screen during a very distressing battle scene with smoke and singed bodies and chaos, so I think at first BB-8 will be covered in the smell of battle; fire, laser guns and death. The turning point of meeting with Rey also means leaving behind those horrors and BB-8 would smell metallic but quite playful.

Nick: BB-8 is THE cutest, sassiest droid, ever. Sorry Artoo but this little spherical feat of genius gives me all my life. But he’s still a droid. So he must smell of metal. And he’s very fluid.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
Mercury Nu BeNu_Be Mercury. A fluid, metallic scent that rolls all over the place.


Portrayed in the film by Daisy Ridley

Pia: Salty, sweaty skin and sand – nothing floral at all about this self-reliant, determined heroine. She doesn’t need rescuing and she’s not a stereotypical Disney princess. I love everything about Rey and the scene where she completely kicks arse while Finn looks on is just perfect.

Nick: Rey is second best thing about the Episode VII (after BB-8, obviously) – and as we first meet her on Jakku, wrapped in some very dry looking rags, the expanse of desert air takes me in a very specific direction of amber, spice, and woods.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

MarocainL’Air du Desert Marocain. Hot air, hot sand, dry and austere, with an incomparable strength.


Brian Kesinger FinnPortrayed in the film by John Boyega

Pia: At first, Finn would definitely smell of blood and fear but we’re all rooting for him to switch sides and get away from the First Order as fast as he can. Even though he can’t shake that instinct to run away when things aren’t going well, he turns out to be a bit of a hero in the making. He’s not macho but he’s sexy and has character. He just needs something to fight for and for people to believe in him.

Nick: A sensitive warrior, Finn isn’t afraid to show his feelings and looks Really Quite Good holding a blue lightsabre.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

LeMaleLe Male because it’s sensitive, has character and comes in a blue bottle like the lightsabre we now associate with Finn.

Kylo Ren

Brian Kesinger Kylo RenPortrayed in the film by Adam Driver

Pia: An emo teenager with terrible power over others; what could go wrong? Kylo loves to feel strong but at the same time of course feels deeply insecure. I got it into my head that Kylo would smell of Aventus because of the sorts of comments that fragrance seems to generate.

Nick: A young man desperate for approval, with an explosive temper and an urge for power? He would absolutely smell like a banker. Aventus x1000 times. And, also, he’d smell of a very nice shampoo because how the hell does he not have helmet hair?

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

AventusAventus by Creed. If Kylo were on the fragrance forums, he’d be paying very close attention to all those ‘panty dropper’ threads with the bros looking for the most POWERFUL scent. He’d be keen to have something that is thought to be the best scent in the world because it gets so many compliments.


Luke Skywalker

Portrayed in the film by Mark Hamill

Pia: The Luke we meet in this film is a recluse on an island; he’s marked by tragedy and loss, and not the same Luke we knew. Yet there was always a mix of innocence and something a little bit darker lurking underneath about Luke. The island itself leaves a scent impression, too; the smell of the sea, ambergris… the vegetation…his sweaty robes…

Nick: Don’t forget the robot hand.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
JangalaJangala by Parfumerie Generale. Lush vegetation and aquatic; suggestive of a metallic edge or Amazingreen by Comme des Garçons: gunpowder-vegetation.

Princess Leia

Brian Kesinger Han and LeiaPortrayed in the film by Carrie Fisher

Pia: From a princess to a general, Leia is not a helpless wallflower, waiting to be plucked and never was. On the other hand, she has always been beautiful and feminine in her own way. Leia doesn’t follow, Leia leads.

Nick: Regal and authoritative, Leia’s leadership style seems to have grown more understated over the years.


Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
JourJour d’Hermes. A stunning abstract floral, feminine, luminous and mysterious.

Han Solo

Portrayed in the film by Harrison Ford

Pia: The cool action hero, a little cynical and battle-worn by the time we meet him in this film (but, then, having fathered Kylo Ren, who can blame him?) – Han Solo is the original space cowboy. I don’t think he would smell of anything overly ornamental or fussy.

Nick: Han spends all of his time with a wookie, so not only would he smell like a classic silver fox, but I think he’d be very conscious of smelling animalic and would be hyper-clean at the same time.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
Eau sauvageHan would smell of Eau Sauvage. A deceptively simple sexy silver fox scent with a hint of wookie.


Portrayed in the film by Anthony Daniels

Pia: Ambrettolide has exactly the sort of wet pennies-warm keys metallic aspect that I imagine would emanate from C-3PO’s shiny noggin, but it’s also a little bit fruity. My impression of C-3PO has been influenced by how the protocol droids are portrayed in the computer game Star Wars, The Old Republic, so a hint of cleaning product and starch lingers there, too…

Nick: C-3PO wouldn’t be just clean and shiny. He’s got a hint of the fabulous about him.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

888Comme des Garçons 8 88 – the scent of shiny gold, absolutely, but at the same time somewhat serious and rigid.

R2 D2

Portrayed in the film by Kenny Baker

Pia: Poor R2 D2, dusty and inactive, something still whirring in there, deep down, but a far cry from the lively droid we know and love. Of course he does get to wake up in the end, and I imagine that smell from warming electrical wiring and dust burning off might have a bit of a waxy, snuffed-out candle note. So I can’t stop thinking about Comme Des Garçons 2 Man (and the name of it might have something to do with this, too).

Nick: Hahaha! That’s perfect.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

Man2Comme Des Garçons 2 Man.


Brian Kesinger ChewbaccaPortrayed in the film by Peter Mayhew and Joonas Suotamo

Pia: I think Chewie would smell mostly of costus; that hairy, goaty, dirty hairbrush note – and also of hyraceum absolute, bit of civet and a hint of isobutyl quinoline (the leather note of his outfit).

Nick: Oh absolutely, Chewie is all matted fur and leather. He might rip your arms off.



Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

ComplexChewbacca smells like Complex by Boadicea the Victorious. An imposing leather and fur perfume, not for the faint of heart.


There’s a brilliant Undercover Boss x The Force Awakens mashup you YouTube and just in case you’ve been living under a rock, check out Emo Kylo Ren and Very Lonely Luke on Twitter.

Over to you – did we get this right? Let us know in the comments what you think these characters (and the ones we haven’t mentioned) should smell of?

Induced phantosmia – the future tech of digital scent transmission?

Induced phantosmia illustration by NukapaiSo, I was listening to episode two of the new Basenotes podcast, in which the colourful cast chatted about smell-o-vision, and what the future tech for transmitting odours digitally might be like. All sorts of possibilities were covered. Fledgeling attempts at this are already happening (for example, the oPhone), never mind all the various scented concerts and whatnot. All of these require physical aroma materials to be present. As the podcast participants quite rightly pointed out, one of the difficulties with the idea of sending odours digitally from one device to another, is the complex nature of scents themselves. Can you make an approximation of rose with just a handful of materials even though rose oil contains over 350 constituents? Absolutely. Can you more or less get the smell of chocolate with vanillin and a couple of other materials? Sure – especially if you are a masterful olfactory illusionist like Jean-Claude Ellena. (His book The Diary of a Nose includes a delightful section on his fragrant shorthand). Perfumes, if compared to art, could be classed into those which most resemble a detailed oil painting at one end, and images suggested to us by just a few lines of ink at the other. (Of course some perfumes feel more like they’ve been drawn in crayon).

Liam Moore pointed out that maybe part of the charm of fragrance is its fleeting nature; to be able to digitise and endlessly preserve a smell would surely take something away from the experience. (Online perfume retailers would probably disagree).

Well, this was all very thought-provoking. I started thinking in sci-fi terms – how would you actually be able to do this without having to distribute a set of clunky devices with hundreds of aroma materials pre-loaded in them? How would you get around the fact that if you code a scent for such a transmission, the formula will surely not remain secret? Would you ever be able to transmit a full perfume?

Imagine a future in which we’ve moved beyond Google glass and smart watches. Imagine having nano-technology seamlessly fitted into your body (I’m reading a Peter Hamilton novel at the moment, so the concept seems natural).

Still with me? Ok, now consider this: odours are a construct of our mind (for a full explanation of this, I shall now pimp Liam’s ODOU magazine to you once more). Our minds put odours together from various cues. Have you ever experienced the bizarre sensation of phantosmia? Not just imagining a smell, but actually smelling it. In some cases, phantosmia can be a sign of a neurological disorder, so if you get this often or suddenly start experiencing it, you might want to seek medical advice. I get random bouts of phantosmia which don’t seem to be an indicator of anything sinister, but it’s quite bizarre. I’m suspicious of some synaesthetic effect. A particular scene might suddenly taste of tomato. Sometimes I choose my perfume for the day by phantosmic guidance – I might be physically experiencing the smell of Shalimar upon waking. The first time it happened I was convinced someone had been at my perfume drawer.

What if neuroscientists and nano-engineers would collaborate and create a chip which would induce phantosmia in the wearer? Forget about sending orders to a digital device which then puffs a few aroma chems at you. What if you could send messages directly to the brain of the recipient and create the illusion of a specific odour? If our understanding of odour interpretation improves and if we manage to map what actually happens in the brain when we smell something, this could be a viable future technology. Imagine receiving a digital odour signal from anywhere in the world and being able to instantly smell what the sender wants you to.

Of course, as Grant Osborne pointed out, people would undoubtedly use any such technology to send each other farts.

Illustration by Pia Long based on stock images, including green circuit board by botheredbybees.

The Unwritten Fractal Redstone Chamomile

The Redstone Diary, Klorane Chamomile, Bioderma micellar water, Hannu Rajaniemi, Unwritten Mike Carey Peter Gross… or “my recent purchases”.

I’ve been talking about Klorane a lot so I won’t go on about it now, but I’ve just re-stocked on the Chamomile shampoo and conditioner (and decided to give the much-talked-about Bioderma micellar water a go at the same time – is running fantastic French Pharmacy brands promo in June which seems to have been designed just for me).

I’ve wanted a Redstone diary for a while. It’s tactile, chunky; has a weekly view and interesting photos, quotations and poems. I have slightly peculiar diary habits (I am currently using one for work and made my own for personal use from an A4 hardback notebook).

Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi is a follow-up to his debut science fiction novel The Quantum Thief (which I enjoyed immensely even though his use of Finnish words for names kept irritating me because it pulled me out of the world every time; won’t be a problem for most readers, though). Hannu has great ideas and handles them deftly.

The two graphic novels at the bottom of the pile are books 6 and 7 in the Unwritten series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. It’s a story about the nature of stories and beautifully told. Apparently they are doing a cross-over with Fables, another series I’ve enjoyed, so that’s something rather exciting to look forward to. I don’t want to spoil too much about Unwritten if you haven’t read it yet, but it has great ideas and blends fantasy and reality in an enticing way.

A fine example that life isn’t fair – Iain Banks should have had at least another 30 years

I was fortunate enough to meet Iain Banks at the annual British National Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon) in 2010. Maybe I should have written Iain M. Banks as he was known in the science fiction circles. One of the great things about him was that he didn’t shy away from science fiction fandom; he embraced it. Sometimes you find clear science fiction elements in a mainstream novel but the image of the novel, novelist and publicity campaigns is kept staunchly mainstream, so as not to taint the work with the dreaded science fiction label. To people who fear it, I would say: go forth and read some Iain (M.) Banks. Understand that science fiction is about exploring ideas, not space. Well, sometimes it’s about exploring space, too, but that’s not actually the main point. (Anyway: exploring space is pretty damn cool and we should do more of it).

We tend to go to Eastercon every other year (read: whenever they are hosted in London). The Guest of Honour programming in 2010 was one thing, but Iain also hosted a whisky tasting panel because he was working on Raw Spirits: In Search of the Perfect Dram. I am not much of a drinker – a glass of champagne or a cider here and there very rarely, amounting to about 5 units a year. But I am very interested in aroma and flavour and the samples Iain had selected demonstrated delightful variation on a theme. My husband does like whisky and he has been quite a fan of Dalwhinnie ever since.

Death is always sad but I was affected by Iain’s passing more than I expected. It just seems so unfair that such a fantastic man and a great writer had to die so young. Life isn’t fair. Life has no feelings or intent, it just is. There is no Karma or Fate or great cosmic balancing scales, handing out good things to good people and bad things to bad. It takes human effort for those things to happen – and no human effort on Earth could have saved Iain Banks from terminal gallbladder cancer. He found out about his illness when he was 90% into a book about a man with terminal cancer:

Banks followed his usual schedule of writing in the early months of the year. He went to the doctor thinking his sore back was most likely due to having been sitting at a desk writing The Quarry. “On the morning of 4th March” – after he had been sent for a CT scan – “I thought everything was hunky dory except I had a sore back and my skin looked a bit funny. By the evening of the 4th I’d been told I had only a few months to live. By that time I’d written 90% of the novel; 87,000 words out of 97,000. Luckily, even though I’d done my words for the day, I’d taken a laptop into the hospital in Kirkcaldy, and once I’d been given the prognosis, I wrote the bit where Guy says, ‘I shall not be disappointed to leave all you bastards behind.’ It was an exaggeration of what I was feeling, but it was me thinking: ‘How can I use this to positive effect?’ Because I was feeling a bit kicked in the guts at this point. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just give Guy a good old rant.’ Like I say; that’s reality for you, it can get away with anything.”

Banks revealed his illness a month later, and the book world was stunned by his lack of bitterness, the dignity of the statement. “Yes!” he explodes with laughter. “I know; it’s not like me, is it?” Guy isn’t the therapeutic residue, the lees of unexpressed anger. “I’m not Guy – for example, he deeply resents that life will go on without him. I think that’s a stupid point of view. Apart from anything else, I mean, what did you expect?” The Quarry, nevertheless, is full of unsentimental, furiously exact unpickings of the cliches surrounding terminal illness. Guy skewers sloppy thinking, describing nostrums and alternative cancer treatments as like “running into a burning building and trying to put the fire out by means of interpretative dance” Iain Banks: The Final Interview

His original announcement, which began “I am officially very poorly” was also published by The Guardian newspaper. It’s so cruel that this was only in April and the few months he very cautiously hoped he might have had were cut so short.

He leaves behind a great body of work and leagues of friends and fans who will sorely miss him.

Iain M. Banks and Pia Long at  the Odyssey Eastercon 2010

Happier times (and such flattering expressions!) at Eastercon 2010

Invasion of The Body Snatchers

Kosh, you smell good!

Kosh, you smell good!

Thierry Mugler’s second hit fragrance, Alien is not quite as divisive as Angel but it can still cause some people to back away from it as though it had tentacles. I love Alien’s bottle design (as you can see from my terrific, professional graphic on the right, I think the bottle resembles the environment suits of Vorlons from the cult sci-fi TV series Babylon 5).

I love the fragrance, too. It is an otherworldly jasmine, with a hint of metal and robotics; sexy electric whisper of circuit boards. Everything about it is a little bit unreal and teeters on the edge of cold but works when warmed by human skin. It suits me very well and although I often go for scents that are a little less mainstream, this one is on regular rotation in my perfume wardrobe.

My lovely husband dutifully feeds my perfume addiction and will occasionally buy me a fragrance as a present even outside of normal gift-giving occasions. One day he gave me a new bottle of Alien because my current one was running low. Shock-horror: it was the wrong kind – a new version of the scent, Alien Eau de Toilette.

Alien EDTNot everyone is aware that most perfume brands change the scent for each concentration variant, so a pure perfume will have a different, usually more basenote-heavy balance, an Eau de Parfum will be a robust scent in its own right and an Eau de Toilette can be a whole new interpretation of the theme (never mind the obsession with “flankers”; variations of a theme outside of the available space of the mere concentration spectrum). My husband had bought “Alien” but it was in fact a different scent from the one I had at home.

Obviously grateful that I have a husband who occasionally buys me perfume “just because”, I wore it for several days in a row just to show how much I appreciate this most excellent trait. I wasn’t expecting to necessarily love the EdT as much as I love the original. I realised that this new scent was not really so “alien” after all. It had a hint of the outer space of its original namesake but the gentle, feminine floral aspect had been emphasised, making it more of an everyday, wearable, pretty version of the perfume. Something you could wear anywhere and you would just smell “pretty”. Not so much Alien as Invasion of the Body Snatchers – outwardly human but a hint of something different inside.

I like both of them now, for different reasons.