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Feature Article

What The Hell Is A Predator?

They're more than just hunters.

Since their debut in the cult classic 1987 movie, Predators have become one of the most instantly recognizable alien races in pop culture--and it's not hard to see why. With their plastic tube-like "dreadlocks," distinctive metal masks, and giant hulking bodies, they're pretty easy to pick out of a sci-fi creatures lineup. They don't seem like the most challenging concept to understand, either: big, brutal monster hunting dangerous things for sport. Got it, no problem. But despite their surface level familiarity and deeply entrenched place in the pop culture canon, the last thirty years have seen an explosion of Predator-related lore. And not all of it as as simple as you might expect.

First off, the name Predator isn't completely accurate. Sure, that's the name of their movies, and no one is going to correct you if you point at one say say it's a Predator. But the actual, technical term for the alien race is the "Yautja," or the "Hish-Qu-Ten." These names are, in theory, interchangeable, but things get a bit muddled when you start looking at the fine print. The Yautja/Hish actually do have two unique sub groups within their species, but they're almost always formally recognized as Predators and "Super Predators," which are larger and more physically dominant. These two groups have been vying for control over their society for a while now and tend to not mix.

Of course, you wouldn't pick any of this up by watching the 1987 movie, where there's only one Predator present with about 15 minutes of actual on-camera screen time. This all came from the expanded universe, a branch of Predator canon that came into play with the dawn of the Alien vs. Predator franchise in the late '90s. Alien and Predator turned out to be two great tastes that taste great together, and that movie spawned a series of comics, novels, toy lines, video games, and films that each added its two cents to the burgeoning mythology.

Predators and Super Predators both look pretty much the same, aside from their slight size difference. They're hulking, almost reptilian humanoids who wear futuristic body armor, usually covered in various weapons. Their most iconic features are their masks, which cover up their decidedly not humanoid faces--they have four pronged mandibles rather than mouths, lined with fangs. Instead of hair, they have wire-like "dreadlocks," which are actually appendages in their own right. Their most easily recognizable guns are generally shoulder mounted laser cannons with triangular blast patterns, but they also carry smaller projectiles which allow them to adapt to any situation.

They don't actually possess any real "superpowers" outside of their inherent endurance, strength, and speed. The technology in their helmets allows them to see the world in infrared, and mimic voices and sounds to lay traps for prey, which is a major part of their hunting technique. Predators tend to stalk large groups, picking their kills off one by one after isolating them from the unit rather than running in guns blazing.

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Lore wise, the story shakes out like this: The Predators are from the planet Yautja Prime and live in a clan-based, matriarchal society. Their culture revolves around--you guessed it--the hunting and killing of dangerous prey, which, you know, makes them "predators." Hunting is so critical to Yautja Prime's society that it functions as a rite of passage to establish rank, a key part of the ongoing struggle between the Predators and the Super Predators. They rarely hunt for food, and instead uses their kills as trophies.

The right of passage has some rules and fine print. Prey must be dangerous, able to fight back, and deserving of the kill--meaning Predators won't kill things they see as disadvantaged in some way. You can find examples of this on the big screen when Predators have been shown to avoid killing humans who are pregnant, sick, or simply not holding a weapon. This honor code is suspended, however, when dealing with Xenomorphs, the titular aliens from the Alien franchise. Predators consider the Xenomorphs to be completely lethal and worth killing in any stage of their lives, making them one of their biggest and highest priority targets. This is where the Alien vs. Predator arm of the operation really kicks in, with two whole movies dedicated to building ideas like the Predators actually having contact with Earth at the dawn of civilization, helping humanity to build pyramids, and generally meddling in mankind's evolution in hopes of creating a more fertile hunting ground for their eventual rites of passage.

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Now, while solo Predator stories and AvP stories are all technically two heads of the same hydra, they don't always fall completely into lockstep with one another. Predator movies without Xenomorphs tend to focus more on the interactions between Predators and humans, or Predators and other Predators, meaning all the stuff about their history on Earth and their society tends to be either omitted or slightly modified to fit new iterations of the canon. Like Friday the Thirteenth and Nightmare on Elm Street's perennial "Freddy vs. Jason" crossovers, Alien vs. Predator stories are able to come and go as far as world and character building is concerned.

All of which is to say the actual status of the Yautja and the Predator universe itself in Shane Black's upcoming movie is really anyone's guess. There's definitely an "ultimate Predator" in the mix, as demonstrated by the trailers, but whether or not that has anything to do with the ongoing tensions between the Predators and Super Predators is up in the air. For all we know, this could be a totally new take on the whole laser-blasting, corpse skinning, blood splattering mythos--after all, given how much of the Yautja's world building and development has taken place off screen, outside of film, a full blown reboot isn't beyond the scope of possibility.

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