Editorial by Adam Markiewicz
You, or someone you know, hates Ewoks. It’s a fact of life. And it would seem that popular opinion is on the side of the haters in this case. Seriously, those fuzzy little bastards ruined – RUINED – Return Of The Jedi. It’s become common knowledge that George Lucas came up with the Ewoks just to sell toys, a fact that one the effects technicians or matte painters apparently totally confirmed somewhere. I don’t know. I don’t have sources, and I’m too lazy to research that one. It’s just what I hear.
Truth is, I have no hatred for the Ewoks. “But Adam,” you say as though we’re already well acquainted, “you probably don’t hate them because you saw Return Of The Jedi when you were a kid. Nostalgia is clouding your vision – like the Dark Side.” That’s fair to a certain extent. I saw Return Of The Jedi when I was very young. It’s the first movie I actually remember seeing in the theater (I’ve been told I saw The Great Muppet Caper the year before, but I was too young to have any actual memory of it).
I have some very vivid memories of that screening. I remember arriving late with my dad and brother. We walked in just as C-3P0 and R2-D2 were approaching Jabba’s Palace. I remember the speeder bike chase, Luke Skywalker’s duel with Darth Vader, the Emperor, and the space battle. I remember the forest battle mainly because Han Solo and Chewbacca were there, and what 3 year old wouldn’t love Chewie?
This is something I really want to emphasize. Fanboys claim the Ewoks were in the movie only to appeal to very small children, designed only to sell toys. And yet I saw Return Of The Jedi when I was 3 years old. I WAS the target audience for Ewoks, and yet what stood out to me was just about everything else in the movie. I was more excited to get a speeder bike toy than a Wicket figure (though I was happy when I had a Wicket figure, along with Chief Chirpa and Logray, and the Ewok play set).
If you want to go down the path of merchandising, the only movie in the franchise that’s innocent is the original Star Wars (or A New Hope, for those of you born in the 90s). Despite negotiating to retain merchandising rights for the film, Lucas was not planning to make everything out of everything from Star Wars. He just wanted to be sure the Star Wars name wasn’t attached to garbage (which really doesn’t explain the Holiday Special). It surprised everyone how much demand there was for Star Wars toys, even Lucas. By the time he was making The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas was attempting to finance the picture entirely by himself. Based on this, it can be argued that for just about every new design for the sequel there was some discussion on whether or not this would make a cool toy.
If you really think about it, the Imperial Walkers are extremely impractical. They have limited mobility, no peripheral targeting, and one guy with a lightsaber and hand grenade can take them down. But damn, do they look cool. And there were some neat toys based on them. And how about Yoda? You know, The Muppets had become pretty big by 1980. They had a popular television show, and a hit movie the year before Empire was released. It’s very likely George Lucas, when conceptualizing Yoda, had this idea of “kids like Muppets, let’s make Yoda a Muppet.” He even got known Muppeteer Frank Oz to voice the character.
So what’s the difference between Yoda and the Ewoks? How are Ewoks seen less like Yoda and more like Jar Jar Binks, the only character to rival the Ewoks in terms of fan hatred? Is it that Yoda is a weird alien creature and the Ewoks look like teddy bears? Is that really all it is? Is it because they served as comic relief? Is it because there were children’s books about the Ewoks? Or those two television movies? Is it the “yub-nub?”
Okay, let’s break this down.
1. They’re cute.
Yeah, they’re cute. But so was Yoda, really. And so where the droids, especially R2-D2. I think every kid loved R2-D2, even before they knew all the cool stuff he could do. He just looked neat. Or cute, to put it another way. So, yes, I concede that the Ewoks are cute. And they’re kind of funny. You know what part I found especially adorable? When they were going to cook Han, Luke and Chewbacca alive and then eat them. That was so damn precious. Or how about when they got into the Scout Walker and bludgeoned the driver to death? So, so cute!!
The truth is the Ewoks fill the same roll as Yoda did in Empire, and even emphasize a point he made to Luke. “Judge me by my size, do you?” Luke met Yoda and assumed he was just some crazy local. He assumed a Jedi Master would be someone of a much larger stature, as did the audience. Yoda was symbolic of narrow minded expectations. The Ewoks were much the same thing. Remember, when Han first sees the Ewoks, he smiles. He doesn’t expect one to shove a spear in his face. Nor does he, or the audience, expect that these furry little creatures could effectively change the direction of the Endor battle.
2. Comparisons to Jar Jar Binks
I’ll be the first to agree that Jar Jar was designed purely to appeal to small children. Lucas has never officially admitted this, but he’s never given another reason for Jar Jar’s inclusion in the prequels (unless you buy into that “Jar Jar was really a Sith” nonsense). The main difference is you can take Jar Jar out of all three prequels, even The Phantom Menace where he’s most prominent, and it would make almost no difference to the overall narrative. The Ewoks are integral to the plot of Return Of The Jedi. And while the Ewoks provided comic relief, they also created the turning point in the forest battle, catching the Imperials off guard and allowing the Rebels to fight back. Jar Jar bumbled around and accidentally destroyed a couple robots at the end of The Phantom Menace. And somehow managed to get the entire Senate to give Palpatine emergency powers, despite saying “dellow felegates” and “messa propose.”
3. Thematic purpose.
If you go back to the early script drafts of Star Wars, the movie was to end with Chewbacca and the Wookies aiding in the attack on the Death Star. The Wookies were written as a more barbaric race, living on a forest planet in tree houses. Over subsequent drafts, the Wookie battle was removed and Chewbacca was made into the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon. When Lucas decided to use the original concept for the Death Star battle in Return Of The Jedi, he realized Chewbacca had become a more sophisticated creature. This meant Wookies could not be portrayed as savages, so a new alien race had to be created.
(Side note: I don’t think it’s cheesy that Return Of The Jedi ends with another Death Star battle. It makes sense to me that the Empire would build another Death Star. But that’s a conversation for another time).
The Ewoks were really just the opposite of Chewbacca; short, furry creatures that were technologically inept. And here’s the thing: they work perfectly on a thematic level.
The most important moment in the original Death Star battle is Luke turning off his targeting computer. In this moment, Luke sets aside technology, instead trusting his instincts and emotions while making the trench run. It’s his faith in himself and the Force that allows him to successfully destroy the station where other Rebel pilots had failed. The simplest way to put it is that faith and the human spirit can overcome any obstacle, no matter how impossible it may seem.
In addition to the thematic comparisons to Yoda, the Ewoks also mirror this moment from A New Hope. A small, primitive race of creatures successfully aid our heroes in taking down a much more technologically advanced Imperial force. To paraphrase Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter for Jedi, when the will of the people is strong, they will overcome no matter what sort of advanced technology the oppressing force has.
George Lucas himself underscored this point way back in the 1980s, during interviews for Jedi, in which he explained the idea for the Ewoks came from research he’d done about Vietnam. You can even look at American history for a good example. The out manned, outgunned Colonial soldiers against the much more organized and advanced British army. Hey, who won that war again?
And that’s what it really comes down to. The Ewoks have a justified place in the story. Like Yoda, they represent narrow minded expectations. And just the same as Luke in A New Hope, the Ewoks symbolize the power of faith in spirit over faith in technology. So I guess it all comes down to the cute thing. And seriously, if you’re angry because there are cute creatures in your all ages space fantasy movie, you need to grow the fuck up.
Adam is a writer and illustrator for comics. He has created a number of original series for SubHero Productions, a publication company that he founded in 2011, including Trench Coat Samurai and Defenders of the Lost World. He has also done some work for the Image Comics series Nailbiter, and he does a lot pinup art as well. Follow him on twitter @AdManComics