On May 25, 1983, the third installment of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movie saga was released into theaters. Thirty years later, “Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” remains quite a controversial film among “Star Wars” fans, largely due to the tiny inhabitants of the forest moon of Endor.
The introduction of the Ewoks, the furry creatures who figure prominently in the movie’s climactic battle, caused a disturbance in the Force so great that people are still griping about it, and loudly. Heck, Stephen Colbert even ate one on the air.
Since 30 years have passed, and episode VII on the way, MTV News got three experts to weigh in on the debate.
Writer/producer Andrew Zilch, a “Star Wars” fan since childhood, couldn’t help but notice the ever-swelling hatred of all things Ewok. “I started to realize inevitably any discussion about ‘Return of the Jedi’ would always devolve into total Ewok-bashing,” Zilch told MTV News. “It would always be like, ‘The Ewoks ruined the classic trilogy, blah blah blah…’ ”
So, Zilch decided to do something about it. “I thought it would be funny to write a song from the perspective of someone who really earnestly defends the Ewoks and feels like they were treated unfairly over the years,” Zilch said. With the help of a few co-workers at HBOlab, he created an accompanying video in 2008 to celebrate the Ewoks for the film’s 25th anniversary. The clip features “Episode VI” star Billy Dee Williams and has gotten nearly a million YouTube views.
A prevailing theory among Ewok-haters is that the creatures were originally conceived as a sure way to appeal to small children and sell plush toys to their parents. But Eric Geller of TheForce.net disregards that assumption. “Call me naïve,” Geller said, “I have a hard time believing that somebody who invests as much in storytelling as George Lucas would create something that is so fundamental to the movie. And regardless of what you think of the Ewoks, I think it’s safe to say the movie would have turned out very differently without them. I have a hard time believing that he would choose to go that direction and include that element if he didn’t see some storytelling potential there.”
Film historian and Wesleyan University professor Jeanine Basinger isn’t a huge fan of the Ewoks, but not because of any supposed merchandising ploy. “For me, they kind of slowed down and interfered with the story that I actually was most deeply connected to,” Professor Basinger said. “I don’t mind creatures… I’m expecting creatures when I’m in a movie of that type.”
Instead, she argues that the movie is more about the family element. “It has a little bit different element to it, a little more depth, a little bit more resonance, and when Luke has to confront his father, and when his father saves him and he begs his father for help — that gives a dimension that is more epic, more dramatic, more operatic, it brings something into the picture that is so not Ewokian, that you kind of get thrown off base.”
Despite the distraction, Professor Basinger is not overly bothered by the Ewoks’ presence in the movie. “Could I have used less of them? I think so, yes. Did they really drive me crazy? Not so much,” she said. “I can live with them.”
Love them or hate them, what’s most impressive about the Ewoks (and their creator) is that people are still passionate about them thirty years later, noted Basinger. “Honestly, that’s pretty phenomenal,” she said. “The fact is, people are still mad over the Ewoks. They still care. And that’s pretty darn great.”