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Happy Star Wars Day: A heated Ewok exchange

ewokHappy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth be with you!

Today’s post is the best of the heated debate around the Gollancz office this week on the value of Ewoks. Love them? Hate them? There’s a pretty powerful sway on both sides, but we will let you decide for yourself. Rest assured it has been meticulously edited for strong curse words and bloodstains. 

 

Mark

At a recent Gollancz marketing meeting (yes, we plan this stuff) it was suggested that someone write a blog entry about the divisive and controversial subject of Ewoks. What followed was like a scene from a Western, where chairs are scraped across the floor, tables thrown to one side, as gunslingers reach for their sidearms.

Divisive doesn’t even begin to describe the hot passions on display.

The arguments against the Ewok peoples are slim, getting old, and, let’s be honest, racist.

1. They’re too cute

Naysayers will argue that they’re “too cute”, as if Lucas hadn’t done cute already…

Aww... look at that widdle poonum!
Aww… look at that widdle poonum!

But they’re far from cute. When they go into battle, they hit the Stormtroopers in their blind spot, smashing them on the back of the head with socking great lumps of wood. The vicious little buggers really lay into the Emperor’s most elite legion, using fight techniques surely honed in the nightclubs of Blackpool, “Glass him Teebo! Cut his face!” (there’s a reason the Ewoks don’t get subtitles – they’re uncouth, sweary, little mofos…)

And we can’t say that we didn’t see this coming. After all, their first reaction to finding armed outsiders was to try and spitroast Luke, Han and Chewie (I’ll let that image settle for a moment).

Cute?! Do me a favour…

This little hoodlum has already swiped your wallet and keyed your landspeeder.
This little hoodlum has already swiped your wallet and keyed your landspeeder.

2. They’re dumb

Dumb, eh? Well I would point m’learned friend to their keen sense of strategy. When it all kicks off, the Ewoks are smart enough to draw the Empire’s forces away from the safety of their bunker and into the woods, into the Ewoks’ own territory. This gives them the upper hand, using the forest itself against the invaders. Pity the poor crew of the AT-ST smashed between two logs. They didn’t stand a chance against these cunning little warriors.

Film fans will know that Lucas very nearly made Apocalypse Now. In the battle for Endor, Lucas finally gets that out of his system – this was his chance to do Vietnam, he just chose to do it with short, hairy football hooligans.

3. They’re only in the movie to sell toys!

There are those who suggest the Ewoks were a toy marketing ploy… because up till then Lucasfilm hadn’t even thought of releasing any toys from the film. Oh, waitasec…

Got, got, got, NEED!
Got, got, got, NEED!

Oh, and these are kids’ films, you big galoot! What kid wouldn’t love a movie featuring teddy bears beating the crap out the bad guys? The Ewoks tap into a huge childhood fantasy: if you’re small and repressed, you’re going to love these guys. Anyone who doesn’t, must be the Empire!

4. Self loathing.

There may be a scientific explanation for the irrational hatred of the Ewok nation: one’s age. As brilliantly explained in an episode of How I Met Your Mother, it could simply be down to when you were born:

Science!
Science!

You may have been young enough to enjoy Star Wars, but too much of a cynical teenager to fully appreciate the Ewoks. Yes, if you hate Ewoks, you had lost your innocence by 1983 and that’s heartbreaking.

So there you have it. The Ewoks are awesome, and anyone who says otherwise is a cynical, old racist. The defence rests…

Darren:

 

There’s a bit of a storm brewing in the usually-friendly halls of Gollancz Towers, at the moment. Well, not *just* at the moment: this is a tempest that blows through our corridors at semi-regular intervals.

It’s the Ewok Question: cuddly-but-fierce mini-warriors or cynical triumph of merchandising over content?  Of course, they could well be both . . . bwah ha ha ha ha! Only kidding; they’re not. Let the record show that the Ewoks are an abomination before the Lord and Exhibit A in the prosecution’s case that the Star Wars franchise began to deteriorate halfway through the third film.

Why do the Ewoks divide us so?  It’s been suggested by some (including m’learned colleague above) that the reason lies not in the Ewoks but in ourselves; briefly: if you were a kid when Star Wars was released and grew up with the films, then you see the presence of these carnivorous teddy bears as a selling out to the merchandising arm at the cost of narrative integrity (which is, of course, the case), but for those of a more recent vintage, who came to the entire first trilogy as a complete work, they’re just . . . there. I think there’s a strong element of truth in this, but it doesn’t mean that those of us who watched an important element of our childhood suffer the micturition of commerce are wrong!

Here’s the thing: there is simply no way that a tribe of metre-tall teddy bears takes on and beats the Empire’s crack military force. Doesn’t happen. And I don’t want to hear any cr*p about the Viet Cong, either – they had machine guns, grenades and anti-personnel mines; the Ewoks’ technology is Neolithic at best. It just. Doesn’t. Happen. It’s a suspension of disbelief too far and undermines all of the narrative tension so a few more cuddly toys can be sold. Why? Star Wars was such a behemoth at that point that *any* piece of merchandising based on narratively-legitimate characters would have sold in the millions.

I can’t remember who told me this, but I have heard tell that the original plan for Return of the Jedi, had the climactic battle taking place on the planet Kashyyyk – which would have made all the difference and transformed the end of the first trilogy from damp squib to awe-inspiring skyrocket. Why? Because Kashyyyk is the home world of the Wookiees, and Wookiees, as we all know, would have had no problem accounting for the attacking stormtroopers (“That’s ‘cause droids don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookiees are known to do that.”).

Had Return of the Jedi ended with a Chewbacca-led Wookiee army dismantling the Empire’s attack force, it would have been a triumphant conclusion to the trilogy as well as bringing Chewbacca’s personal story arc full circle, from outlaw smuggler to saviour of his people – a Campbellian Hero’s Journey to mirror Luke’s own. Instead, what do we get? An hour-long commercial for the merchandising arm of LucasArts that completely undermines the carefully-crafted storyline built up over the preceding five hours. And for what? A couple of cheap laughs and an extra half a percentage point on an already-astronomical profit margin.

The appearance of the Ewoks is the point at which the Star Wars saga began a terminal decline. And while much greater crimes against narrative sensibility were to come – Midichlorians? Really? So, what? Everyone just forgot about them by the time of A New Hope? – the rot starts here. The Ewoks are the creative (and I use that term quite wrongly) ancestor of the horror that is Jar-Jar Binks, and I can think of no greater blot to have on one’s conscience. The prosecution rests.

Gillian:

Happy Star Wars Day everyone!

. . . and since my dear but sadly misguided colleague Darren has encouraged battle commencing here we go.

1) The only purpose of the ewoks is to sell cuddly ewok merchandise.

Well I’ve always been a fan of the ewok tribe and I was sufficiently little when then film came out to have been the perfect market for some cute ewok teddies. I would still part with good money for an adorable plush ewok.

Only there aren’t any!

You want a super-cute Chewie, a cuddly Yoda, or a plush tie fighter? No problem. But an ewok teddy bear – surely the most obvious, most cynical, most crassly commercial option of them all – doesn’t exist! There is one plush talking Wicket available on the market, and that only recently, but sad to say it’s not very cute at all . . .  and vastly outnumbered by the readily available, with plenty of different options, cuddly Chewie. Give me one of those any day.

. . . and so I declare the proposal that the ewok is a marketing gimmick settled (No they were not), and it’s clear which Star Wars character was *actually* designed to make a really great teddy bear . . .

And so to:

2) Stormtroopers can’t be beaten by pint-sized teddies. Mmmh.

The trouble is, I don’t think stormtroopers are all that great. Let’s take a quick look:

# They are easily eluded by every one of our heroes when necessary, from C3PO to Obi Wan Kenobi.

# When searching smugglers ships having just captured a princess, they miss basic things like life-signs on board and giant smuggling bays beneath the floor.

# They never pick on anyone their own size (those poor Jawas).

# They are unable to operate doors by themselves (‘Close the blast doors’ ‘Open the blast doors’!).

# They can be outflown on a speeder bike by an ewok.

# While they are capable of capturing a rebel alliance hero, that’s only if said hero shows up and surrenders to them.

# And finally: famously, famously bad marksmanship . . .

So while I accept that a showdown on Kashyyyk against Wookies would have been utterly awesome, I have to refute the rebuttal that ewoks couldn’t plausibly take on stormtroopers. The little guys were going to eat Han Solo. They can fly speeder bikes, build traps and capture and (if they wanted to) kill the leaders of the rebel alliance  . . . which is notably more than the stormtroopers could do!

Is it a fair fight? No it is not. But are the ewoks a travesty or detrimental to the Star Wars franchise or story? Not remotely. And if it comes down to ‘but it would have been ace if the big scary Wookies took up the fight instead’, well as Yoda so wisely points out to the many ewok naysayers: ‘Size matters not’ . . .

Simon

Woah! Hang on!

Stormtroopers are exactly as crap as the plot of any essentially rubbishy movie that has the good guys win AGAINST ALL THE ODDS needs them to be.

However crap they are they suddenly and unaccountably become much more crap when they go up against the teddybears.

Whatever the squandered marketing opportunities having Ewoks look like teddy bears was a cynical Nursery and Primary School landgrab.

It was also George Lucas indulging in a (laudable) fit of post-Vietnam War handwringing. But by making the fluffy Viet Cong cute he got that wrong as well. It also ignored the fact that while the Viet-Cong did win the Vietnam war, managing to kill 55,000 US troops in the process, the war also cost the lives of upwards of 2 MILLION Vietnamese. A couple of Ewoks moping about screwing up their cutsy wootsy faces at the loss of their gallant carebears in arms doesn’t cut it.

Having the Ewoks in the film was, at worst, cynical, or at best, laughably mishandled.

I diskard them.