In defense of Star Wars' cuddliest creatures… or why you should show porgs and Ewoks more love
Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi
In a galaxy far, far away, there rages an endless battle — a fight between good and evil, a push-and-pull between darkness and light.
No, I don’t mean the eternal struggle between the Jedi and the Sith that has defined the Star Wars saga. I’m talking about an even greater disturbance in the Force: the conflict between the dark side, those who hate porgs and Ewoks, and the light, those who embrace their innate cuteness.
Since the Ewoks debuted in Return of the Jedi in 1983, they’ve been one of the most divisive aspects of the Star Wars universe. Critics referred to the film as the most “Disney-esque” of the trilogy (if only they knew what was to come), bemoaning the introduction of merchandising possibilities with Ewoks chief among them.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “There’s a kind of desperation about it, a feeling that Lucas and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan are simply trying to figure out what they can do next to amuse the kiddies,” while the New York Times addressed the Ewoks specifically, writing, “The movie also introduces a number of new animated creatures, which are probably already in your corner toy store and will make a mint in subsidiary rights for Lucasfilm Ltd., the Star Wars parent company. The most attractive of these are some small, teddy-bear-like creatures called Ewoks, which serve the functions once left to friendly pygmies in old Tarzan movies.”
Three and a half decades later, debate still endures about whether Ewoks are just a furry marketing ploy or a deservedly adorable part of Star Wars lore. And in 2017, The Last Jedi introduced porgs: furry, puffin-like creatures that dwell on the planet Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has hidden himself away. With the arrival of porgs, those who have long hated the Ewoks found new acolytes, training their Padawans in the ways of detesting all Star Wars things cute and cuddly.
With their debut, former EW senior writer Anthony Breznican weighed in on whether porgs were meant to be cute or scary. Regardless, the retail possibilities are undeniable. “They not only infest the island, they have taken over Star Wars merchandise,” Breznican wrote in 2017. “The hot toys this holiday season can be summed up as: porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs, porgs.”
Is there a distinct possibility porgs and Ewoks were created just to sell merchandise? Sure. But any hugely popular franchise is going to inevitably capitalize on merchandising opportunities. Pixar built its name and repeatedly staked its reputation on a series called Toy Story, And we’re not running around calling Woody and Buzz soulless tools of a corporate marketing behemoth (or if you are, you don’t have a friend in me).
Some people just like to hate things, especially things they perceive as tainting a property they’ve laid claim to. There’s a grander argument at play here that the vitriol for Ewoks and porgs executes in miniature: Is Star Wars an adult saga, a work of art that should lean into the darkness of characters like Darth Vader, ancient themes of sacrifice, and the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey? Or is it a kid-friendly entity, one that should welcome the whole family into the multiplex?
It’s both, as evidenced by the goofy antics of porgs, Ewoks, and droids, paired with the subtle sarcasm of characters like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). At all times, Star Wars is operating on two levels, whisking the kids (or the kids at heart) away into an operatic space adventure while also asking viewers to consider more grown-up concerns like loss, resistance, sacrifice, redemption, and whether or not you accidentally kissed your sister that one time. So why not just give in and welcome the furry creatures with open arms?
The genesis of Ewoks and porgs certainly suggests there’s room for both possibilities. Ewoks make conveniently plushy toys, true, but George Lucas insists on the Return of the Jedi DVD commentary that they were created to reflect a theme of returning to nature and primitive creatures triumphing over the Empire’s technological hubris.
The porgs were even more practical, an answer to the prospect of digitally erasing hundreds of puffins residing on the filming location of Skellig Michael, off the southwest coast of Ireland. Even if they were solely a money grab, making a toy for kids to find comfort in is hardly comparable to wiping out an entire planet with a laser beam.
Ewoks are essential to the Rebel victory in Return of the Jedi; porgs are fluffy window dressing that provided a creative answer to a production problem. But their degree of usefulness to the narrative shouldn’t be the only measure by which we value them. In a world of scary things, like the fascist regime of the First Order and the obliterating power of the Death Star, shouldn’t we welcome a softer side of creatures that exist purely to make us smile?
Sure, Ewoks are also fearsome hunters who maybe were planning to eat Han and Luke after roasting them over a spit. And depending how you interpret their expression when Chewie (Peter Mayhew) cooks their pals, porgs are possibly cannibals. But does that matter when the instant you look at them your heart melts, and you’re so overcome by their cuteness you just want to squish their adorable little faces?
Who can resist Wicket (Warwick Davis) jabbing Leia (Carrie Fisher) awake with a spear and getting spooked by her helmet? How can you not giggle at the sight of a panicking porg flapping its wings in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon? In an entertainment franchise where grown men fight with candy-colored laser swords, what’s wrong with some cuddly creatures that happen to make squeezable toys?
Embrace these anthropomorphized creatures whose big, glassy eyes are just waiting to reflect the hearts in ours. “I love you,” you’ll say to them, hugging them like a teddy bear. “I know,” their muffled squeaks and grunts will tell you.
To quote a wise puppet who receives far less umbrage than his less reptilian counterparts: Do or do not, there is no try. Just like how everyone rallied around The Mandalorian‘s Baby Yoda, don’t just try to love porgs and Ewoks, do it. Search your feelings, you know that love to be true.
Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi