In Defense of the Ewoks
22nd May 2020
Reading Time: 5 minutes
People love to complain about the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, but they've never really bothered me. They're not my favorite part of the Star Wars universe, but neither do I think they deserve to get blasted for being the worst part of RotJ.
First, people complain that they're "too cute" and "just like teddy bears". I dunno, they never seemed that cute to me...
In the later media - Ewok Adventures, various comics, etc. - the Ewoks got more visible irises in their eyes. But in RotJ, their eyes are almost completely featureless. If you look real closely you can see that there were some irises on them, but for whatever reason they weren't made very prominent. This helps give the Ewoks a suitably alien, not-too-cuddly appearance.
And it's not like they're unreasonable creatures for the Star Wars universe. In a galaxy with Wookies, Jawas, Ithorians, Hutts, and all manner of other wacky creatures, there's nothing that unusual about the short, furry Ewoks at all.
The Ewok music in the score is lighthearted and childlike, which helps create the perception that they're not to be taken seriously. But if you look at what they acutally do - capture our heroes and promptly set about preparing to cook them alive and eat them - there's actually a much darker side to these furry little barbarians.
It's important to realize that, although they were given flippant musical cues and perhaps the costume effects made them seem too round and plump to be much threat, they're written to be clever, industrious creatures deeply knowledgeable of their home environment. Maybe we'd take them more seriously if they were thin, scaly reptile people instead... or maybe we should remember what Yoda taught us about making assumptions based on someone's size and appearance.
Most importantly, of course, the Ewoks fit into the Original Trilogy thematically - they mesh well with the Rebels as underdogs triumphing against superior enemies to win their freedom. The Ewoks have as much reason to hate the Empire as anyone else, having suffered a brutal invasion at their hands, and seeing them help drive the Empire away from their home fits well with the Empire's tendency to systematically underestimate their less materially wealthy foes.
Which brings us to the Ewoks defeating the technologically superior Imperial troops, another thing people seem to have a problem with. This despite the fact that the last 75 years have seen insurgent forces fight effectively against better armed and armored militaries with surprising effectiveness.
I'm willing to give the Ewoks that victory for one very clear reason: the Empire brought laughably inappropriate equipment to Endor.
I mean, yeah, from a visual and entertainment standpoint, I love the speeder bike chase. But the high casualty rate of those scenes just proves my point: the Empire should never have brought speeder bikes to Endor. They're great on arid, vegetation-free planets like Tatooine or Nevarro, but nearly useless in heavily forested biomes like Endor.
Similarly, the AT-STs are a poor choice for Endor as well. Sure, they can probably knock over smaller trees to make their way around, but there are some really enormous trees on Endor, and as weapons platforms they were rendered nearly useless by the extremely limited fields of fire.
If the Empire had actually thought through the tactical realities on Endor, they would've brought something more like the LAAT/i from Clone Wars; a close-support VTOL craft that could deploy and evac infantry in tight spots and bombard the forest from above when necessary, safely out of range of any possible Ewok countermeasure.
But maybe the filmmakers wanted to steer clear of making the Vietnam parallels too explicit. Also, it does make some in-universe sense... one of the Empire's primary flaws seems to be failing to match the right weapons to a given situation. With the sole exception of the attack on Hoth, which we can attribute to the exceptional competence of General Veers, the Empire has a real tendency to misallocate resources.
This is the same Empire, after all, that failed to put any anti-fighter weaponry on their most expensive space stations. A modern Phalanx CIWS would've ended Luke's trench run pretty darn quick.
When you think about how often this seems to happen - the Empire relying on brute force and failing to send their troops into combat situations with the right gear - it paints an interesting picture of how dysfunctional the Imperial system is, despite all its intimidating might. Makes you wonder if Darth Vader's management style and the Emperor's overconfidence maybe discourage independent thinking and initiative among their officers. Could the defeat of Imperial ground forces on Endor be traced to a work environment rife with groupthink and blame-game CYA politics?
Of course, if you still don't like the Ewoks, you can take some comfort in knowing that they were likely wiped out by the Rebels' ill-conceived notion of violently blowing up a gigantic space station in low orbit. There was nowhere for all that flaming debris to go but down.
And yes, the Ewoks ate the stormtroopers: