Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ewoks Ruin Everything

Well, I’m back. Been busy through the summer. And when I wasn’t busy, I was being lazy—so I hadn’t been giving much time to the ol’ Void here.

Anyhoo, as you might have deduced from this blog’s title, I’m going to talk about Star Wars a bit.
More specifically...those damn Ewoks.

Now before I go any further, I realize ragging on the Ewoks is something of a dead horse. Since Return of the Jedi came out thirty years ago, fans have been spewing venom on them so much it’s turned around and other fans have come right back and started defending them.

Plenty has already been written and said about the Ewoks, and although I’ve seen/heard much of it, by no means have I seen all of it. Ergo, if I should happen to make some kind of point that has already been made by someone else's blog or video or whatnot, I hope no one thinks I’m trying to pass off other people’s observations as my own.

Now, despite the hyperbolic title I’m using, I actually wouldn’t go so far as to say the presence of the Ewoks ruined Return of the Jedi—or the entire Star Wars saga for that matter, as I’ve seen some melodramatic fans declare. I think the good in Jedi outweighs the bad overall.The opening with Jabba was fun, I liked the stuff between Luke and Vader, the speeder chase & space battles were cool, and the Emperor is just awesome.

Having said that, I was thinking about the things I didn’t care for in Jedi—or more accurately, the ways I felt it fell short in being the grand finale of the Star Wars Trilogy—and I came to a realization: pretty much all my issues can be traced back to the Ewoks in some way or another.

Let’s begin with Princess Leia.
Near the end of Empire Strikes Back, when Luke leaves Yoda’s training to try and rescue his friends, Obi-Wan says Luke is their last hope—to which Yoda replies, “No. There is another.”

A pretty cool scene that, naturally, creates a great deal of intrigue for the audience.
Later on, we see Luke telepathically communicate with Leia for help. So, before the brother/sister thing even comes into play, one wonders if Leia is the “another” Yoda was referring to. And that’s kind of exciting. You start to think, “Is Leia the one he’s talking about? Can she use the Force? Will she learn how in the third one? What will happen next?”

And so on. Also exciting because, up to this point in the films, Leia—although she can handle a blaster rifle—has either been in need of rescue or the subject of an escort mission. So the implication that she might take on an even more active role is very intriguing.

But we see none of this in Return of the Jedi. Yeah, she takes out Stormtroopers, fights in the final battle, and looks great in a metal bikini, but—in my opinion—nothing that quite lives up to the intrigue set up by Yoda’s hint that, should Luke fail, she would be the galaxy’s last hope.

Also consider the missed character conflict and development that gets brushed aside. Luke tells Leia Darth Vader is his father. He then goes on to reveal she is his sister. Put 2 & 2 together, Leia—Vader, the man that tortured you and helped blow up your planet, is also your father.

That should be a big deal for her. That’s kind of a traumatic revelation. But she barely acknowledges it, and it’s not really touched on again for the rest of the movie. Now that revelation and its fallout, combined with following through on the suggestion she also has the potential to use the Force—Leia should’ve had an awesome character arc in Jedi.
That she doesn’t, I think, is a major letdown—especially for the trilogy’s finale.

And I know I’m not the only one who’s thought of this because this is exactly what happens with Leia in the Expanded Universe novels. She does become a Jedi, and she isn't happy about Vader being her father. All of this is explored, but I don’t want it in supplementary books—I want it in the actual movie! Humbug, says I!

Now what does all this have to do with the Ewoks?

Well, what is Leia doing instead of all the stuff I brought up? Hanging out with the Ewoks. She’s the first to meet the Ewoks. We get the momentum-killing scene of her befriending the Ewoks. She spends a chunk of the film just hanging out in their little tree-village.
This screen time that could’ve been used exploring Leia’s Force potential and how she deals with the revelation Darth Vader is her father is all spent on the freaking Ewoks.

This is really the overarching point I’m going for. There’s good stuff in Return of the Jedi, and the potential for even better stuff—but it's wasted on the Ewoks. Every time they appear on screen, the movie just grinds to a screeching halt.

Let’s look at Han Solo.
Now those who follow the making of Star Wars are probably aware there was initially some debate whether Han should live. He would either not survive the carbonite freezing, or he would’ve been killed early on in Jedi—either way, the original plan was for Han Solo to die.

One of the writers felt it was a good way to create drama and a sense that anything could happen—that no one was safe. Harrison Ford agreed with this and has stated he felt Han’s story was over by the end of Empire Strikes Back. And this is true—Han’s character arc is pretty much done by the end of Empire. He started as a selfish scoundrel, but ultimately proved himself has a good-hearted and heroic guy.

But okay, they decided to let Han survive and give us the super-happy ending. That’s fine. But you still need something for him to actually do. Otherwise, he’s kind of just there, making wisecracks and shooting Stormtroopers. Which is okay, but again, seems like a waste. This is the finale of this epic trilogy. You want true catharsis and closure. You want the characters you’ve been following and grown to love go out gangbusters.

And maybe they could’ve thought of something for him if they weren’t wasting their time with the freaking Ewoks. Maybe if so much screen-time wasn’t spent meeting the Ewoks, getting to know them, befriending them, earning their trust, convincing them to help fight the Empire and so on, maybe they could’ve or would've thought of one last bit of development for Han.
Maybe they could’ve let Boba Fett survive, follow the heroes to Endor, and give Han a little personal mini-boss fight to deal with. I would rather have seen something like that than have a long stretch of the film sitting around with the Ewoks.

The original idea was the Wookies were going to live on Endor and help the Rebellion. That would've been better, because we already know Chewie. Here it is: "We're going to forest moon of Endor and allign with the Wookies. Who are they..? They're the race Chewie belongs to. They hate the Empire too and want to help. Okay, let's go."
Five minutes of screen time, tops.

I feel the Ewoks’ role in the story also undermines much of the drama.
As we might recall, it turns out the plot of Return of the Jedi is a trap devised by the Emperor. As he casually explains to Luke, he allowed the location of the new Death Star and its shield generator to get leaked to Rebellion. “An entire legion” of his “best troops” is waiting for the Rebels on Endor, and the ships attacking the Death Star get surrounded by an armada of Star Destroyers. AND and, as one final kick in the ass, it turns out the new Death Star is operational.

This should be the Rebellion’s greatest challenge. The most dire battle they’ve been in—do or die. The Emperor just completely boned them, and that he did it so easily and so casually, it almost makes one wonder whether the Rebels ever had a chance for victory to begin with. Genuine drama.

But all this drama is undermined by the fact that the Empire proceeds to get completely dominated by the Ewoks—an army of teddy bears with pitchforks.

I think it just trivializes the story and the struggle we’ve been following when this group of people we’ve only just been introduced to, that have had no stake in the war until this point, just rolls in and does a better job at beating the Empire than the actual Rebels.
If only the Rebels had the Ewoks in Empire Strikes Back—they would’ve never lost Hoth. Hell, if they had the Ewoks with them since the beginning, Leia probably would’ve never gotten captured in A New Hope.

People who defend the Ewoks say it serves a message that it doesn’t matter how much technology you have, it’s heart and determination that wins the battle. But I say that message was already there in the battle between the Rebellion and the Empire. It’d been well established from the start the Rebellion was rag-tag, under-equipped, and thoroughly outclassed by the highly advanced and well-funded Empire. They already were the little guy triumphing by heart and determination. 

The tension is further trivialized by the fact the Ewoks battle is, with the exception of the one Ewok that dies, treated very comical and light-hearted. We see Ewoks making goofy noises, accidentally hitting themselves with slingshots, clumsily trying to trip an AT-ST, and so on. The greatest challenge the Rebellion has yet to face, this ultimate climactic struggle between good and evil, is reduced to teddy bears pandering to children.

That isn't to say everything should be treated with stark, grim seriousness and there's no place for humor. That's why Han Solo is a wise-cracking character. That's why we have C-3PO and R2-D2. We didn't need to take it that far.

Supposedly, in response to various criticisms regarding the prequels mainly, George Lucas said the Star Wars films are just "kids movies." Therefore, the older fanbase that does get riled up over Ewoks, Jar-Jar Binks, and dubbing in Darth Vader howling "NOOOOO!" at the end of Return of the Jedi is out of line since these movies are, by this logic, not for them.

But I contend that the original Star Wars films were not necessarily "kids movies," but movies for everyone. You can have movies that young children can enjoy along with older audiences who appreciate a solid story and good characters. Just look at Pixar. For the most part, they've mastered this balance.

You lose that balance when you deliberately pander to the "young audience" at the cost of good story and characters. And the presence of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi is the start of that loss of balance. One that got worse as the series progressed with the aforementioned Jar-Jar Binks and emphasis on flashy colors & special effects over solid storytelling.

So in that regard, I'm probably not saying anything that hasn't already been said and that people haven't already figured out. So I guess I'll wrap this one up with...uh...let's hope they do better in Episode VII.

Or just watch the originals...and skip the Ewok parts.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty much in total agreement with you here. It felt like a decision which truly came into play with Lucas thinking about merchandising over storytelling.