How the Ewoks in 'Return of the Jedi' Started Out as Wookiees

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The Ewoks in 1983’s Return of the Jedi are one of George Lucas’ more divisive Star Wars creations — but just imagine if they had all been different versions of Chewbacca. In Lucas’ original vision for the final Star Wars battle, the forest-dwelling creatures who help the Rebels overthrow the Empire were not Ewoks, but Wookiees.

In the 1983 television documentary From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga, Lucas explained that an early draft of the first film (A New Hope) ended with an epic battle between the technologically savvy Empire and “a society of Wookiees.” At the time, the writer-director envisioned these Wookiees as primitive forest-dwellers who also somehow knew how to fly spaceships. When the scope of the battle proved too large for his first film, Lucas scrapped the forest planet and wrote a role for a single Wookiee character: Chewbacca, Han Solo’s co-pilot. But when it came time to conclude his original trilogy, Lucas returned to the idea — this time, with a much bigger budget.

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“When I came to the third film and I could actually do the battle, I couldn’t use Wookiees because I’d established Chewbacca as being a relatively sophisticated creature…. He’s not the primitive that he was in the first screenplay,” Lucas explained in the documentary.

So Lucas came up with a new creature with completely opposite physical characteristics. “Instead of making them incredibly tall the way Wookiees are, I’d make them incredibly short… and give them short fur instead of long fur,” said Lucas. Simple as that. Even the name “Ewok” invokes the idea of a reverse Wookiee.

If the new creatures looked a little too cute for some audience members, that didn’t bother Lucas. In behind-the-scenes footage shown in From Star Wars to Jedi, Lucas is seen talking to Mark Hamill between takes about Luke Skywalker’s first encounter with the Ewoks. “You’ve got a sense of the fact that it’s these little funny teddy bears that could destroy the Empire,” Lucas tells Hamill. “In a fairytale, it’s always being nice to the little bunny rabbit on the side of the road that gives you the magic that makes you go and rescue the princess from the evil witch.”

From Star Wars to Jedi is available on YouTube; skip to 49:00 for the section on the Ewok scenes.

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