Star Wars is an epic tale of love, war, hate and hope. There are Jedi Knights, Galactic Senates and Death Stars which decide the course of the Galaxy. Yet Star Wars never feels too grand for its audience. Throughout the six Saga films, the TV shows etc. Lucas and his team have always managed to make the viewers feel like they are a part of this Galaxy, like their story in it would matter. Although Star Wars operates on a large level, the story always clings very closely to the lives of those who are small and initially insignificant. Luke starts out as boys on a desert planet, inadvertently dragged into the Galaxy’s troubles. Although Leia is a Princess, she is also only one of the many members of the Senate. I doubt I have to emphasize how little Han Solo wanted to be part of the Rebellion. Their stories form the core of the Original Saga and the films never stray far from showing the human struggles that these three characters experience. Where the brilliance of Star Wars truly comes through, however, is in the moments where it opens up its narrative to the little people, those who don’t matter in the larger scheme of things and never, accidentally, come to stand at the centre of things. In the Original Saga no film expresses this as well as The Return of the Jedi with its introduction of the Ewoks of Endor.
When Leia, Luke and Han manage to get themselves separated on Endor Leia finds shelter with the Ewoks, who show themselves to be surprisingly strong despite their diminutive size. When Luke, Han, C-3PO and R2-D2 join them we also get an idea of their culture which has a strong sense of family and, apparently, also a tradition of human sacrifice. Well, you can’t have it all. All joking aside, the appearance of the Ewoks as comrades in arms to the Rebels could seem a strange choice but there is a lot more to them than you may think. The scene below shows the moment where their presence becomes truly vital to the story that Star Wars is telling.
This scene is the one scene in the Original trilogy that will make me cry. In the midst of a very active battle sequence, both on Endor and in the sky, Lucas and his team take the time to show us the true cost of war, namely the death of an innocent. When the AT-ST Walker actually hits one of the Ewoks, Nanta I believe, there is a real shift in tone for a moment. The wail you hear during the shot and then the clear moment of shock followed by grief from the other Ewok makes it very clear to the audience that this war, this Empire, has no regard for those smaller than themselves. With their technical might they plan to waltz over the Ewoks, blinded by a disregard for the lives of others. Although the war against the Empire is a necessary one, it is also very important that Lucas chose to show that its necessity does not make it a good thing. Sometimes, in order to get that across properly, it it is important to take the viewer away from the main characters’ stories and shock them a bit. The dismissal of the Ewoks by the Empire reveals their entrenched racist views, while the kindness of the Ewoks gives characters such as Han Solo a moment of realization about his own attitude. The Ewoks provide a great opportunity for this kind of story development, but Lucas takes it ever further.
The presence of the Ewoks in Star Wars isn’t just for sacrificial purposes. Not only are they a tribe which, after initial hic-ups, opens its arms to strangers but, in the midst of the battle against the Imperials, the Ewoks are constantly resourceful, being shown to use their surroundings to their advantage and working together. The strength of the Ewoks, who clearly associate themselves with nature rather than technology, lies in that they fight for something important and real: their homes and families. As such they are just as important to Star Wars as the Hobbits are to the narrative of The Lord of the Rings. Although it may be the great people such as Gandalf and Elrond who decide what is to happen, it is the little people who have to walk all the way to Mordor. The idea that even the smallest person can change the course of the future is one you also find in Star Wars since the Ewoks’ actions are absolutely crucial in taking down the shield around the second Death Star. Although the Hobbits are more central to the story of The Lord of the Rings than the Ewoks are to the story of Star Wars, both are used by the author and director respectively to show that one should never underestimate people’s strength.
To finish I wanted to highlight an equivalent scene in the Prequels which is almost more horrid in its scale. Although Wookiees could hardly be called little they don’t seem to future within the ruling system of the Republic. As such, they are in a similar position as the Ewoks from Endor, affected by the happenings in the Galaxy but unable to affect the way things are going. Kashyyyk, the home planet of the Wookiees, features as a framework for a very important scene in The Revenge of the Sith. When Yoda is sent off to Kashyyyk to help his friends there, it may seem like a bit of a gimmick but it is a clear set-up of the idea that those who are “small” in the eyes of others can help each other. On Kashyyyk, then, we see the Wookiees fighting alongside the Clone Troopers in a beautiful reversal from RotJ. However, halfway through the battle Order 66 is executed and the Clone Troopers seem to switch sides. In this case we don’t see the horror taking place but the consequences are shown. The massacre of the Wookiees is a horrid foreshadowing of the terror that the Empire represents for those who aren’t humanoid and white. Just like the Ewoks, the Wookiees found themselves in the middle of a battle and had to pick sides. In their case, despite being on the right side they lost and suffered. The scene that the screenshot below is from is, although brief, crucial in truly showing the audience what kind of regime is taking over.
What the story of the Ewoks and the Wookiees shows is how important it is to never forget about the little people, which we ourselves are. Most of us aren’t Jedi, Senators or even Smugglers. (And if we’re honest most of us also aren’t as adorable as the Ewoks either.) However, no matter how grand the narrative of Star Wars gets, it never forgets about the stories of those who aren’t heard, those who are pushed aside or wilfully ignored. By not shying away from showing the horror of war and dictatorial regimes Star Wars also doesn’t lose its edge and its genuineness. Although some complained about these story lines, especially about the Ewoks, they are a crucial part of making Star Wars what it is.