All you had say was: “No, George.”
That is one of the prerogatives of being a co-writer—you can just say no. Because those fucking Ewoks are the first step on a slippery slope that leads to—well, you know who.
Somewhere in the midst of writing Return Of The Jedi, your collaborator lost contact with what made the first two Star Wars movies more than the sum of their individual parts. As his writing partner you had an opportunity to halt this particular cancer—before it metastasized. If you had just reminded him of the works in which he found his initial inspiration—Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, John Ford westerns, the 30’s Flash Gordon serials, _Metropolis, the Harryhausen Sinbad films—he may have seen the error of his ways. Because, while all of these films share a basic earnestness and an often fantastical tone, they were never created specifically for children.
Certainly children could (and did) enjoy all of the various Star Wars properties, but they enjoyed them in the same way that they would have enjoyed Edgar Rice Burroughs or Greek Myths. On one level, they were simple adventure stories: populated by monsters and heroes and whatever subtext existed could be happily ignored. But trying to square the circle of films that feature planet destroying technology and a cloying, rabbit-eared buffoon requires a defter pen than the one your partner wielded—and that really was where you should have stepped in, Lawrence.
When Return Of The Jedi was released in 1983, I had just turned 21—yet it was still clear to me that something had gone astray. It wasn’t difficult to pin down the exact moment, either.
When Leia first encounters the Ewoks about halfway through ROTJ, the unsettling cuteness that had just marginally tainted the first two films—from Jawas to Yoda to R2-D2—really kicked in. Up to that point, Return Of The Jedi had managed to maintain a goofy weekly serial vibe with bits like the stop motion Rancor and Jabba getting hoisted on his own petard by Slave Leia™. These beats were perfectly consistent with the tenor of the first two films. But then you and your co-writer began to construct a Frankenstein’s monster—grafting a one-note tribe of children’s discarded plushies onto a relatively complex space opera. It was as if, in a coke-fuelled haze of the likes of which defined American filmmaking in the late seventies, one of your buddies (maybe Francis Ford or Mr. Schrader) dared you to find a place to insert a rag-tag band of cannibal teddy bears into this magnum opus.
Wait. No. That makes Ewoks sound waaaaay more interesting than they are. The truth is they are more like a nicotine stained Chihuahua. Kind of cute from a distance but annoying as hell when you spend more than half a minute in their presence.
The problem with the second half of Return Of The Jedi, which is the same problem that plagues the films that came after, is that they lost the thread; they occupied a tonal space that was completely at odds with the original concept. Neither beast nor fowl, the two different approaches never coalesced. Instead, this fundamental discordance infected what came afterwards—to the extent that, in trying to reconcile the completely irreconcilable halves, they collapsed into an orgy of mismatched pairings: Senate trade deliberations attended by Bugs Bunny with a speech impediment; a tow-headed Ani growing up into a monster that slaughters a roomful of small children.
All I can really say Lawrence is that I wish you had bullied your pal a little bit and made him pick a fucking lane. Then maybe all the pointless vitriol and hand wringing of the last decade could have been avoided.
I’ve always thought that the cultural significance of the Star Wars films is more deep and meaningful than the actual films themselves. The world they hint at is fascinating but it sort of feels like a tour of Rome with a really shitty guide: you can see the coliseum off in the distance, but you never get to see it close up, to feel the age of the marble, to smell the blood baked into the ancient sand. And the Ewoks and everything they presaged feels like being herded into a junk shop filled with keychain tchotchke versions of the real buildings you’ll never get to experience.
Still. I’m really stoked about December 17th .
Sincerely (and ever the optimist),