The plush-perfect ‘Last Jedi’ creatures have nothing on the ‘Return of the Jedi’ characters.
This editorial features spoilers for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ though only insignificant spoilers involving Porgs.
Since the time they were first revealed, Porgs have been an obsession for many Star Wars fans. They were celebrated for their cuteness, which obviously translated to plush toys, and when all kinds of Star Wars: The Last Jedi merchandise went on sale on Force Friday II in September, everybody wanted one. But now that we’re finally able to see the little creatures in the context of the movie, are they worth the hype?
They’re not. They have nothing to do with anything and are barely even in The Last Jedi much more than what we saw of them in the trailers and TV spots. Without the context of Porgmania and the plethora of toys, they’re fine — adorable, funny, simple mini-monsters inspired by puffins and corgis to add to the numerous other fauna of the Star Wars Galaxy. But they’ve been referred to as the new Ewoks, for better or worse, and that’s an offense to the furry heroes of Endor.
Ewoks have been criticized for decades as being nothing more than fodder for toys, particularly of the plush kind. Yes, they look like teddy bears and so made for perfect playthings. So what? Star Wars is a franchise built in part by its branding and merchandising. Toys have been a major piece of the product of Star Wars and its fandom since the first movie. Why were Ewoks singled out as an issue with the third installment?
And the truth is, Ewok toys were great. Sure, the plush Wicket and Kneesaa — which were actually introduced and heavily marketed as tie-ins for the Ewoks animated series two years after the release of Return of the Jedi — were just bedtime cuddlers, regardless of what fun outdoor potential the commercials implied. But the Ewoks action figures, and especially their village play set, were among the favorites based on the movie.
The reason that Ewoks made for great toys is they are great characters. They consist of a variety of individuals with different looks and personalities. They are actual characters in Return of the Jedi and had a life beyond the movie. The Ewok made-for-TV spinoffs Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor as well as the cartoon series aren’t great but they were produced because the Ewoks had enough multitudinous identity for further storytelling — and, sure, the ability to be exploited for more toys, but that’s not everything.
Ewoks serve a significant purpose, at least in Return of the Jedi. They help the Rebels take down the Empire’s forces on their planet by being overlooked as primitive beings posing no threat to the technologically advanced galactic overlords. Inspired by underestimated adversaries such as the Viet Cong guerrillas and Native American warriors, they prove a surprising efficacy against the bad guys and provide a fresh contrast to the rest of the action of the franchise during the Battle of Endor.
Could they have just been Wookies, as George Lucas initially planned? No. Not just because of the decision to make Chewbacca’s species more tech-proficient and therefore not primitive enough, but we saw how uninteresting a battle on Kashyyyk actually is in Revenge of the Sith. By being smaller and cuter, the Ewoks have a greater distinction and reason to be discounted by both the Empire and initially the Rebels, emphasizing the amazement of their efforts.
As for the Porgs, they don’t have any purpose except to be a minor flourish of fauna on Ahch-to, and to sell squawking stuffed animals. The noise-making toys have their own annoyance. The non-squawking variety are just basic bird-like ornaments. They’re not as cuddly — there’s a reason teddy bears (of which Ewoks are established as basically being) are the iconic stuffed toy they are; they’re perfect hugging and cuddling shape, and their humanoid anatomy can be used for Star Wars level action or imaginary playtime like tea parties or whatever. Porgs are the sort of stuffed animal that just sits on your bed as decoration and then get thrown off at night.
Porgs are not also a part of the action figure line for The Last Jedi. They don’t have play sets. They’re included in LEGO form with the LEGO Millennium Falcon, but just to be authentic since they appear on the ship in the movie. They don’t have these additional toys because they are not characters and neither have their own narrative nor are contributors to any others’ narrative. Providing Chewbacca with something to interact with does not a subplot make.
Porgs are just background players. At best, they’re like the little wheelie “mouse” droid (MSE-6) in Star Wars that bothers Chewie and is chased away and that’s it. They supply a minor dash of comic relief, though the scene where they seem to turn Chewie into a vegetarian is probably not what it appears to be (maybe the sad-eyed Porgs are just starving and begging for some of his dinner — why would they be whimpering over an unrecognizably cooked version of themselves, especially since it’s already dead anyway and just going to waste if Chewie doesn’t make a meal of it?).
To some, the Porgs’ lack of importance is apparently a good thing. “[They] get grown-up laughs,” writes Mara Reinstein in her review for Us Weekly, “They’re not nearly as distracting as the Ewoks!” And Sara Stewart claims in her New York Post review, “They are — sorry, Return of the Jedi loyalists — the anti-Ewoks, in a good way.” At CNET, Richard Trenholm says Porgs are “thankfully more tribble than Ewok.” And Mashable’s Chris Taylor writes, “Every second of their presence seems delightful and necessary. Ewoks they are not.”
Not as distracting? They’re entirely a distraction, especially compared to the narratively integral Ewoks. Certain fans may be annoyed by Ewoks and think there’s too much of them, even if just in Return of the Jedi, but they’re not unnecessary. It’s the same argument people have against Minions. They’re irritating? That’s a matter of taste. Porgs can annoy people who are annoyed by Porgs, too, it’s just that they don’t overstay their welcome — in the movie anyway; within the story they’re infesting the Falcon.
The one benefit I’ll give to the Porgs and to Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson’s creation and employment of the creatures has to do with the fact that they’re so totally pointless. Their lack of significance to the story or anything other than comic relief goes with the theme of the movie that nothing really matters. Rey’s parentage doesn’t matter. Jedi don’t matter. Dark and Light sides don’t matter. The whole storyline with Finn and Rose going to the Canto Bight casino doesn’t matter (well, that sort of matters more than it first seems). Porgs definitely don’t matter.
The main difference between Porgs and Ewoks is noted through their respective scenes of pain. Porgs are used as a comedy prop. Audiences laugh when Chewie swats one off the Falcon controls like the pest it is. We even laugh during the scene involving a cooked Porg and at the sad Porgs who mourn (or savor) it. Being actual characters, Ewoks die and it’s sad not funny. No matter if you hate Ewoks, the scene in Return of the Jedi where one of them mourns for his fallen buddy is an undeniably emotional beat in the storytelling.
Does the difference make Ewoks better than Porgs, in any sense or context? Not really other than as opinion, People can love or hate either or both. But there is no strong case for Porgs being better except out of preference. Take them out of the movie, and The Last Jedi is pretty much the same as it is with them. Take Ewoks out of Return of the Jedi and the movie changes drastically. You can enjoy Porgs more, but you can’t deny that Ewoks are the more vital of the two.