In Star Trek V, Sybok states that "All of us have a secret pain." In that light, I have some confessions to make. As a sci-fi/fantasy (or "speculative fiction," if you prefer) fan, the weight has become too much to bear:
1. I don't think Douglas Adams was all that great.
Sorry. Maybe it was just the period of my life when I read his Hitchhiker's Guide books. No, I won't reread them. Humor writing is hard, very hard, and he just couldn't maintain the funny. On top of that, the people who couldn't tell a joke to save their lives are always the ones who seem to think Mr. Adams's work is the bomb, and they won't stop their lame attempts to impart the limping humor to me. Dislike by association? Maybe. Secret pains are complicated things.
2. I wasn't so impressed with Ender's Game, either. Forgive. It just didn't do it for me. Borderline pedophilia, incest, and child abuse do not a great book make. While Mr. Card may have predicted the rise of the internet, the irony is that instead of 14-year-olds using the anonymity of the internet to pass as adults, reality is usually the opposite. While The Game was fun and took up a lot of pages, it didn't have much to do with the combat they were eventually in. Poor way to train people. At least it was better than William Gibson.
...that last part wasn't a confession, just a statement...
3. I heart Ewoks. And not in a "furry" way, either. Or plushy...whatever.
God, it feels to good to say it. Say it loud and say it proud. Oh, I know, you're all fussin' and bitchin' and making your snarky comments. Path more traveled, anyone? There is a tale behind my respect of the Ewoks. As with the majority of you, it begins with my own insecurity. My own rejection of the Ewok within. Ewokphobia, if you will.
In the mid-90s a group of us were watching the original trilogy, and having our MST3K fun with it. We thought, "wouldn't it be hilarious if there were subtitles when the Ewoks spoke?" Oh, the mirth we would have, putting silly phrases into the mouths of those accursed teddy-bear people. Wretched cuties, who had ruined our oh-so-dark trilogy. It started out funny enough, as shooting fish in barrels often does, but as the movie wore on, we realized that once we started thinking from the Ewok point of view, there wasn't much humor there.
Watch them next time. Listen to them, their Morlock-like whispers and quiet councils. These are a people walking in a dreamtime that has turned to nightmare. This is a culture, like that of the Native Americans or lost Mayans, driven to the very brink of destruction by invaders the likes of which they have never seen. No legends tell them how to deal with the White Shells from the Sky. No tales speak of Steel Giants and Flaming Eyes. What they are saying, when they see C3PO and the others, is, "Today one of our gods has come. Today, we have monsters of our own. We can be free of the invaders, if we can but bear the cost."
The Ewoks, should a viewer be brave enough to walk their own dream-path and embrace their Ewok-within, harken back to myth. Excuse me. Myth. Their struggle is the Táin Bó Cuailnge, Sigurd the Dragonslayer, Beowulf, and Theseus and the Minotaur all rolled into one. How do you defeat an army of the gods, kill a monster(s) with no weakness, thread a maze beyond your comprehension? I cannot stress this enough—when C3PO is telling the Ewoks the tale of how he and his companions came to be on their world, the Ewoks merely incorporate it into their own great struggle. They are not helping in the rebellion's final chapter. To the tribal mythopoet, it is the other way around. As is often the case in myth, the solutions are found through innovation and courage.
Do not be fooled. The Ewoks have been thinking on this problem for a long time. And answers they have found. The Ewoks destroy not one, but two Imperial walkers. That's a lot of wood and work for a stone-age society, cutting and gathering all those trees, luring the giants to the trap, baiting them with blood and bone and seared fur. As in myth, you can drown the unbeatable hero in the very ford he guards, and a 20-pound rock is a 20-pound rock, White Shell or no. And they do pay a heavy price for their victories.
I'm going to draw back from the plot of the movie and delve into the structure of Return of the Jedi. Here, the Ewoks also play an important role. The scenes with Luke, the Emperor, and Vader are the stuff of cinematic legend. One of the things that makes them legendary is that the viewer has to wait for them. Lucas tempts us with them, revealing in bits and pieces how the Emperor has manipulated everyone—the rebels, Vader, Luke. But he also reveals that even when the Emperor thinks he holds all the cards, tiny flaws in his plans, tiny underestimations, tear his schemes apart—the rebels do not retreat, Luke does not yield, and there is a bit of free will, the smallest ember of a hero's heart, yet within Vader. Below, on Endor, a desperate tribe of underestimated heroes rouses itself and makes a mad dash against its hated, unstoppable foes.
You never see Vader's face. His emotions and thoughts are hidden as he watches his son die; watches his son choose death a second time instead of yielding to either him or the Emperor. Vader has chosen life, life as a slave (again), life propped up and supported by a machine inseparable from himself. However, like the Ewoks below, he finds himself living in the now of the primitive mind. Beneath his mask, through the smoke and screaming, you can hear Vader's thoughts if you but listen. They are identical to the sonorous councils of the Ewoks: Today a champion is on my side. Can I bear the cost for freedom? The blood and bone and machine of myself? Through Vader's actions, the decisions and struggles of the Ewoks are replayed in microcosm.
There is one other aspect to anti-Ewok bigotry that must be addressed. Fortunately, Wil Wheaton has already outlined it. In his explorations of why his character, Wesley Crusher, was so unpopular with Star Trek fans, he learned that Wesley struck a little too close to home in the hearts of his viewers. The same is true, I believe, of the Ewoks. We want to be the great hero like Luke, we want to be the enigmatic warrior like Han, the silent man-of-action like Chewbacca, the lynchpin like Leia. But in our hearts, deep down, we fear we are not. We're Jawas and Tuskins, hiding our true natures beneath hoods and helms, scrabbling to make ends meet while greater forces lord the world about us. And yes, some lucky few of us are like Ewoks, quiet heroes unaware of any other way to be. Those few should count themselves honored to be in such fine company. Jub Jub, my brothers.
Jub Jub, indeed.