Toys R' Gus
Some images in this article courtesy of our friends at the world's great SW collectibles site.
Ewoks. I loved 'em. Many hated 'em. For Star Wars fans, there's no 'middle ground' when it comes to Ewoks. You were either firmly in favor of seeing them or firmly in favor of seeing them roasted over hellfire with their mutilated heads trapped in acid-drenched vices. One or the other, no room for compromise. Being so young when Return of the Jedi came out helped me to overlook the merchant's road Lucas was aiming for, and I've remained a front-line Ewok supporter for years. People seem to forget that there was a whole generation of kids who only got into the Star Wars universe because of these fuzzy idiots, eventually becoming what's considered 'hardcore Star Wars fans' today. Remember that, because we're all gonna be old and fat when a bunch of better-looking, younger adults pay tribute to Jar Jar Binks in twenty years. The cycle never ends.
Though represented in Kenner's vintage action figure line alongside all of the trilogy's other heroes and villains, the Ewoks were too big of a marketing opportunity to stop there. After all, kids were willing to spend way more money on Wickett than that drunk monster from the cantina who had a vagina on his face. No doubt, these Ewoks were money. Eventually adding a cartoon series and two absolutely reprehensible made-for-television movies to their resume, there were also several thousand kiddie playthings thrown into the pot for good measure. Coloring books, kites, pencil-toppers, posters, figures and vehicles - all graced with happy bear heads and bamboo spears. Of all the Ewok-related crap, the most obvious selection was also the best - Ewok Plush Dolls.
'EPDs.' They're wonderful enough to warrant acronym status.
It made perfect sense, since the Ewoks were stuffed animals at heart. Stuffed with sweaty cheap-wage midgets. Kenner was always willing to try new things with the proven commodity that was Star Wars, even something as offbeat as plush dolls in a line primarily geared towards boys. Interestingly enough, the plushies aren't based on the Ewoks we saw in their animated show, but rather Ewoks of the honest-to-goodness movie variety. I'm really gonna need a few more synonyms for 'Ewok' to write this one.
The EPDs weren't too successful when looked at as a separate entity, but they certainly helped Kenner craft a success worthy of legend with the collective line of Star Wars toys. Though not incredibly easy to come by, their prices haven''t appreciated much further than the original retail. (well, the ones with the tags still attached have, but who needs tags?) As far as dolls based on dwarves shoved in bear costumes and hemp headdresses go, the plushies strike a remarkable likeness. Today, we pay a small tribute to the Ewok dolls. Yeah, I lost a bet. Included is a look back at all the different characters, and even one that never made it to the stores. There's also a download for the original commercial, and if you're lucky, a glance at some other Ewok toys sure to spark memories or general disinterest.
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The most widely sold of the Ewok dolls were 'Wickett W. Warrick' and 'Princess Kneesaa,' his albino fuckbuddy. For those who've forgotten, Wickett was the extra-cute Ewok from Return of the Jedi - the one who befriended Leia and wouldn't eat that strange cookie she pulled out of her bra. Kneesaa only appeared on the cartoon, so the doll is actually the closest you'll get to seeing how she looks as a real Ewok. Surprisingly, this hasn't quadrupled her value. These two are the 'kids' of the Ewok Village, going on adventures and getting into mischief and learning through trial and error which berries they shouldn't be eating. Plush toys run the gamut of quality from 'great' right down to 'felt filled with dried bees,' but the Ewoks got the royal treatment. Well-made and over a foot tall, the dolls served as pals or pillows with similar ease.
The commercial kicks off with a young boy and girl playing the roles of their gender-coordinated toys, sneaking around the neighborhood like they're up to something. Could be a cover. The boy in the ad looks to be around eleven or so - he's sneaking around so his friends don't pound the shit out of him with their hard plastic Boba Fetts for playing 'Ewoks' with a six-year-old girl. Nobody said being an Ewok fan was easy.
Each of the characters had plastic noses and big half-beads for eyes, which was essential if you liked hearing a 'clang' sound while throwing dolls at your walls. Kenner was smart to make one of the plushies an obvious female, since little girls might've otherwise skipped out thinking they were part of a boys-only fad. Kneesaa, like the rest of the full-sized versions, had a removable cowl that remained in-place with a strip of Velcro. People who knew nothing about Star Wars were probably wondering why kids had all these hat-wearing raccoon dolls, sweetening the 'should I buy it?' pot.
The real coup: if your head was small enough, you could wear the cowl. It didn't really make you look like an Ewok, but did enable you to slip into a Hindu bridal party far more inconspicuously.
I've gotta admit - the ad makes the things appear much more entertaining than normal stuffed animal toys. You'd think kids would just toss the things atop their beds alongside a troop of Lotsa-Lotsa-Legggs and that roller-skating squirrel from The Get-Along Gang, but the commercial suggests otherwise. Ewoks dolls weren't just dolls - they were your adventurous cohorts, agreeably tagging along on even the most dangerous missions. Coincidentally, there's few missions more dangerous than modifying a red wagon and a snowsled into a ROTJ Speeder Bike before hurling yourself down the street, top speed, with only two strings and God to protect you. Pretty odd thing to show (and subversively suggest) in the commercial, and in today's world of rapid-fire lawsuits, Kenner would never get away with it.
There were only four different large-size Ewok dolls, but really, any more than that would've been overkill. Kids might enjoy the potential of having a jampacked Ewok tea party, but nobody wanted to raise an army of the things. It's just not as much fun if the Ewoks aren't mobile enough to leave massive death traps made from logs and rocks like they did in the movie. Why create disappointment?
Aside from Wickett and Kneesaa, there were dolls fashioned after warrior 'Paploo' and housewok 'Latara.' Paploo was in Return of the Jedi, but even if you don't know who he is, you could still display your Star Wars expertise to rookie fans by pointing to any old Ewok and saying 'that's Paploo!' Who's going to know? Paploo's actually my favorite Ewok, mostly because he's got the easiest name to say if someone asks who he is while my mouth is full of cake.
The fun didn't stop there, though, no sir no Ewok. In addition to the big plushies, there were six small versions based on the 'Woklings.' That's right. BABY EWOKS.
My God, he almost looks alive. If you took off the tag, the picture looks like something hosted on an underground website that illegally sells mail-order spider monkeys. Mail-order spider monkeys with no tails and really short arms. Rare spider monkeys. Just like the tag says, the one shown above was named 'Wiley.' The other five had more impressive names: 'Gwig,' 'Malani,' Mookiee,' 'Leeni,' and 'Nippet.' Running off the names of all the Ewoks babies in print is a good way to practice your apostrophe syntax.
The Woklings are virtually unknown, so if you're able to find 'em, they'll come cheap. Around seven inches tall and rather svelte, the mini-dolls fit nicely into pants pockets, or sneakers if you're the type who always worries about spiders finding homes in there whenever you're feeling more sockish.
Aside from a few nameless Ewoks dolls sold in Disneyland's souvenir shops, that's about the extent of their plush ties in this country. Other nations plied their trade at Ewok dolls too, but the quality never came close to the originals. Kenner produced one last plushie, but the poor thing never made it to stores. His name? 'Zephee.' Look, more apostrophes.
I can't say for sure why Zephee never made it past the prototype stages, but there's a few possibilities. For one, she was larger than any of the other Ewok plushies, which could've pulled the production costs a little higher than Kenner's goal. Even if not, Zephee would've taken up too much valuable shelf space in the stores. Plus, these dolls came out very late in the game - Kenner was almost done with the franchise, and the movies had already lost their 'current appeal' by the time Wickett became animated. Zephee was a soldier of sacrifice, and apparently, a mother to all Woklings.
Yes, Zephee's gimmick was a backpack capable of housing the (not included) Wokling dolls. Not only did the backpack protect the baby Ewoks, but also helped the family avoid paying for additional seating on Endor's many air and buslines. Zephee's fur was a decisive blue that helped illustrate every parent's frustration with having to give up the good things in life to carry spit-filled newborns around on their backs. Zephee was a social commentary.
That's about it from the land of plush Ewoks, but we're not quite finished yet. Aside from a fairly inspired line of action figures based on their cartoon, the Wokmassas were immortalized in a few other toys of note...
The Ewoks' Give-A-Show projector set, also by Kenner, let kids enjoy the magic adventures of the creatures through a slideshow of colorful images, and a beautiful symphony of narration and fake animal noises. Give-A-Show toys first appeared in the 60s, living on for an impressive few decades before tapering off into obscurity. Basically, you stick the included slides in, point the thing at a wall, hit the lights, strain your eyes, and watch Wickett in various poses of comical duress. Give-A-Show's technology was updated shortly after to a handheld device, so the Ewoks were one of the final entries in the original series. They're marquee players. Fuzzy ones.
'Sit N' Spin,' owned by almost every kid on the planet at the time, also received the patented Ewok Treatment. It's hard to explain why these devices were so popular, since all they really did was make kids dizzy. I think it's because the children who had these were far too young to make decisions for themselves, and parents just assumed they'd love enduring endless spins until they threw up all over the kitchen floor. A good way to thin out chubby children without seeming too cold or obvious about it. The Ewoks' Sit N' Spin was just like all the others, just with themed stickers that seemed to blend together into subliminal hate messages if you spun the thing around quickly enough.
While the Ewoks were successful as toys, they were considered the first real dent in the armor of the previously invincible Star Wars trilogy. The first two flicks widely received four stars, and even though ROTJ was a record breaking commercial success, it made a lot of people view the series as 'just movies.' Course, they were never anything more than 'just movies,' but tell that to anyone who spent 400 bucks on a tattoo of Peter Cushing flipping the bird. As for the plushies - they're still available on auction outlets and collectible shops for a comparatively low cost, so if you can't live without your very own Wickett, the option is there.