Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
1983, United States, Director: Richard Marquand
Return of the Jedi may be one of the most hotly debated Star Wars films. While it is far, far better than any of the prequels, many critics find it to be the weakest of the original trilogy. Many fans, on the other hand, consider it the best of the original trilogy. So why the hate from critics? One word: Ewoks.
Before the numerous creative and storytelling errors of the Star Wars prequel trilogy came into being, the scene from the original trilogy that most angered Star Wars fans was the scene from Return of the Jedi where the Ewoks appear to defeat “an entire legion” of the Empire’s “best troops.” At first glance, the scene is far fetched even for a science fiction/fantasy movie. Little creatures that look like teddy bears defeat armored soldiers wielding energy weapons? Seriously? However if one were to take a moment to think about the sequence of events leading up to the Ewok attack and the events of the attack itself, it begins to become more plausible. Here’s why:
1. It’s not an “entire legion of my best troops.”
When the rebels first come to the Imperial Base, Han nervously points out that he and Chewie got into more heavily guarded places. In the series, Han only gets nervous when he knows he’s wrong. Also, in an earlier scene we see an AT-AT outside of the base. The Base therefore is clearly heavily guarded. However, the Ewoks shows the Rebels a back door that they didn’t previously know about and probably weren’t supposed to know about. The Empire therefore has to scramble to a certain extent to defend that position, having expected a more direct assault. The stronger troops probably did not have time, therefore, to swing around to the back door of the Base, which is clearly far away from the main structure. Which leads me to:
2. The Ewoks have the element of surprise
When Han and the Rebels are caught red-handed, we see four AT-ST walkers (far weaker than AT-AT’s) and maybe two dozen troops. This is by no means an overwhelming force. Furthermore, the troops guarding the main base probably sat on their hands upon word that the Rebels had been captured. In other words, the Empire was caught by surprise with a small force with its reinforcements in a state of unreadiness pretty far away.
3. The Ewoks have the element of confusion
There are easily three or four times as many Ewoks as stormtroopers. This is evidenced by both their numbers on the screen and how quickly they bring in various heavy weapons to the battle. Added to this, they are well camouflaged and have knowledge of the area. This creates confusion among the Imperials as to how many Ewoks there are and where they are.
4. The confusion and surprise allows Chewie the opportunity to commandeer an AT-ST
After a few minutes, the Ewoks are clearly losing. But the surprise and confusion allows Chewie to steal an AT-ST, swinging the battle back to the Rebels. Some of the Ewoks are also shown having commandeered stormtrooper weapons, which probably help quite a bit as well.
5. The Ewoks are clearly stronger than they look
The Ewoks look cute and cuddly. However, they are about the size and build of the North American Black Bear. It is feasible, therefore, that the Ewoks are significantly stronger than the stormtroopers, and as indicated before, there are swarms of them.
In conclusion, the Ewoks have knowledge of the area, superior numbers, physical strength, and an enemy caught by surprise and out of position. By the time the small force is defeated, the destruction of the back door of the base has caused a chain reaction destroying the entire base and shield generator (the “entire legion” of the Empire’s “best troops” along with it). Fortunately for the Rebels, the Empire has a habit of leaving tactically critical, supposedly unreachable, areas relatively undefended (see Death Star, First). While it clearly isn’t the most likely of scenarios, the fact of the matter is that the Ewoks use numerous tactical advantages to make up for their lack of firepower making the scene more plausible than it appears at first glance.
(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe