Author: James Kahn
The Ewoks are the main controversy surrounding Jedi. To the purists, the furry little critters were an early sign that the franchise was going off the rails. I was young enough in 1983 to think they were adorable but I've become more skeptical of their inclusion in the years since. There is a point to them, of course. George Lucas liked the idea of a primitive society taking out the high-tech Empire through bravery and cleverness, a reflection of what the Rebel Alliance itself was able to accomplish. Ewok vs. Empire is David vs. Goliath, complete with rocks in slings. But the fur balls, too often, smell more like marketing gimmick than narrative substance.
The Ewoks are better in the novelization. In the film, the Ewoks make our heroes members of their tribe after a C-3PO storytelling session. In the book, they are more resistant to joining the cause of the Rebellion. Han, Luke and Leia each makes a plea for the Ewoks' support, though it is Wicket, Leia's first contact with the critters, who makes the winning argument. It's a nice moment for the overall franchise, a moral exploration of the Rebellion's importance on individual, global and galactic levels. If more of that discussion could have been included in the movie, I think a lot of the purists might feel differently about Ewoks.
The book is not better than the movie but I can say the former has definitely enhanced my appreciation for the latter. A New Hope is the self-contained scifi classic. The Empire Strikes Back provides the landscape for a broader franchise. Return of the Jedi is the most intimate story of the three, establishing the moral challenge that lies at the heart of the saga. Luke must confront Vader not because he must vanquish his enemy. He must overcome the temptation to use his powers for evil. This struggle is no fairy tale. Every day, powerful people make choices between compassion and ambition. More often than not, they choose the latter. The world would be a different place if that were not so. The novelization allows a broader view of the moral struggles for each of the principals which ultimately makes for a more compelling story overall.