How A Nude Photo Helped Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi Find Its Ewok Actors

A phenomenon familiar to those in England, but perhaps obscure to those elsewhere, is the notion of the Page Three Girl. In 1970, the lascivious supermarket tabloid The Sun, a paper run by Rupert Murdoch, began running photographs of up-and-coming models, usually topless, on page three. The photos became so popular that other tabloids like the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star followed suit. The models featured became known as Page Three Girls, and some of them became minor celebrities for their spreads. Page Three Girls, of course, sparked an enormous amount of controversy. From this author's own childhood recollections, some tried to pass off the topless pictures phenomenon as a bit of harmless, sexy fun folded into a newspaper that was already completely lacking in credibility anyway. Others objected to the outwardly prurient nature of the nudie pictures, pointing to them as a prime example of widespread sexism and the commodification of women's bodies. 

Page Three photo spreads continued until 2015. They were brought to an end after years of protests. 

Page Three Girls also, one might be surprised to learn, played a key role in the production of Richard Marquand's "Star Wars" sequel "Return of the Jedi" in 1982. It seems that the film would not have nearly as many Ewok actors were it not for the attention that the topless models were bringing in. In John Philip Peecher's 1983 book "The Making of Return of the Jedi," the author recalls that a casting notice, by a stroke of luck, appeared just below a nude woman.

Not enough Ewoks

Ewoks, as all Starwoids might recall, were a species of teddy bear-like aliens who lived on the forest moon of Endor. They were a tree-dwelling, tribal species who joined Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) after he convinced them that his golden robot C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) was a deity. Morally speaking, this is unbearably dodgy, but for an adventure story, it functions well enough. The Ewoks were written to be diminutive, and "Return of the Jedi" required dozens of actors under 4' 2" to play them. 

When approaching the usual casting channels, production assistant Patricia Carr was only able to find so many actors to play Ewoks. Carr was interviewed for Peecher's book, and she recalled the brief frustration of not being able to find actors ... and then a sudden boom of applications. It seems that "seeking actors under 4' 2" next to a photo of a nude woman was all it took. In Carr's words: 

"We only got four or five applications from the Job Center. Then some reporter from the Sun newspaper put the story on page 3 under the picture of a nude, and suddenly we had phone calls from all over the country. About 120 people applied, and we soon had all the people we needed under 4 feet 2 inches tall. Up until then we had thought that Kenny Baker—R2-D2— was the shortest man in Britain." 

The late actor Kenny Baker operated the R2-D2 robot from within, as he was small enough to fit inside the costume. Baker stood 3' 8", and appeared in films like "Time Bandits," "Willow," and "Flash Gordon." In 1983, he was one of the preeminent little-person actors working. "Return of the Jedi" introduced another: Warwick Davis.

Kenny Baker and Warwick Davis

One of the more prominent Ewok characters was to be nicknamed Wicket, and was played by Warwick Davis, who was only 12 at the time of filming. Carr recalls talking to the bright young man and casting him immediately. Both Davis and Baker were associated with "Star Wars" ever since, returning to the series multiple times in multiple roles. Baker even consulted R2-D2 movements for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 2015, shortly before his death. Davis, meanwhile, returned to play Wicket in several TV movies and would appear as additional "Star Wars" characters named Weazel, Weeteef, Wobdibin, Wollivan, and Wizzich.

Pat Carr recalls that many of the Ewok performers weren't professionals. Indeed, Carr was astonished that many of them had incredibly mundane jobs prior to working on a "Star Wars" movie. I guess when a nude woman entices any citizen under 4' 2" to apply for a job, one may as well. Carr remembered some of the people she met during the Ewok casting process: 

"There was a customs official from Southampton Docks who was only three feet, one inch tall, and a lady who worked for the Gas Board. One girl — not eventually used as an Ewok — out of work for two years but highly qualified as a shorthand typist, lost the chance of a job at British Telecom because they feared she might fall into the machinery and hurt herself." 

Finding acting work as a little person proved difficult for many, so Ewoks became highly coveted. Luckily, the production brought on as many actors as they could. The result was a species of aliens that is fondly remembered by "Star Wars" fans to this day. 

And to think we have a Page Three Girl to thank.