Porgs. When fans spotted the diminutive creatures of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the first behind-the-scenes reel, they were immediately divided. Some fell utterly in love with them, creating fan art, buttons, and shirts right off the bat, while others dismissed them as a cheap marketing gimmick for the inevitable batch of toys that would hit stores.
The creatures’ next appearance in the film’s second trailer showed off one squawking alongside Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon, which only further entrenched both sides of the love-them-or-hate-them argument. LucasFilm seems to have realized the marketing potential that the little guys had: they released a bunch of toys for Force Friday II in September, Target raffled off giant plush versions to lucky customers who showed up at the store at midnight, and they appeared in a bunch of other TV spots in the leadup to the film
But now that we’ve watched The Last Jedi, we’ve finally seen just what role they play in the film. We sat down to figure out the film’s most essential question: are they worth the hype?
Thuy: Can I say that the porgs were super cute and my favorite new characters? I already have a stuffed one at home.
Tasha: Sure, as long as I get to say I hated them. They have no purpose in the story but to sell porg merch. They’re basically an ad for Star Wars toys. They’re what the merchandising industry calls “toyetic” — something made to be a mass-consumable product first, and a character later. At least they aren’t a dominant part of the film, but I don’t get the affection people have for them at all. A colleague of mine even said they’re meant to replace Han Solo in this film — they’re comic relief and they highlight Chewbacca, who’d otherwise barely be in the film — and that just seems like blasphemy. How can you see a hamster-eyed penguin as a replacement for Han Solo?
Andrew: One of the interesting things I learned about their inclusion in the film is that they were there to correct an annoying problem: puffins that live on the island of Skellig Michael. They were apparently everywhere on the island during filming, and the production team didn’t want to digitally remove them from the film, so they came up with a real-world stand in.
I think that helps to explain a couple of things about their presence: they’re fixing a practical problem, but presented a useful opportunity for something cute and toy-driven. Star Wars has always had some component that feels designed exclusively for toy sales, whether it’s the endless variants of Clone Troopers, droids, or ships that change from film to film. I see porgs as part of that. They don’t really do much for the story, but they add a bit of local … flavor… to the world as a large.
Tasha: Remember when George Lucas went back and digitally added womp rats hopping (or maybe womping) around Mos Eisley in Star Wars: A New Hope? People hated that, even though it was something else that just added a bit of local flavor to the world, and even though it was a relatively minor change. Here, it feels to me like the womp rats have taken over.
Andrew: Yeah, but these guys are cuter than rats, womp or otherwise.
Chaim: Sounds like you’d be interested in joining Chewie for some roast porg there, Tasha. I will agree that they’re in the film more for hype than to actually serve a purpose, but they’re pretty darn cute.
I would probably eat one anyway, though.
Thuy: But they’re sweet and fluffy!
Tasha: You know what else is sweet and fluffy? Waffles. And no one complains about people wanting to eat them.
Bryan: I’m hoping to start a string of Kentucky Fried Porg restaurants — who’s with me?
Tasha: I’m not only with you, I’m designing the restaurants like seafood restaurants, so there’s a tank of live porgs at the front of the house. They can give patrons puppy-eyes as they file in and take their seats. Everybody gets to select their own porg to eat out of the tank. Chewbacca will be avenged.
Andrew: This reminds me a bit of the Popplers from Futurama.
Bryan: Hmmm… maybe it should be a Kentucky Fried Porg N’ Waffles restaurant.
Andrew: I wouldn’t go to this restaurant. I found them utterly delightful in the film — they are really adorable, and even though they didn’t really serve a useful function in the story, I didn’t mind their presence. I might be predisposed to this: my son was extremely delighted with the porg in the film’s trailer and the short cartoons Lucasfilm released, and I ended up picking up a stuffed one for him earlier this fall. It’s become one of his favorite toys.
Bryan: That actually gets to my overall feelings with porgs, though. I think there’s a large number of people that love porgs not because the movie made them fall in love with the little critters, but because the marketing ahead of the movie made them fall in love with them. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. I’m all for toys, tie-ins, and spending all kinds of money on Star Wars-related merch. (Don’t get me started on my lightsaber collection.) But liking a character based on the movie alone is a different matter. The crystal foxes are almost equally superfluous, but they serve an important story function in that they let the Resistance figure out how to escape from the base at the end of the film. Porgs are cute, but they’re ultimately just ornamentation.
Andrew: I agree, but in this case, if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve pretty much seen the extent of their presence in the film — with one notable exception — and I’m guessing that even if they hadn’t been featured in the marketing, I suspect that people would still fall in love with them along similar lines. They’ll be compared to Return of the Jedi’s Ewoks, but they certainly had less function in the film than Endor’s natives.
Tasha: I don’t want to be too much of a curmudgeon about something that’s been inserted into the film for kids, and something kids actively enjoy. There’s just too much porg in the movie for me, for something with no story function. If they were like R2-D2 and BB-8 — cute and toy-friendly and kid-attracting, but fundamental to the narrative — I’d be fine with them. If they were like Salacious B. Crumb — weird and off-putting, but more a bit of oddball side business than the center of attention — I’d be fine with that, too. I just object to stopping the story flat for porg comedy business.
Andrew: One thing that I noticed in the film was that they were practical effects, but I found their movements a bit stiff and unreal, which was jarring. It threw me a bit. I felt like it would have been a bit better done like the crystal foxes, which were practically designed an animated, but scanned and rendered for the film.
Andru: I really loved that they were puppets and not computer graphics! It made it feel more like Star Wars. I don’t care if it looked less realistic. Maybe creatures just look more like Etsy crafts in a galaxy far far away.
Tasha: I’m also fine with them being physical, tangible objects. I’m always a fan of Star Wars getting back to its roots with practical effects. But it feels like the central debate here is one that’s plagued nerd culture for decades: the question of how much this kind of adventure story belongs to adults, and how much it belongs to kids. It’s at the heart of every debate over whether Batman should be grim and gritty and willing to kill people, or colorful and campy and willing to dance. It’s at the heart of the endless fight between fans who hate the prequel movies, and fans who grew up on them and embrace them. The porg face-off is fundamentally about whether comic relief and cuteness belong in Star Wars, or whether the series should belong more exclusively to the serious, straight-faced likes of Darth Vader.
Bryan: I’d break with you there slightly, Tasha. I’d paint this as a matter of tone. Star Wars has always had humor, starting with the (unintentionally?) hilarious whining of Luke wanting to go to Tosche Station to pick up power converters, or Leia’s sarcastic banter on the Death Star. But as you said, porgs — like Ewoks and Jar-Jar before them — often feel like they’re aiming for younger audiences, which can undercut the intended gravitas of other moments. The line’s not between funny and serious; it’s between silly and sarcastic. My personal favorite Star Wars gag is in The Empire Strikes Back, when Vader is talking to holograms of three of his lieutenants. An asteroid hits one of the ships, and the man disappears with an exaggerated wave of his hands. See, the Dark Side can be funny!
Tasha: I always felt the same way about Darth Vader prodding at Obi-Wan’s empty robe with his foot in A New Hope, after killing him. His helmet isn’t capable of expression, but I always felt a clear “Buh?!?” coming off him in that moment that seemed darkly comedic, yet entirely in keeping with the film. And in my review, I brought up how Star Wars has its outright funny moments, like Han Solo’s “We’re fine, how are you?” bit on the intercom. I’m on board with you about the difference between silliness (largely for kids) and sarcasm (mostly for older audiences). For me, at least, porgs are just silly.
But what if porgs aren’t as cute and goofy as we believe? What if we’ve been misreading them all along? The porgs’ biggest scene in The Last Jedi comes when Chewbacca is just about to chomp down on a roast porg, and a crowd of them gather around to stare at him with big sad goony-eyes. It’s natural to interpret that as them being forlorn and a little judgey about his dietary choices. But they seem to just be animals, and animals are traditionally more food-motivated than sympathy-motivated.
What if all those cute little porgs are giving Chewbacca puppy-eyes the same way a dog will sit beseechingly next to someone eating a big, sloppy, delicious-looking sandwich?
What if they’re just begging for scraps?
I, um…. Hrm.
So, one of the things that did stand out to me during the movie was why the porgs were totally cool hanging with Chewie in the Falcon after he’d cooked up a couple of their brothers. That doesn’t really track. But what does track is an off-screen scene in which Chewie shares the roast porg, bonds with the rest of the gang, and they all head out together for more culinary adventures.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true.