Willie Coppen Interview – Ewok

Ewok’s were a diminutive species of furry bipeds native to the forest moon of Endor. They were most notable for helping the Rebel Alliance defeat the forces of the Galactic Empire at the Battle of Endor, allowing the shield generator there to be destroyed, and in turn, the Death Star II.

Ewok’s were individuals that stood about one meter tall. They used spears, slings, and knives as weapons; they also used hang gliders as vehicles. Although skilled in forest survival and the construction of primitive technology, the Ewok’s had yet to progress past stone-level technology when discovered by the Empire. They were quick learners, however, when exposed to advanced technology with simple mechanical processes and concepts.

EngPhys Robot Competition

How did you get your role in Return of the Jedi?

I was 18-19 and working in a Car Spares shop in a suburb of Derby.  One of our regular Customers phoned me to say, he had been listening to a Commercial Radio Station for Nottingham (Commercial Radio Stations weren’t nationwide back then) and had heard an appeal from an Agent who was looking for Dwarfs or small adults to appear in the next Star Wars film, to be shot in the New Year at Elstree Studios.

I phoned the Agent straight away and explained that I was small and that I was 4”4’.  As he’d had ‘Small People of 5”2’ calling him, he needed to see me. As I didn’t drive back then, I phoned my Dad (who wasn’t a big film fan, but had heard of Star Wars) and asked him if he could take me to Nottingham that night.  When he asked why?  I said ‘They want people like me for the next Star Wars film!’

Unlike nowadays, when parents spend many weekends, taking their children all over the country to follow their hobbies or past times, it wasn’t normal back then. it wasn’t normal for me to ask my Dad to take me 15 miles down the A52 to Nottingham after a day at work (for both of us), at the drop of a hat.  Anyway we saw the agent that evening and he agreed my physique was what LucasFilm were looking for.

A few days later I was on the train to Elstree and as Dad worked for the Railway and got a free ticket for himself, he came with me.  I was used to going on the train on my own, but I know that if I didn’t have someone to keep me company, I would have been dreaming of stardom and lots of money and all those things, and then would have been very disappointed if I was then told I wasn’t going to get a part.

Anyway we arrived at the studios and were taken straight to wardrobe, where they started to measure me up.  It dawned on me that they already knew more than I did, so I had to ask if I’d got a part in the film, and their answer was Yes!

What was it like being inside the Ewok costume?

return_of_the_jedi_chewbacca_and_the_ewoks.png

Hot and Sweaty! It was funny having the padding (I wouldn’t need so much now) put on and having my mobility reduced, and then the fur and finally the head put on.  Before getting into the costumes, we had all been able to start to get to know each other, but when the Heads went on, we didn’t have a clue who the person was we were standing next too!

Because of the heat, we only put the full costume on when the cameras were rolling.  Then every 10 minutes or so, we stopped to take the heads off and cool down a bit.  Under the padding we wore pyjamas, at lunch time these were changed for fresh ones as you could wring out the sweat!

During the two weeks at Elstree around 10 of us (me included) were overcome with the heat.  I remember saying to someone, I don’t feel too good.  The next thing I knew, I was  on the over side of the set with people rushing to take my costume off and Harrison Ford holding a fan to cool me down.  We spent the whole time in the studio very hot and then when we went home, there was about 6’ of Snow on the ground.

How would you describe your overall experience working on the film?

Brilliant! Until then I’d only met one other person who was small like me and I would have been offended if anyone had asked me if I was a Dwarf.  It was great to meet lots of other people who were small like me and to be able to be standing in a crowded Bar and not to be missing half the conversation because the words were literally going over my head.

What was the Endor set like to work on?

“They’re using a very primitive dialect, but I do believe they think I am some sort of god.”―C-3PO

Ewok_Village_DICE.png

My scenes were in the village and all filmed at Elstree. They had built the set, as if it was really high up in the trees and we had to use a scissor lift and ramps to get up onto it.  The only health and safety were boxes stacked on top of each other to about 10 feet high and then covered in a thick plastic sheet.  The only barriers were the fences around the edge which Han Solo sat on when he thought Princess Leia loved Luke Skywalker instead of him.

Remember because of how hot the costumes were,  our plastic eyes soon steamed up and our vision was impaired.  We were 30-40 feet up in the air, wearing fur and with real fires all around!  The major bit I did on the film (which was left on the cutting room floor) was, along with 3 others, we had to carry Chewbacca hanging from a pole into the village, this was just after Han Solo and Luke etc. were caught in the big net and Han thought he was going to be the main course for the Banquet in honour of C3PO.

How would you describe Ewok’s?

“Well, short help is better than no help at all.”
―Han Solo reluctantly accepts the Ewok’s’ help in the Battle of Endor

ewok.jpg

Brave, believer’s in magic and once they were your friends, Loyal.

What are some of your favourite scenes from the movies?

Can I say the Ewok scenes!!  Not just what we did in the village, but what my peers did on the ground in the Red Woods in California.

Who are some of your favourite characters, and why?

return-of-the-jedi-ewoks.png

Apart from the Ewok’s.  Luke Skywalker, because all he wants is truth and honesty.  Han Solo, he doesn’t always obey the rules, but knows what is right and does not like what is wrong.  Obi-Wan For his superior knowledge wisdom and advise to the young Luke in the first film.

Do you attend many conventions, if so, what does meeting the fans mean to you?

I’ve done a few conventions and it is nice to meet people who have enjoyed, not just the Ewok’s but the whole franchise.  I am hoping to do more in 1019 and look forward to meeting new Star Wars fans.  Is it too early to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New year for 2019?

For those of you in the Stevenage area I will be appearing in Panto this year for the first time since Christmas 1990-91.  For more information on dates and tickets go to.  https://www.gordon-craig.co.uk/snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-i1899  I will be happy to meet anyone after the show.

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