When Mark Hamill and Rian Johnson told fans to ignore the marketing for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, surely they didn't mean to avoid Porgs too, right? Because when Entertainment Weekly dropped this image of the cuddly, avian, wide-eyed creature seated next to Chewbacca, no one could have predicted how quickly fans would embrace what are now known as Porgs: a cross between a penguin, an otter, a Tribble, and a baby chick.
C'mon, just look at them, they're adorable. Yet very little is known about the creatures. Still, that hasn't stopped the internet from going gaga over the smallest stars of the latest episode of the Star Wars saga. So we’re getting to the bottom of it all — and whether or not you should be worried about them.
What we know about the Porgs so far
• Porgs live on the remote island of Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker has exiled himself.
• Porgs fly and build nests, and their babies are called porglets.
• With so few visitors, the Porgs are more curious than predatory.
• Porgs were inspired by puffins, birds indigenous to the Irish island of Skellig Michael, where the Ahch-To scenes were filmed.
• They're created by a mixture of CGI and puppetry from Neal Scanlan’s creature shop. What that mixture is can change on any given shot, depending on what the Porgs are doing. So just like BB-8, R2-D2, and dozens of other characters from the original trilogy, they will look like you can touch them in closer shots.
• When there's a flock of them, it will probably be a composite of CGI work or altered footage of puffins flying around the island.
Then there's this response to a question directed to Johnson about what a group of Porgs is called ...
You could take that purely as a joke, or note that a group of crows is a "murder of crows," which may also serve as a twofold hint if he's letting us know that Porgs are not to be messed with.
Star Wars fans have been eating up Porgs. Thanks to The Star Wars Show, a simple search of hashtags #Porg and #PorgPoem will net you an endless supply of Porg fan art and haikus (since 17 syllables fit nicely in Twitter’s 140-character limit). Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:
Here we have a Porg poem shaped like a Porg...
Disney licensing is making note of this one...
And this one with the Muppets' Swedish Chef doesn't make much sense to us either, but it did make me laugh... now we just need one with "Porgs in Spaaaaaace!"
This last one, it's not fan art. It's a real 48-page book called Star Wars: The Last Jedi Chewie and the Porgs that's coming out this December, written by Kevin Shinick and illustrated by current Disney artist Fiona Hsieh. It's aimed at readers ages 6-8, or reading levels Grades 1-3, and that brings us to ...
Disney is sitting on a Porg licensing goldmine
Anything that’s aimed at all ages gets marketed to the point of ubiquity. The memes alone have already infiltrated social networks. It took years for Star Trek to come out with officially licensed Tribbles. You can bet on how many licensed Porg products we'll see by Christmas. Porg Funko pops, plushes, Little Golden books, and Tsum-Tsums could be just the start, right? Bored standing in line at Disneyland? Add some Star Wars Porg filters for your Instagram posts or Snapchat stories. Comic books, board books, and yes, even Easter Porg Peeps (oh please-oh please-oh please). Just you wait, you won't be able to escape them.
But there’s already some apprehension brewing among certain Star Wars fans worried about anything that’s designed to appeal to a younger audience — and how it might dilute elements of the story. Some of their concerns do have merit. There were the Ewoks in the original trilogy, then Jar Jar Binks in the prequels, and young Anakin Skywalker in Episode I. Of course, the saga does appeal to all ages — although parts of Rogue One were pretty dark, and Episode III had moments that might freak out younger viewers. You know, like when Darth Franken-Vader is yelling out, "Nooooooooooo!"
These all-ages elements were no doubt conceived with the best of intentions, but all of the above wound up being highly debatable. Some fervent fans are wondering: Could Porgs be next?
Some folks are just not fond of cute animals, or maybe they're like me and allergic to most, and therefore not drawn to adorable cute things. Right now, cute and cuddly doesn't seem like a match for Kylo Ren or a grizzly-looking Luke.
Still, it's premature to compare the Porgs to Jar Jar, because we don’t even know if Porgs can talk or how they sound. That’s where Jar Jar got annoying, and then every appearance incited rage, to the point where you never wanted to see those floppy ears again. Now, Jar Jar did eventually redeem himself in the Clone Wars cartoon, but that was an awful lot of suffering before we got those nuggets. Before we take that dive, let’s think this through.
What purpose will the Porgs hold?
The Ewoks had their silly connection with C-3PO, who they thought was one of their gods. Wicket and Leia had one great scene, but then there's the rest of Return of the Jedi. Could they really take down an Imperial army — one equipped with blasters and AT-STs — simply with crude hang gliders, rocks, spears, and slingshots? If we’re being honest, they were more of an annoyance to the biker scouts than anything. Depending on how you feel about the original "Yub Nub" ending, the Ewoks were reduced to something you'd see on a Grateful Dead poster.
Sure, they helped the Rebel Alliance take down the shield generator, but it was weakly guarded when you compare it to other Imperial strongholds. And Ewoks would continue to haunt everyone but little children in two TV movies, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. For me, the Ewoks are a plot point that I tolerated so that I could see the final showdown between Luke, Vader, and Emperor Palpatine. I wanted to see Lando redeem himself. I will carry the speeder-bike scenes with me for as long as I live, but the Ewoks? Not so much.
Frankly, we didn't learn anything about our core group of characters because of the Ewoks. So if we are to compare the Porgs to the Ewoks in The Last Jedi, let’s wait and see what kind of purpose they'll ultimately serve.
They could presumably be companions to Luke Skywalker; it's possible he's developed a form of communication with them, unless they can speak Galactic Basic, too. They are, at the very least, set dressing for Ahch-To as Luke and Rey channel the Force. Since they are curious, they might get into everything and annoy Chewbacca and R2-D2, at least at first. They do appear to have some teeth on them, so going from cuddly to Cujo is not outside the realm of possibility.
Now, let's look at the picture of the Porg seated next to Chewbacca in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. The reflection in the Porg’s eyes indicates that’s where they are, plus all of the lights behind them, and Chewie's earpiece. So at least one of the Porgs makes it off Ahch-To. What’s more meaningful is that Chewbacca will have at least one furry friend to interact with now that he is down one best friend.
The one problem I have so far is: How are we going to know what they say to each other? In A New Hope, Han Solo and C-3PO were the only ones able to understand Chewbacca's Shyriiwook language. Luke and Leia eventually understood him as the story went along, but will a Wookiee and a Porg communicate with each other? Will we see subtitles for both? Or are we just going to see Chewie groaning and barking and getting chirps in response? These little things matter when we’re weighing the cute and adorable with respect to the narrative. We'll also see what reasons they have for leaving Ahch-To besides wanting to accompany Luke.
In Defense of the Porg
Just because the fan base has aged doesn't mean the spirit and appeal should, too. Let’s not forget that Yoda was designed to be a character who could appeal to all ages. Chewbacca toes the line, and the droids, too. R2, BB-8, K-2SO, and even Chopper (in Star Wars Rebels) are undeniably cute, scene-stealing creations. But what prevents the droids, Yoda, and Chewie from devolving into caricatures is that they have complete personalities. They are cuddly and dangerous, cute but resourceful, and they contribute to the cause instead of simply drumming up easy laughs.
For now, let’s conclude that the Porgs could be annoying, but I’m willing to see them through, for one film anyway. Johnson’s not exactly a director to be seduced by the cute and cuddly, so I will have faith that these things will be more formidable than what they initially seem. We don’t know what secrets they hold. Remember Mogwais and Gremlins? Baby Groot? There's nothing wrong with the cute element. Just give the Porgs a purpose — or leave me wanting more, instead of less.