How Porgs won over Star Wars fans and the internet

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Sep 22, 2017

They have yet to grace the big screen, and nobody even knows what function they serve, but Porgs — those little fuzzy puffin-like creatures to be introduced in Star Wars: The Last Jedi — are already beloved by fans worldwide. True, it doesn’t take much to get Star Wars fans excited these days, but since the public got its first glimpse of the new cuddly aliens this summer, they have inspired an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm and devotion — and not coincidentally, a huge surge in toy sales.

To some degree, people seemed at first to grasp onto the mystery birds in an organic way. Sure, the behind-the-scenes footage featured Porgs somewhat heavily, but there were certainly more urgent images and potential plot hints being transmitted in the video.

But consider this: It was less than two months between the first appearance of the Porgs — in a Last Jedi teaser reel at July’s D23 — and the Sept. 1 release of licensed Porg merchandise. And there is no company as adept at creating and maximizing synergistic branding and merchandising opportunities than Disney. So it would seem that people at Disney had a strong feeling — thanks to either The Force or market research — that Porgs would be a hit, and prepared accordingly.

“When they were making the movie, I kept getting people who worked at Pinewood and on location saying, ‘You’re going to love what’s coming, you’re going to love these new things,’ and they wouldn’t tell me for a long time what they were,” Jason Ward, the editor of the indispensable (and, for Lucasfilm, vexing) site MakingStarWars.net. “Finally I started to get reports that there were going to be these creatures inspired by puffins. Then people started sending me images and letting me know what they look like. And I was like, oh, these are cool, they’re going to be huge.”

Ward first heard about Porgs last summer. He then first mentioned “the protectors of Ahch-to” in a post last last December, with rough details about their role on Luke Skywalker’s island hideaway. Then Ward went silent for about five months, at which point Porg fever really began to set in: Here’s how the timeline broke down after that:

First named: Ward first mentioned the Porgs by name in an April 19 post; he also correctly predicted that they would have some charming moments with Chewbacca. Later this year, there will be a tie-in book released called Chewie and the Porgs.

First sketches appear: A week later, Ward offered users a detailed "first look" at the Porgs, via commissioned drawing. He jotted down a sketch based on a photo, then handed it over to a friend who drew a more impressive version. “The only way we were inaccurate on it was we didn’t give it feet, because the angle from which we were seeing it didn’t show the feet.”

“It was a mixed response. It was mostly female fans and the less macho masculine fans going, ‘I love this.’ People who love Ewoks and Jawas and that stuff, they loved it. And then there was a very small minority who were like, ‘Oh man, they’re putting the cute back in Star Wars.’”

Lucasfilm introduces the Porgs: On July 20, nearly three months after Ward debuted the sketch, the public got its first look at a real Porg via that BTS reel at D23. The rush was on.

The first memes: The adoration was nearly immediate, and of all the new details revealed in that featurette, the Porgs got the most attention. By July 24, Nerdist declared that Porgs “ruled the internet,” and offered a meme roundup to prove it. And the devotion was very strong.

“From the moment I first saw a little Porg prepping for her big Hollywood debut -- which was at two minutes and 25 seconds into The Last Jedi behind-the-scenes reel shown at D23 -- I knew I was experiencing what it means to love for the very first time,” Ash Crossan, a superfan and Entertainment Tonight producer, told SYFY WIRE. “If people turn on them the way they turned on Ewoks, I will erect a third Death Star (fourth, if you count Starkiller Base) and destroy this earth.”

Force Friday: Things quieted down for a few days, but the deluge of Porg toys introduced on Sept. 1 — a merchandising event coined Force Friday II — sparked a frenzy. Google searches of “Porgs” exploded overnight, and toy sales boomed. Toys have to be designed long before they're released, meaning ... yep, this was an expected phenomenon.

“One of the first articles I wrote said they’d be like the Star Wars version of Furbies,” Ward said. "Sure enough, on Force Friday, I took my two kids out to Toys ‘R’ Us and we got two Porg Furbies.”

Porgs take flight: Again, Lucasfilm must have known what it had on its hands, because it commissioned animated shorts that featured the little guys. Not that they're particularly complicated animations, but it's clear that they had confidence that Porgs would be giant hits. And they were right.

Disney sent over this statement, from Paul Southern, SVP of Licensing at Lucasfilm. “With the global celebration of Force Friday II, fans are seeing new product and characters, including Porgs, for the first time. We are so excited to see such positive reaction around Porgs and how they’re being celebrated across a wide portfolio of merchandise for fans of all ages to enjoy.”