“you got cute in my star wars!!” or, in defense of porgs

Less-than-creative/progressive minds out there might call me the nerdy version of the much maligned “basic bitch.” I like the cute, comfy trappings that accompany geekdom. Like, sure. Of course I’m here for the gripping, epic stories and well-written, complex characters. I’m here for adventure and space and swashbuckling and dinosaurs and saving the world and deep, intense conversations about all aforementioned topics.

BUT ALSO. I’m here for the Cute.

I’m here for Baby Groot. I’m here for Baymax. I’m here for BB-8. And I’m also here for cute merchandise featuring all of my favorite characters. I have Baymax art on my walls, I have the Baby Groot Pop figure, and I have three BB-8’s of various shape, size, and household use JUST IN THIS ROOM.

Hell, in what might be the ultimate BB-8 Basic Bitch Manuever: One year ago at Dragon Con, the wonderful, magical people at the Peachtree Center Caribou Coffee featured a BB-8 themed beverage, and it was actually a frozen Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Basic Bitch worlds collide!!

Based on my deep adoration for all cuddly, squeaky creatures in nerd media, you’ve probably already figured out that I am currently living for Porgs. Porgs, if you don’t know, are the derpy little space puffins native to Ahch-To, where we last left Rey and Luke at the end of The Force Awakens.

I hold no delusions that Porgs weren’t specifically engineered to be the ultimate in adorable-ness. They’re little, they’re fluffy and feathery, and they have big, perfect, sad seal eyes. I’ve been smitten since my first glimpse of these little dudes, and yeah, you can bet your ass that I’m going to own at least one in stuffed animal form before my life is over.

Because I spend a lot of time reading about Star Wars online, I’ve discovered that not all fans share my Porg-enthusiasm, which I’m not willing to take lying down. Porgs are my life now, and I will die defending them.

“Ugh, Porgs are just going to be the new Ewoks or the new Jar-Jar.”

Okay, this common Porg-criticism opens up a lot of rabbit holes. First of all, comparing Ewoks to Jar-Jar Binks is an insult to Ewoks. Those characters do not serve the same purpose in their respective films at all. Sure, okay, maybe you’re “Team Cute Comic Relief characters are only here to sell toys,” and fret not, I’ll get to you. Putting that argument aside for a moment, though, the Ewoks and Jar-Jar (and the Gungan species, in general) aren’t the same.

The Ewoks and the Gungans do serve similar role in the overall narratives of their films, and, to be fair to Gungans, they both ultimately succeed. Ewoks and Gungans are both indigenous species called upon by the human heroes to help take down the baddies, partially thanks to their arguably superior knowledge of their terrain. And in both of these instances, the good guys win! So, you know what, thanks Ewoks and Gungans!

I don’t really jive with the belief that Jar-Jar and the Ewoks were only created to sell toys, and, again, we’ll go there. In a broader, related sense, though, these characters were clearly meant to be a source of comic relief for younger audiences, so it’s natural that older audiences would dismiss them more immediately. I would also argue that, along with comic relief, these kind of goofy, sometimes-cuddly characters exist to diffuse tension in the often high-stakes tales in the Star Wars universe. Star Wars movies are definitely for kids as well as adults, but that doesn’t mean that they shy away from tough themes and topics. Silly, funny aliens can be a source of comfort within these intense, sometimes dark story lines.

And not all attempts at non-humanoid comedy in the Star Wars universe are created equal! The banter-filled relationship between R2-D2 and C-3P0 is a reliable well of laughs as well as immense heart in the original trilogy. R2-D2 is a sassy motherfucker with adorable, hilarious noises to spare. In the new trilogy, BB-8 is an essential element to the plot, as well as a cute, roly poly achievement of computer animation and practical effects. BB-8 has his haters, sure, but overall, I would argue that our favorite droids are generally accepted by the fandom, even though they are pretty cute.

And, yeah, fuck Jar-Jar. He’s an ill-concieved, pretty racist, condescending attempt at kid-friendly humor that missed his mark completely. But I think Ewoks are pretty rad. Daniel O’Brien of Cracked has a more eloquent defense of Ewoks than I could ever put together, and you should check it out. Ewoks don’t ruin the reputation of Jedi for me in the way that Jar-Jar will always be a blight on Phantom Menace.

My point within all of this rambling is: Porgs might fall closer to BB-8 and R2 on the cute-comedy spectrum than to Ewoks and Gungans. We don’t know yet, so everybody calm down.

“Ugh, Porgs are just a blatant cash-grab. THANKS, DISNEY. I HATE MERCHANDISE.”
Okay, stastically, no, you don’t. According to Fortune.com, “Star Wars toys generated sales of $700 million in the United States in 2015.” I didn’t contribute to that chunk of change by myself, folks!

It’s an absolutely valid road to go down; the road of the evils of Star Wars merchandising. You might have hardcore ethical issues with Disney, and that’s fine. But I think it’s a sad, cynical road to go down. Mostly because this isn’t an issue for which we can place the blame solely on the cute critters in a galaxy far, far away. Oh, you think Porgs only exist to sell toys?

Guys, ALL OF THIS EXISTS TO SELL TOYS.

This is undoubtedly a sticky, sticky issue. I don’t want to be Disney’s (basic) bitch, but I know that I am. But, so far, they’ve created new Star Wars media that I truly enjoy. They’ve introduced me to new characters that I love, and it makes me happy to have tangible reminders of those characters in my day-to-day life. I can’t live in Star Wars, which is a fucking bummer. But there’s a little stuffed BB-8 at my desk at work, and it makes me smile when I’m stressed out. I have a Rey shirt that I got at Star Wars Celebration London, and it makes me psyched every time I wear it. I have R2-D2 measuring cups, and that’s just plain fun.

So…. baaaaaah, I guess. You got me.
Those are the two main complaints I’ve encountered in the anti-Porg movement! As a champion of Porgs, I want to wrap this up with why I’m excited about these guys in ways that don’t relate to my deep desire to hug one. Seriously, sometimes I think about Porgs a little too intensely, and it makes me want to flip a table. The Cute Aggression is strong with me.

New, native alien species in the SW universe help to fill out and color the world! Wookiepedia describes Ahch-To as “a planet mostly covered in water, with numerous rocky islands blanketed in green trees.” At least on our own planet, this is a pretty natural ecosystem for sea birds such as penguins and puffins. In fact, director Rian Johnson has said that he was inspired to create the Porgs because of the actual puffins that inhabited Skellig Michael, where the Ahch-To scenes were filmed.

This is one of the things that always ruffles my feathers about the backlash against cute creatures in nerd media. Cute animals exist. Penguins and puffins are real. Penguins and puffins are super adorable. It stands to reason that there would be at least one indigenous species somewhere out in the vastness of the SW universe that was naturally cute in a conventional way.

There probably isn’t time for it in The Last Jedi, but I would love to learn about the adaptations of Porgs that enable them to thrive in their natural environment! Was there a Darwin of Porgs? May I volunteer myself for the mission? I have so many questions! Where are your beaks, little sea birds?

In the narrative of The Last Jedi, I suspect that Porgs will serve a similar function to that of BB-8 in The Force Awakens. Porgs don’t seem like they’ve evolved into a warrior society like the Ewoks, so I’m not expecting them to play a critical role in any battles. I think they’ll probably be funny, fluffy filler meant to flesh out the world of Ahch-To, and to diffuse some of the tension in what is looking like a super high-stakes film.

My thesis statement is that I don’t think Porgs are going to ruin The Last Jedi, however you end up feeling about them.

This is my personal hope for Porgs:

Yeah, there are going to be tons of Porg toys. Based on their design, I think many of those toys will be in stuffed animal form. I’ve already seen them at Target! In my personal experience, stuffed animals are a toy primarily marketed to little girls. Like dolls, stuffed animals are meant to cuddle and to nurture, which is one of the things society subtly and not-subtly tells girls that they’re supposed to do. We don’t usually get action figures or toy weapons pushed in our general direction. As has already been well-documented, Rey was almost entirely excluded from The Force Awakens toys.

So, say a little girl doesn’t know what Star Wars is, but she sees a stuffed Porg at Target. It’s so cute, and it’s so soft, and she’s probably already begun to absorb the message that cute animals are a thing she likes. So, she gets a Porg. She loves that Porg, and wants to know where it comes from. Eventually, she sees Star Wars. She gets to delve deep into a world of film, TV, comics, etc, etc. that exist to tell unrelenting, sometimes-joyous, sometimes-painful stories of good vs. evil, and doing the right thing vs. doing the easy thing.

Stories that so many of us have all come to love so much that some of us are weirdos, sharing our intense feelings online about minor characters in a movie that we haven’t even seen yet!

Best case scenario: Porgs, creatures achieved by a variety of both digital and practical effects, are awesome in the movie due to being well-utilized and unobtrusive in the story line of The Last Jedi.

Worst case scenario: Porgs suck, and somehow bring down the entire SW franchise with them.

Middle case scenario: Porgs are a cute gateway creature for kids to whom the Star Wars door doesn’t always appear to be wide open.

We’ll know for sure in a week and a few hours! May the Force Be with You. Always.

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