Ewoks Speak Tibetan!

For years, people have told me that the Ewoks, the furry creatures from George Lucas’ film, Return of the Jedi, spoke Tibetan. I have even passed along this piece of gossip to others, quietly chuckling about Tibetan’s little moment in the spotlight. So you can imagine my joy when I came across the following article confirming the story. The article is from the September 1983 issue of Tibetan Review magazine, which I stumbled across while doing wholly unrelated research (Really, I was. I promise). There is no byline, so we can just attribute it to the editors of Tibetan Review. It is a short article, so I will present it here in full. And remember, this is from 1983, the same year the movie was released.

Ewoks, the furry teddy bear like creatures featured in the blockbuster film Return of the Jedi, speak a curious language in which many Tibetan words and sentences are clearly distinguishable. This is a fact which even Producer George Lucas may not be aware of. When the film was released in the United States, reporters asked people working for Lucas whether the Ewok language is nonsense. They were told. “No, it is not. It is Tibetan run backwards!”

Much of what the Ewoks spoke could very well be nonsense or even Tibetan spoken backwards. However, the rest are definitely Tibetan spoken by real Tibetans. Among words the Ewoks are heard employing are Tibetan for “Hurry! Let’s move,” “No, it’s not him. It’s the one over there,” “There is lots of money here! There is lots of money here!” (in a scene where no money of any kind is in sight!), and a brief prayer.

Tibetan film buffs in Delhi and Dharamsala, who have seen the film on video, suggest the following solution to the mystery: Steven Spielberg, friend of Lucas, shot a small sequence of his film Raiders of the Lost Ark in Nepal. When there on location, he may have recorded various stray voices in the bazaars of Kathmandu (which would explain the above references to money) for possible use in future. So when friend Lucas was looking for exotic sounds to attribute to his furry creatures, Spielberg made his tapes available. Q.E.D. Next problem, please.

Great to hear that Tibetans can actually understand what the Ewoks are saying, but somehow I don’t think Lucas used Steven Spielberg’s Kathmandu street recordings. Fortunately, we have Wikipedia. The ‘Languages in Star Wars‘ entry provides several possible solutions to where the Tibetan comes from, and even indicates that the incomprehensible bits may not be Tibetan at all, but Kalmyk. Those interested in a more academic approach should check out Maria S. Calkowski’s article, “Is there Authoritative Voice in Ewok Talk: Postmodernism, Fieldwork and the Recovery of Unintended Meanings,” which can be found in the journal Culture, vol XI, 1991, pages 53-64, freely available on Google Books.

4 thoughts on “Ewoks Speak Tibetan!

  1. I also heard that Cameron used known languages in Avatar. when the divine, flying seeds of the sacred tree land on Jake, he begins swatting them away, to which Neytiri commands, ‘ta kiri ma!’. compare with the Sanskrit, ‘tat kuru ma!’ (don’t do that!)…

  2. I do actually have something to say about this and i am not at all a ‘Star Wars’ buff…..

    During the early i was a resident monk at the Samye Ling centre in Scotland, we had a Lama Ganga visiting us periodically from America, who on one of his returns jokingly said “i am a rich Hollywood Lama” He told us that he had been recorded speaking Tibetan for the Star Wars Movie being made at the time and had been paid generously.
    This did not make much sense to me until i saw the Return of the Jedi, remembering what the Lama had told me i watched with Tibetan ears and could make out the Ewoks speaking what must have been a speeded up recording of Lama Ganga’s Khampa accent, saying things like “jopa jopo” meaning “quickly quickly” or “hurry hurry” as the Ewoks ran to escaped attack.

    Lama Ganga passed away some years ago on a return trip to his ‘Trangu Gompa’ in East Tibet.

    1. During the early i was a resident drunk at the epi-centre of Shambhala, we had a DJ visiting us periodically from America, who on one of his returns jokingly said “i am a long haired nectar of bass” He told us that he had been recorded speaking Ewok for the Village stage being made at the time and had been played generously.
      This did not make much sense to me until i saw the Return of the PK, remembering what the Lama had told me i watched with fresh ears and could make out the Ewoks speaking what must have been a bass’ed up recording of Lama Ganga’s Khampa accent, saying things like “i like big speakers” meaning “yummy” or “louder louder” as the Ewoks ran to the walk-ways in the trees.

      Lama Ganga passed away some years ago on a return trip to his ‘Trangu Gompa’ in East Tibet. His dieing words were… ” I wasn’t here for the treble “.

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