Porgs in space: Will 'Star Wars' fans embrace the cuteness?
When the latest instalment of the Star Wars juggernaut opens this weekend, it's sure to be one of the biggest box office draws of the year.
Fans of the franchise are already notorious for dissecting every aspect of the epic series, and there's plenty for them to chew on in The Last Jedi, which sees the return of legendary Jedi, Luke Skywalker, as the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
Porgs are the new Star Wars creatures that everyone's going to be obsessed with.- Emma Stefansky, Vanity Fair
The pre-release buzz has been dominated by chatter about the scene-stealing creatures known as Porgs — puffin-like, bird/gerbil hybrids that seem tailor-made for prime merchandising opportunities.
The cute — or weird, depending on who you ask — critters have prompted dozens of thinkpieces in the lead-up to the movie's opening, and even cast members have weighed in on sharing the screen with their big-eyed co-stars.
"Porgs are the new Star Wars creatures that everyone's going to be obsessed with," she enthuses.
Fish or fowl?
But what exactly are these small, oval-headed beings with gigantic eyes that look like anxious hamsters?
"Apparently they're birds," Stefansky explains. "The director says they're birds, so I guess we should listen to him."
Without giving too much away (don't worry, no spoilers!), in the new film, Luke Skywalker has been living alone with the Porgs on an oceanic planet.
"I guess some people would think that's an idyllic life, these adorable little things running around fishing off the cliffs or whatever they do," Stefansky quips.
So maybe Luke's been training his avian pals in the ways of the lightsaber?
"I sure hope so," Stefansky says, laughing. "I hope that they are all Jedi by now."
Given the poor reception for Jar Jar Binks when he was first introduced in The Phantom Menace, welcoming new beasts to the Star Wars universe can be a contentious proposition, but Stefansky says the adorable Porgs aren't anything like the bumbling Binks.
I like how they look kind of afraid, like they're having a bad time. It's relatable for people who live in anxiety all the time.- Emma Stefansky, Vanity Fair
"I thought it was going to be a little bit weird, but I think the first time anyone saw them was when they released this behind the scenes reel," she recalls. "They took a look at the animatronics department and they had an actual [Porg] that someone was working on, and it looks up at the camera and blinks its eyes. And I immediately was like, 'this is going to be great'."
With their wide-eyed, slightly alarmed expressions, the Porgs might be just the right character for our current era, Stefansky notes.
"I like how strange they look," she says. "I like how they look kind of afraid, like they're having a bad time. It's relatable for people who live in anxiety all the time."
While Stefansky might be a fan, the Internet commentariat is split over what they think of Porgs — as are The Last Jedi actors themselves.
"The cast took over Jimmy Kimmel's late night show a few weeks ago and they talked about the Porgs, because they're on everybody's mind," Stefansky says, "Oscar Isaac was like, 'yeah, I love them'." But John [Boyega] does not care for them at all."
"He described an encounter with them [where] a bunch of them were on board the Millennium Falcon, and they're in little clusters. And he said it was really weird and gross, and I guess I understand that," she laughs.
Love them or hate them, you'll certainly be seeing Porgs — which British film critic Robbie Collin dubbed "a hyper-marketable cross between a puffin and a young Justin Bieber" — everywhere this holiday season, from plush toys to t-shirts.
"I think that is something that people were afraid of," Stefansky admits. "I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'm not really sure how much of it they're in, but I do definitely see the fear of, like, 'oh, God — this is just to get people to run to Target to get these for their kids, and they're going to be a distraction'."
Ultimately, whether they're a movie mainstay or they barely make a cameo, the Porgs have already managed to score their 15 minutes of fame.
"My guess is they probably don't have much to do with the plot of the movie, but they're adorable enough that I'm not that shocked that everyone wants to talk about them," Stefansky says.
And don't be surprised if, like the Ewoks, these latest Star Wars critters eventually get their own spinoff.
"I wonder if they're going to make like a little animated TV show," Stefansky muses. "Maybe a Christmas special would be fun. They've done Star Wars Christmas specials in the past. I like that better than Minions, honestly."
To hear the full interview with writer Emma Stefansky, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.