StarWars.com talks to David Mizejewski, creator of the infamous Ewok Villiage action figure diorama.
Love them or hate them, Ewoks are part of the Star Wars universe. The teddy bear-esque creatures were introduced in Return of the Jedi and proved themselves to be determined fighters. Once you get past the fact that they tried to roast our heroes over an open fire, you might gain some measure of respect for them. Maybe.
If you can't bring yourself to embrace and cherish Ewoks, don't worry. David Mizejewski may have enough enthusiasm for all of us. The naturalist and spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation rediscovered his passion for collecting and for Ewoks and built an incredibly detailed diorama so his Ewok figures are permanently on display in a habitat that resembles their home on the forest moon of Endor. After seeing his article about the diorama on Boing Boing, I talked with Mizejewski about his fandom and how he assembled his Ewok masterpiece.
StarWars.com: What is your first memory of Star Wars?
David Mizejewski: My first memory of Star Wars is one of my first memories, period. I was three years old when A New Hope came out, and my parents took us to a drive-in to see it. I have very clear snippets of memory of that, particularly the lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. The Empire Strikes Back was the first movie that my mother let me go to with my big sister, without parents present, and Return of the Jedi was the first movie I got to go to all by myself with my friends. Seeing each of the films in the original trilogy represent different milestones of growing up for me.
StarWars.com: When you saw Return of the Jedi, what was your reaction to the Ewoks?
David Mizejewski: I've always loved the Ewoks. George Lucas gets a lot of grief about including such cute characters in Return of the Jedi, but to a nine year old kid who loved animals and loved playing in the woods, the Ewoks were totally awesome. I wanted to live in their forest village. There's is an underdog story – simple primitives help take down a far more advanced adversary – and there's a universal appeal to that kind of story.
StarWars.com: What got you back into collecting as an adult and how did you end up focusing on Ewoks?
David Mizejewski: A couple of years ago I was getting something from my parents' attic and decided to take a trip down memory lane and dig through boxes of my old toys. Like many children of the '80s I was way into Star Wars, He-Man, Transformers, ElfQuest, Dungeons and Dragons, and ThunderCats and had quite the collection of toys, comics and other merch. I'd boxed them up when I was in college in the '90s and hadn't looked at them since. As I was going through the boxes and feeling nostalgic, I thought it would fun to bring back some of my favorite action figures to create a "geeky-chic" look on the shelves above my desk. So I grabbed my original Chief Chirpa, Logray, Teebo and Wicket figures, along with Yoda, Chewbacca and a wampa, and stuck them on the shelf.
That was it at first, but I knew that there were more Ewok figures that had been put out over the years, so out of curiosity, I Googled "Ewok action figures" and found an image on RebelScum and my jaw dropped. I immediately went on eBay and then it was all over. I was hooked back into collecting Star Wars action figures as a 38 year old man and shamelessly loving every minute of it.
StarWars.com: Approximately how many Ewok figures do you own?
David Mizejewski: I currently have 46 Ewok figures in the display. I've got multiples of some figures, so I mixed and matched hoods and weapons to create unique characters so that I didn't have duplicates. I just picked up sixteen assorted Chirpa, Logray and Teebo figures, with one Wicket thrown in, for a steal on eBay. My latest project is to teach myself how to make custom figures by painting and creating new hoods for them so I can add them into my village display.
I also have various Ewok LEGO minifigs, statues, prints and plushes, and I'm equally obsessed with Wookiees (there's just something about the furry forest warrior type) and have been building up my action figure collection of them too. I've been thinking about doing doing a Kashyyyk display next.
StarWars.com: How big is your Ewok Village now and which playsets does it include?
David Mizejewski: My Ewok Village display that went viral last year was actually the first version and was disassembled when I bought a house and moved. That original display lived on my dresser in my old apartment and I used one Ewok Village playset (my original one that I got for Christmas in fourth grade) plus natural materials I collected and stuff from the craft store.
In my new house I have a lot more space than in my apartment. I was able to pick up three more village playsets on eBay to put into my second village display, making it much bigger than the original one. The room where it set it up gets a lot of natural light, which means I've been able to incorporate a lot of live plants into the display (I'm a gardener too, so this makes me extra psyched for this new display).
StarWars.com: What materials went into building the diorama and how long did it take?
David Mizejewski: I used a mix of action figures and playsets, materials from the craft store, and natural materials that I collected. I started by doing a custom paint job on the playsets to add depth and texture to make them look more realistic to match the real wood in the display. I also removed the plastic railings from the playsets and made new ones using small pieces of wooden kitchen skewers and twine, which added another layer of realism.
Then I placed the backdrop. For the first version it was a large canvas mural of a forest that I got from IKEA. For the current version, I used large posters of the redwood forests where the Endor scenes of Return of the Jedi were filmed, which I mounted on foam core and placed on the back edge of the table where the display lives.
Then, I created the topography by using rectangular pieces of florist foam that I cut into different sizes and shapes which I covered with sheets of adhesive moss from the craft store. I cut holes in the foam and inserted branches to serve as tree trunks. For some of the branches, instead of putting them into holes in the foam, I pushed a kitchen skewer into the bottom of the wood and then stuck it into the foam, which anchored it.
At that point I positioned the playsets. I really wanted to create a sense of height and depth, so I placed the villages at various heights and put some in the background and some in the foreground. At that point, the hardscape was completed and I focused on the detail work of decorating it. I used dried mosses, lichens, rocks, crystals, woven baskets, pieces tree bark, dried flowers, seed pods and other natural materials to create the forest-scape. I also used battery-powered tea lights to serve as campfires and wove sets of filament lights throughout the display to look like fireflies (or Wisties!).
The last and most fun part was putting the Ewoks into the display. I tried to create little vignettes, like Chief Chirpa teaching Kneesaa the ways of leadership, Teebo and Wicket on guard duty, Romba playing with little Nippet, or Chubbray and Stemzee manning the catapult. My favorite is a group of Ewok warriors lead by Tippet about to stab a scout trooper through the neck (dinner is served). I attached Ewok gliders to tall, very thin branches stuck into the foam base that blended into the background to create the illusion of them flying through the forest.
All in all, it took many hours over the course of a few weeks to finish each display. I couldn't tell you exactly how many hours – which is the surest sign to me that it was time well-spent.
I don't know about you, but I think this creation is worthy of a Return of the Jedi level celebration. David deserves a resounding chorus of yubnub.
Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with all things Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek and keep up with all things geeky at her blog.