I met Kevin and Tracey Thompson on the elevator at a hotel near Star Wars Celebration. I asked them how their weekend was going and if they had made it down to the convention, and Kevin told me that he didn't just enjoy Star Wars—he had been a part of it too. Namely, he had played an Ewok in Return of the Jedi and in the two Ewok movies. I mentioned that I was a reporter, and it was kismet. A chat, a text, and we had scheduled a short interview between Kevin's busy signing and photo opp schedule.
As an actor, Kevin often gets to regale friends, family, and acquaintances with stories of his many exciting jobs, but it's always Return of the Jedi that catches people's attention—even seasoned Hollywood people. Now, as parents, Tracy and Kevin have decided to get all those stories down as a legacy to share with their son. This legacy took the form of a book titled My Journey to Endor: A True Story by Kevin Thompson About My Journey Making the Star Wars Saga "Return of the Jedi."
Kevin gave writing the book a go, but it turns out that while he can tell a story, he can't quite write one. He then turned to his wife Tracey who is a writer (she is credited as the writer of the book under the name Tracey McCoy Thompson), and she quickly got to work, reading through Kevin's notes and asking questions to draw out more details, 'What did it feel like?', 'What did it smell like?', 'What did it taste like?' They had many of these conversations, and those conversations birthed a book about Kevin's experiences filming Star Wars.
Kevin was a fan of Star Wars before becoming a part of it, though he didn't originally want to wait in line to see the film. His friends did though, so he duly lined up with them. But, as he says, "as soon as the lasers came flying out—the credits start rolling—I was like, Holy Moly! What is this movie?" He instantly became a fan. But the road to becoming part of Star Wars wasn't a clear one. His audition and even the job offer had no mention of Star Wars, though, in his book he reveals that in his gut, he felt like this was going to be the movie that was, at the time, titled Revenge of the Jedi. In fact, it wasn't until his first day on set that it was confirmed that he was going to be in a Star Wars movie.
Kevin was only 22 years old. It was his first time away from home, and he was suddenly in the middle of this huge universe. Most of the Ewok stuntmen knew each other, as they were mostly Los Angeles based and knew each other from the organization Little People of America, which helps little people with medical needs, scholarships, socialization, and access issues.
Kevin was ahead of the pack on the stunts side; in high school and college, he had been a gymnast, a wrestler, and an athlete alongside acting. He shares, "I was able to do a lot of the things the other guys were just learning to do." Which was important, as maneuvering in the Ewok suit (two inches of foam rubber covered in fur) was difficult. It was hard to see through the fogged-up plastic eyes, and it was hot—reaching 120 degrees at times, while running around in a forest with explosions happening all around them.
Though Kevin went on to play an Ewok two more times in each of the Ewok movies, those movies were met with disappointment from audiences who were expecting "Empire Strikes Back with Ewoks" instead of films aimed at children. Kevin enjoyed the experience though, because he was able to play a tough Ewok, which he had always wanted to do.
After all of the excitement around the original films calmed down, Thompson shares that the Star Wars fandom "was dead." Kevin Thompson credits people like Albin Johnson, who founded the 501st Legion, as well as other fan groups for maintaining the interest in Star Wars. "They really kept the whole things alive." Tracey has been excited to see female powered fan groups who are inspired by characters like Rey and Princess Leia who are strong, but still have heart. As for how they feel about conventions, Kevin and Tracey share a story about a fan whose Celebration this year was their first convention. They mention the look on this fan's face, as they took in all the excitement. "It becomes home," Kevin sums up.
One issue that remains important to Kevin and Tracey Thompson is the representation of Little People in the television industry. Kevin argues that if he were starting out today, he wouldn't have much of a shot at a career. The roles that he used to play have been taken over by CGI and puppetry. The Thompson's book singles out the Lord of the Rings series as a key example of roles that should have gone to Little People being handed to non-Little People actors, who are then digitally altered.
Kevin argues that it isn't necessarily that Little People didn't want to play elves, "An Elf job pays the bills. What we wanted to do was— We can sell cars. We can buy cars. We have careers. We are lawyers, doctors, fathers, sons. When was the last time you saw a Little Person as a father on TV? When was the last time you saw a Little Person as a son on TV? Or a daughter?"
There are everyday experiences that Little People have to overcome that are interesting and worth sharing, including dealing with accommodations in restrooms (where most sinks are placed above their heads). "But writers aren't thinking about that," Kevin shares. It isn't about writing sob stories, but about showing the richness and diversity of other peoples' experiences. And of course, it is also about showing underrepresented people getting to be heroes too. "I'm waiting for the tough Little Person part— who gets to save the day."
Kevin and Tracey's book My Journey to Endor A True Story by Kevin thompson About My Journey Making the Star Wars Saga "Return of the Jedi" is now available on Amazon.
To read more of Popverse's coverage of this year's Star Wars Celebration, check out our roundup page here.