During its infancy, Star Wars consisted of two fantastic films that were chock full of fun space opera tropes: galaxy-spanning empires, laser swords, space battles and countless aliens, to name a few. Return of the Jedi was expected to continue the tradition, but it let many of us down when we learned that the final entry of the series revolved around the Empire's threat to a planet of... warrior teddy bears.
Some folks were fine with the Ewoks, but the majority of fans now scorn George Lucas for giving us 'teddy bears' when we could have had so much more- they were Wookies in the original draft. Wookies were already familiar with the audience. Why bother compromising that, even if the Wookies are more 'advanced'? While RotJ still had plenty of fantastic scenes, the presence of the Ewoks gave us a weaker ending after two films' worth of buildup and spectacle on a completely different scale.
RotJ wasn't completely ruined, but the Ewoks surely helped solidify Empire Strikes Back as the fan-favorite of the original trilogy. Sure, the Ewoks had murder in their hearts as evidenced during the final act of RotJ, which tries to paint them as more than just adorable furries. But a lot of their scenes were cute and comical and seemed to serve a darker purpose- namely, to sell plush toys to small children.
Fast-forward sixteen years to the release of The Phantom Menace. It instantly became clear that we wouldn't have to wait two movies before Lucasfilm attempted a spiritual successor to the Ewoks. Enter the Gungans, a bipedal amphibious race led by a slobbering king. I don't really have anything good to say about Gungans, as they spawned Jar Jar Binks. While the issues of the prequel trilogy are a long-dead, over-kicked horse, I am not alone in thinking that Jar Jar's presence almost single-handedly dashed the salivating expectations of lifelong Star Wars fans.
At best, Jar Jar was clumsy, loud and obnoxious. At the very worst, people found him to be an offensive racial caricature, a sentiment that hasn't changed. Additionally, the Gungans themselves were more of the same, in a different, less adorable wrapper. They were worse than Ewoks. They did not spawn many toys and they were far from cute. And when was the last time you saw Gungan cosplay?
Jar Jar made only the smallest cameo in Attack of the Clones, and was non-existent by Revenge of the Sith. It's almost as though the filmmakers knew it was a bad idea to have a poorly-received character do things such as win over a major plot-point battle with slapstick humor.
Given the track record with the original films and prequels, I personally don't believe that the people in charge of the new trilogy would dare to include gimmicky characters and ridiculous humor to pull in children's tickets and toy sales. Thanks to the widespread use of the internet and social media that wasn't fully present for the prequels, we can at least count on fans to watch Episode VII's production like so many hawks, and bitch accordingly. Hopefully that pays off somehow.
What do you think? Have the filmmakers and studio executives learned from the franchise's past mistakes, or do you expect they'll give us yet another gimmick character or characters to trash for the next twenty years?