In Return of the Jedi our heroes land on the Forest Moon of Endor in a valiant attempt to destroy the Second Death Star's shield generator. After being quickly discovered by the Imperial Scouts, Luke Skywalker and his hero partners find themselves ensnared in a baited trap. The hunters, the Ewoks, quickly arrive to claim their dinner. The situation seems dire until the droid, C-3P0 sits up and reveals his presence to the Ewoks. Amazed and surprised at the appearance of Threepio, the Ewoks drop their weapons and begin worshipping him.
What was it about C-3P0 that made the Ewoks believe he was divine? Why did the Ewoks not think the same thing of the strange humanoids they also captured?
The answers to the questions above are complex, yet simple to understand. Let's begin with the second question. Why did the Ewoks not view the mysterious humans as living gods? The Ewoks had already seen humanoids on their planet in the presence of the Empire. Their perceptions of humans were already shaped and, through the Empire, the Ewoks discovered humans to be ruthless conquerors with little regard for the lives of other creatures. Although Luke Skywalker and Han Solo brought no threat against the Ewoks, our heroes were viewed in the only light they knew of humans, evil and destructive.
But what about C-3P0? Why did the Ewoks suddenly believe this man-made, nervous and bumbling droid was a divine presence? It all comes down to his shiny, golden color.
The Ewoks are simple, yet intelligent sentient beings that live on Endor. They typically live in tribes near lakes or in trees, but are also known to live in cliff villages. The Ewoks are deeply spiritual, believing in the sacredness of Endor's trees. In fact, when a Ewok is born, a new tree is planted to serve as a "soul tree" or totem. When that Ewok dies, it is believed their soul will reside in their "soul tree." The Ewoks are also polytheistic, worshipping many gods that represent various parts of nature. One such god is the Golden One. According to Ewok prophecy, the Golden One would one day appear to them. When C-3P0 mysteriously rose from Endor's flora, the Ewoks believed they were in the presence of the Golden One.
Like the Ewoks, we often find that strength, mystery, and divinity have been linked to gold for thousands of years. What is it about gold that makes it such a powerful and universal symbol?
Gold is a rare element that has been revered for its beauty and value throughout most of human history. For centuries humans have associated gold with power. Our most influential and often wealthiest people flaunt their abundant access to the rare metal. Kings and Queens throughout time have adorned themselves with golden crowns, jewelry and other regalia. Until the 20th Century, many of the world's civilizations used gold for currency due to its rarity and ease in smelting and recognition. Gold is also used in medals, trophies and other awards to represent significant accomplishment. Terms like "golden age" are often used to refer to times of great prosperity or, again, significant achievement in culture or innovation. Wedding rings have been made of gold for centuries as a symbol of longevity and perfection of marriage.
Gold is also often symbolically associated with divinity because it embodies beauty, rarity, malleability, purity, and indestructability. It stands alone in most of these qualities, further enhancing its association with divinity. Many cultures have and continue to offer gifts of gold in honor of their gods. The legend of "El Dorado" tells of a Muisca chief who covered himself with gold dust and dove into Guatavita Lake (part of an initiation ceremony seeking blessing from the gods). The term El Dorado means “gilded one,” an obvious reference to the chief in the story. Accounts also say the chief would ride a raft across the lake and drop golden offerings to their gods.
In Hinduism, gold is the symbol of the Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth, prosperity, fortune and beauty. Lakshmi is also believed to bring good luck to practitioners. Because money is linked to the incarnation of Lakshmi, it is thought to be disrespectful when someone's foot or leg touches money. Should this happen, a practitioner will apologize with a hand gesture by first touching the money and then touching their chest or forehead.
Gold is also thought to be a device that can be used to communicate with divine beings. Across human history there are examples where temples and religious artifacts were adorned using gold, empowering priests with the ability to communicate with the gods. Gold was used as a beacon between our world and the place of the gods.
Perhaps the most well-known religious communicator was the Ark of the Covenant, where God commanded Moses to place the Ten Commandments. Not surprisingly, the Ark's Mercy Seat or cover was made entirely of gold. Two verses from the Old Testament reveal how the Ark was used as a means of receiving God's commandments:
"Thence will I issue my commands; from that throne of mercy, between the two cherubs that stand over the ark and its records, my voice shall come to thee, whenever I send word through thee to the sons of Israel.
"Whenever Moses went into the tabernacle that attested God’s covenant, to consult the oracle there, he heard a voice speaking to him from the shrine between the two cherubs, standing above the ark; there it was that God spoke to him."
The most obvious connection is Threepio's golden color. Recall that the Ewoks worshipped a god known as the Golden One. When C-3P0 appeared before them, the Ewoks reacted by worshipping the unfamiliar, but expected site of what they believed to be the incarnation of the "Golden One."
Lastly, it is important to remember that C-3P0's primary function is to assist sentient relations through knowledge of protocol and etiquette. This means he provides guidelines that aid sentient beings in getting along, much like the gods of many cultures provide laws for humanity. C-3P0 also serves as a translation or communication droid. His golden color, it could be argued, is a reference to his ability to universally communicate with or command an endless number of beings, much like a god.
Believing C-3P0 is a god, the Ewoks immediately begin worshipping him
C-3P0 realizes the Ewoks believe he's a god
C-3P0 discovers he is to be honored with a feast... of his friends
The following activity can serve as an introduction to religious symbols and artifacts. Students should be able to discuss why certain materials and objects are associated with divinity.
Important terms to ensure students know before watching the film clip:
Next, show your students the "Golden God" scene from Return of the Jedi. This scene is number 24 ("An Ewok Trap") on the DVD's or approximately at 1:08:30 into the film. The clip should be stopped at 1:15:50.
After watching the clip, have your students discuss or write down why they believe the Ewoks thought C-3P0 was a deity. As students share their thoughts, supplement their ideas with information about the symbolism of gold (see above). It may also be beneficial to have students write down well known artifacts (both religious and secular) they are familiar with and why they are so important. Students could also include the materials of which these objects are made and why the material may be significant.
First posted on: April 6, 2014 by Wes Dodgens