Ewoks speak a combination of Tibetan and Nepalese.
Star Wars fans have had a love/hate relationship with the Ewoks for a very long time now. Some fans are angry that we didn’t get Wookiees like Chewbacca instead of these cute little creatures (something George Lucas had originally planned on), but others fell in love with these fuzzy little bears and their jibbering language. However, just as that was “no moon” in A New Hope, that’s not gibberish in Return of the Jedi: according to Mashable, the Ewoks onscreen are speaking “a combination of Tibetan and Nepalese.”
That may sound crazy, but it’s true, and at least some Star Wars fans have known this since the movie came out. Back in 1983, Tibetans reviewed the movie and were able to identify certain Tibetan phrases (albeit highly sped-up ones) that the cute critters were using. Most of the phrases are basic things like “hurry, let’s move,” but there are some occasional confusing bits (like one repeated phrase that translates to “there is lots of money here”).
At the time, the Tibetan film critics who reviewed the movie thought the weird phrases about money might indicate that Lucas was using some sound clips that his buddy Steven Spielberg recorded in Kathmandu while shooting the first Indiana Jones film. That sourcing has never been confirmed, though. And it’s entirely possible Lucas was making a self-referential joke to the Ewoks selling many toys once Star Wars-loving kids fell in love with them.
If you ever doubt what a merchandising juggernaut the Ewoks alone became for the Star Wars franchise, here’s a sobering fact: the word “Ewok” is never spoken or seen in Return of the Jedi. We literally only know what they are called because of all the merchandise that has been sold over the years. At the very least, it seems George Lucas personally named these creatures: some characters were only given names by the toy manufacturer Kenner, who often turned jokes into names (the bounty hunter droid 4-LOM, for instance…his name was an acronym of “4 the Love Of Money”).
Of course, Ewoks speaking human languages and never having their name used onscreen in Return of the Jedi isn’t the only surprising thing about these Star Wars characters. For example, franchise guru George Lucas hated America intervening in Vietnam, so he wrote the Ewoks to symbolically portray the Viet Cong. And yes, that does mean that the powerful technological Empire that they help fight off symbolically represents America.
For the moment, at least, it seems like the Ewoks are no longer much of a going concern for Disney in its creation of new Star Wars content. In the years following the release of Return of the Jedi, there was plenty of Ewok-specific content, including two made-for-TV live-action movies (Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor) and an animated series (simply called Ewoks), all of which you can currently stream on Disney+. If these guys ever do come back, you better prepare your wallet because we have a feeling Disney will merchandise these little dudes harder than George Lucas ever did (and that, my friends, is saying a lot).