It wasn’t just “Grandma Vodka.” Burtt also took inspiration from Tibetan. And by inspiration, we mean it’s straight-up Tibetan. According to 1991 article in Culture, Burtt also recorded nine Tibetan immigrants. Here’s where things get a tad controversial. Contrary to his account, this report claims that it was the Tibetans who were first given the vodka. Not because they asked for it, but because their performances were deemed lackluster and the translator’s “secret to obtaining lively dialogue” was to ply them with hooch in order “to relax them.” Never a good sign when your production process mimics that of date rapists.
There are actually two instances of real Tibetan in Return Of The Jedi, seemingly taken directly from these recording sessions. One line of dialogue suggests that the Tibetan immigrants were impressed by the studio’s recording equipment, while the other implies they didn’t enjoy being recorded, seeing as an Ewok tells C-3PO “I am a silent person. You better leave me alone.”
Even the word “Ewok” itself is a loose appropriation of Native culture, created to rhyme with “Miwhok,” the tribe from the Northern California land where Lucas worked. And we know this because Lucas said so under oath. Why was he under oath? Well, in researching this history, we found another crazy detail: George Lucas was accused of stealing the Ewoks!
In 1990, Lucas had to journey to Calgary, Alberta (presumably by Tauntaun) to testify in a copyright infringement case against him. The suit was brought by Dean Preston, who claimed that the idea for the Ewoks came from a script treatment he wrote for a movie called Space Pets. (Maybe he should have waited a few years and sued the creators of Space Buddies instead.)
20th Century Fox