For many Star Wars fans, the nadir of the space saga was 1978’s Star Wars Holiday Special. For others, the moment of high embarrassment came during Halloween 2009, when a decorating segment for NBC’s Today show was taken over by a tiny band of hostile and possibly inebriated Ewoks. The footage has since been circulated online, often under the heading of “drunk Ewoks.“
According to Today segment producer Amanda Kinsey, that’s not accurate. “They were not drunk,” she tells Mental Floss. “I know that’s what went viral.” Kinsey believes that may have been said in jest on set and eventually made its way into media. But there was still a production hiccup—one that led to Al Roker getting his leg humped on live television.
The encounter, which aired on October 30, 2009, was part of Star Wars-themed episode of Today planned in conjunction with Lucasfilm. (The company loaned out an X-wing as well as authentic props like blasters and lightsabers.) In the segment, which was uploaded for posterity to YouTube (above), show co-hosts Al Roker, Ann Curry, and Natalie Morales attempt to lead lifestyle expert Evette Rios through various decorating ideas for Halloween: Roker is dressed as Han Solo, Curry as Darth Vader, and Morales as Queen Amidala. Accompanying them are two unidentified performers dressed as Ewoks, the teddy bear-like species from the planet Endor that wage guerrilla warfare against the Empire in 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
Things quickly go awry. As Rios demonstrates some easy decorating tips, one of the Ewoks scribbles over a printed image of Yoda before aggressively throwing the marker away. Nearby, a second Ewok mimes drinking a martini. Not long after, one hurls a hot dog wrapped in a crescent roll at Rios.
When one Ewok attempts to steal another sip of the vodka cocktail, Curry takes the glass away—at which point the Ewok begins moonwalking before suddenly dry-humping Roker’s leg. (Roker did not respond to a request for comment.) The segment closes with the most brazen Ewok simulating coitus on the ground.
“Al Roker Humped by Drunk Moonwalking Ewok,” read the headline of a Vulture piece; “‘Drunk’ Ewoks Disrupt NBC’s Today Show,” announced The Hollywood Reporter. The word Ewoking, used to describe a person dressed as an Ewok while sliding backward, entered the Urban Dictionary a few days later.
“There was talk dripping down into the control room that they may have had a couple of adult beverages that morning,” Jim Bell, an executive producer for Today from 2005 to 2012, tells Mental Floss. “We’re looking at live television. It’s four hours. Things can happen. They certainly happened there. Every now and again a segment will come off the rails. I think that one started to.”
According to Kinsey, however, the performers—who were hired by Lucasfilm—weren’t actually sloshed. One of the actors had been a late replacement. “One that was sort of the leader, I remember, was not somebody Lucasfilm had worked with before,” she says. “The person they usually worked with was unavailable. He kind of got carried away in the live television moment of it.”
Bell agrees the performers seized the opportunity to make the most of their screen time. “From the Ewok perspective, which is a perspective I always try to keep in mind, it’s like: What can I get away with now?” he says. “The Ewoks were exploring their boundaries. Thankfully the segment came to its natural conclusion before it got too hot.”
Despite the Ewoks’ decision to go wildly off-script, Bell says there was no real consideration given to cutting away. “You have a moment where you’re laughing and going, wait a minute, while watching this. We may need to get some guard rails here. What’s happening? But it was over with pretty quickly. I think it stayed kind of in the PG range.
“We probably thought, OK, it’s fine, they’re just dancing around,” Bell continued. “They’re not wearing microphones, so we weren’t concerned about anything being said. They were just going to do Ewok dances. And really, Ewoks are celebratory creatures.”
They certainly are. According to author J.W. Rinzler’s 2013 book, The Making of Return of the Jedi, crew members on the movie always knocked before entering the Ewok dressing room, as the actors “might be going at it like jackrabbits.”
It’s never been made clear who the performers on Today were or if there were any repercussions for their commandeering of the segment, but the entire sordid scene is worth a seasonal view. In terms of salacious Star Wars mishaps, it ranks up there with the obscene Topps C-3PO trading card that seemingly depicts robot genitalia.
For his part, Bell was impressed with the moonwalk, though he has one reservation: “Not to infringe on the prowess of the Ewok, but I think the [slippery] leaves helped.”