In 1983, George Lucas’ third Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, first hit screens, and introduced audiences to a beloved new character: Wicket the Ewok, played by the then-unknown Warwick Davis. Initially given a small part in what was his first ever movie, the budding young actor ultimately rose to playing a featured role in the classic sci-fi sequel – and all while still a pre-teen.
11 years old when he was cast as a background Ewok in Return of the Jedi, Warwick Davis was just 12 when he was promoted to playing lead Ewok character Wicket. Taking over the role from Kenny Baker after the R2-D2 actor fell ill, Wicket W Warrick would mark the beginning of what would prove a decades-long relationship with Star Wars for Davis.
Born in Surrey, England on February 3, 1970 to parents of conventional height, Warwick Davis arrived in the world with a condition that would mark him out for unconventional roles his entire life. Born with dwarfism as the result of a rare bone disorder, spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, Davis would never grow taller than 3’6″.
Davis has remarked that after his birth, his parents “were treated terribly by the medical profession. They were told I wasn’t going to live long and that I’d be dead before I was a teenager. But they said: ‘No, whatever you think, Warwick is going to rewrite the rules here.'” Throughout his childhood, Davis did not let his condition get him down: “I wasn’t bullied at school because my outward attitude was confident, and that helps… I never was shy.”
Like most kids of the era, Davis became a great fan of the Star Wars movies, so when the chance arose to appear in the series himself, the youngster was naturally overjoyed. However, rather than getting word of the audition through a manager or talent agent, Davis – who at this point had no experience of show business – was told about the opportunity by his grandmother.
Davis told The Mirror in 2015, “It boils down to one specific moment when [my grandmother] was in her kitchen listening to the radio and Lucasfilm put out an announcement saying they were looking for short people to feature in Star Wars. That really was the point that launched me into that film and launched my career and I thank her dearly for it.”
The third Star Wars movie, initially entitled Revenge of the Jedi, introduced the species of furry, forest-dwelling creatures called the Ewoks. Davis was one among many dwarf performers cast in the film, and originally he was to simply be an extra, with the key Ewok role of Wicket set to be played by R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker.
Young Davis’ exuberance, however, got him noticed by the cast and crew, and served him well when a bigger role suddenly became available.
As Baker (who died in 2016) recalled in a 2000 interview, “I was ill on the day they filmed the scene in the woods were Leia meets Wicket for the first time. They used Warwick Davis instead and the whole character seemed to come alive more with him in it, so George [Lucas] stuck with that. That was great for Warwick and I was very pleased for him as well. He got what turned out to be a big break.” (Baker would ultimately play another Ewok, Paploo.)
Principal photography on the third Star Wars movie commenced at Elstree Studios in London, England on January 11, 1982, just a few weeks before Warwick Davis enjoyed his 12th birthday. Naturally, the young Star Wars fan was somewhat starstruck on set, particularly on meeting Mark Hamill: “He was my hero… I mean, I was hanging out with Luke Skywalker.”
As if his company wasn’t enough of a birthday gift, Hamill had more to give the young Davis. “I remember Mark asked me if I collected Star Wars figures and I said: ‘Yeah I love them.’ He said: ‘Well, write down anything you haven’t got yet.’ So I wrote this huge list on two A4 sheets of paper. His eyebrows probably went up when he saw it. But he came back with a box of the stuff, including the Millennium Falcon, which seemed so big I could almost get in it. I still have it all. It means the world to me.”
Still a keen Star Wars collector even after becoming part of the franchise, Davis wrote to George Lucas shortly after the release of Return of the Jedi to request the latest tie-in toys from the film.
Davis proved so beloved by the Return of the Jedi cast and crew that he became the focal point of comedic short film Return of the Ewok, a spoof documentary charting the young actor’s behind the scenes experience. (Though never given an official release, bootleg copies of this short can be found, including on YouTube.) Davis’ character was even given the official full name of Wicket W Warrick in the actor’s honour.
Davis later reprised his role of Wicket in two TV movies, 1984’s Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and 1985’s Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. Afterwards, Davis appeared as a Goblin in the George Lucas-produced 1986 fantasy Labyrinth, before Lucas cast him in the title role of 1988’s Willow. Despite portraying a married father of the two in the Ron Howard-directed fantasy, Davis was only 17 when Willow was shot.
On the set of Willow, Davis met Samantha Burroughs, who appeared as an extra in the Nelwyn village scenes. The couple were married in 1991 and have two children, Annabelle and Harrison.
Today, on top of his acting career, Davis runs Willow Management, a talent agency specifically catering to shorter actors. He has also enjoyed success as a TV personality, hosting gameshow Tenable. Still, Davis remains best known for the host of roles he’s played in Star Wars movies through the years.
Davis is one of only six actors to feature in all three Star Wars trilogies (the others being James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Ian McDiarmid and Frank Oz). 1999’s The Phantom Menace features Davis in the roles of Weazel and Wald, as well as an on-set double for the CGI Yoda; later, he played small roles in The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, Solo and The Rise of Skywalker.
Davis was joined in the more recent Star Wars movies by his daughter Annabelle Davis, who has followed her father into acting. She took a number of creature roles in the later Star Wars films, and also portrayed his on-screen daughter Mims in the 2022 Willow series.