CALGARY, Alberta -- Filmmaker George Lucas Thursday denied stealing the idea for the endearing Ewoks characters in his 'Star Wars' movies, and derided a Canadian scriptwriter's $128 million lawsuit as 'the price of success.'
Lucas took the witness stand in the trial in Canadian Federal Court, defending himself against charges made by Calgary writer-producer Dean Preston.
Preston is suing Lucas, Lucas Films Ltd. and 20th Century Fox Canada Ltd. for general and punitive damages of $128 million, alleging copyright infringement and breach of implied contract.
Preston's suit alleges Lucas stole the concept and name for the characters called Ewoks -- bear-like, child-sized tree dwellers -- from a script called 'Space Pets' that Preston co-wrote and sent to Lucas in 1978.
Lucas testified before Justice Andrew MacKay that his Ewoks and Preston's creatures are similar 'only in a gross sense -- they have fur, and they walk on two feet' and both are 'an alien race that's primitive and lives in the forest.'
Lucas said his company has adopted strict policies forbidding him to open mail and instructing the staff to return unsolicited manuscripts to prevent just such lawsuits.
Outside the courtroom, Lucas said he never considered an out-of-court settlement and considers lawsuits such as Preston's an unavoidable aspect of show business.
'It's the price of success I guess,' Lucas said. 'Anytime you have a successful movie you have a lot of lawsuits.'
Lucas said he takes such legal challenges seriously. 'The legal process is a serious business. I can't take it lightly,' he said.
Under direct questioning by his lawyer, W. Graham Dutton, Lucas told the court he first devised the 'Star Wars' space adventure concept in the early 1970s, and realizing its magnitude, decided to make it a trilogy.
Lucas said he created his Wookie character -- a furry, hulking creature named Chewbacca -- in order to have a primitive character who could overcome a technologically superior race.
He said as the blockbuster movie series developed, he realized the Wookie character was becoming too advanced, and directed his designers to create a primitive forest-dwelling character.
Lucas testified that he came up with the word Ewok by playing with the word Wookie, and because the word was similar to Miwok, the name of an Indian tribe located in the area where the filmmaker was living at the time.
Under cross-examination by Preston's attorney, Webster MacDonald Sr., Lucas retracted his earlier testimony that he devised the name Wookie by playing with phonetics.
Lucas agreed with MacDonald that the name Wookie came from an off-handed comment made by San Francisco disc jockey Terry McGovern. Lucas then said the name Ewok was both a 'pig-Latin' version of Wookie and a derivative of the Indian tribe name.
Lucas also testified that the name R2D2, belonging to a robot in the 'Star Wars' films, came from his co-writer on the film 'American Graffiti.'
Lucas said the first mention of an Ewok is in a 1981 hand-written draft of 'Return of the Jedi,' where the Ewok is described as a 3-foot-tall, stubby ball of fuzz with large yellow eyes and a tail.
Preston claimed earlier in the week that the 'Space Pets' script included 'a full description of (the Ewoks') nature, characteristics, habitat, clothing, weapons, living arrangements and way of life in general.'
Preston said he developed the name Ewok while playing with phonetics and the phrase 'he walks.'
After his cross-examination, Lucas was dismissed and was not expected to testify further. The trial was expected to continue next week.
The Canadian case came to trial only a week after humorist Art Buchwald won a $5 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against Paramount Pictures in which he contended that the plot for the hit movie 'Coming to America' was based on his story concept.
A Los Angeles judge ordered Paramount to pay Buchwald and producer Alain Bernheim $265,000 plus 19 percent of the gross profits from the Eddie Murphy movie.