When we talk about the decline of the Star Wars universe, the conversation always starts out with a thorough bashing of the Prequels. The plots are uninspired, the dialogue is terrible, the actors are wooden and the movies seem to be made for children, we argue. What happened to the visionary writer and filmmaker who had so entertained us with the original trilogy? What probably bothered us the most about the Prequels was how high we had set the bar for them before their release. It's difficult to blame the fans for expecting more than what they got. Sixteen years is a long time to wait for the next film in a series and there were never any warning signs that Lucas could possibly disappoint audiences when he returned to his creation. Maybe we just weren't looking hard enough.
In 1984 and 1985, Lucas released two made-for-TV movies that featured his most controversial creation at that point; the Ewoks. On November 25th, 1984, American television audiences once again journeyed to a galaxy far, far away to experience The Ewok Adventure. The film was later released overseas in theaters as Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, 1984 was the day when we were told everything we needed to know about life after Return of the Jedi. The Ewok Adventure and its sequel Ewoks: The Battle For Endor are both available to watch on YouTube. Both films were packaged together and released on DVD ten years ago, but, unless you are a rabid Star Wars collector, I would highly recommend you not spend your money on these films. I would also highly recommend that you not watch them on YouTube because they are terrible. I watched The Ewok Adventure and could go no farther.
The Ewok Adventure
The first film tells the story of the Towani family, whose star-cruiser crash lands on the forest moon of Endor. Jeremitt, the father, and Catarine, the mother, are separated from their two children, Mace and Cindel.
Mace is the rootinest, tootinest, blaster shootinest, angry teenager in the entire Star Wars universe. His mood swings would give Anakin Skywalker a run for his money!
Cindel is his adorable five-year-old sister who he is responsible for. Mace and Cindel are rescued by a group of Ewoks from a nearby village including Wicket from Return of the Jedi. When the children learn that their parents have been captured by the evil Gorax, they join forces with a rag-tag band of brave Ewoks and set off to the rescue. Along the way, they are faced with countless perils, but their caravan of courage is able to complete the journey to the monster's desert lair. Once there, all the skills of the group are tested, but, in the end, the Gorax is defeated and Jeremitt and Catarine are set free. The Towani family lives happily ever after, at least until the beginning of the sequel.
This scene from the film nicely illustrates two of the things that are wrong with the movie, specifically terrible writing and acting. Eric Walker, who plays Mace, is given awful dialogue and he proceeds to do nothing with it. Let me set up the scene for you. Mace and the other Ewoks are traveling through the forest when Chukha-Trok, another Ewok, chops down a tree that lands about 10 meters in front of Mace. Mace freaks out on the Ewok because that's what his character does. When he finds out Chukha-Trok is supposed to join them, Mace is mad. When Chukha-Trok initially refuses, Mace is mad. Walker lets you know he is supposed to be angry by yelling all of his lines. When Chukha-Trok throws his axe into a tree, Mace is so amazed that he says "Boy, I've never seen anything like that before!" even though he had just performed the exact same feat with his own axe.
This might be a good time to stop and talk about the effects in this movie. Take a good look at that creature in the picture. It is terrible and looks even worse in the film. The effects for both movies were done by Industrial Light and Magic, but because of budget constraints they had to use stop motion for creatures like this. That's not the only part of the film where the effects are clearly sub par for a Lucas production. Other than Wicket, most of the Ewoks look like actors wearing costumes. The faces aren't really that well made so they don't have much expression. Even the main villain, the Gorax, while an excellently designed creature, fails in the execution. The lower jaw doesn't move right and there are slight gaps around the eyes in the mask. Knowing how Lucas feels about effects, the quality in these two movies must still haunt him.
The Good Stuff
As I mentioned above, the design concept of the Gorax is really good. The creature is basically a 30 meter tall troll that lives in caves on the forest moon. The existence of a creature like this makes more sense on Endor than the Ewoks do.
The performance by Warwick Davis as Wicket was just as good here as it was in Return of the Jedi. He was one of the few Ewoks that seemed to put any effort into making yub yub noises. I also can't take anything away from Aubree Miller who played Cindel because she was five years old and gave a better performance than Eric Walker who played Mace. Although they had very little screen time, Fionnula Flanagan and Guy Boyd were solid as Catarine and Jeremitt respectively.
The Worst Thing
The Ewok Adventure is supposed to be set in the Star Wars universe, but it seems to exist within a vacuum. The general consensus is that the events of this movie take place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Star Wars scholars will know that the Battle of Hoth which kicked off ESB occurred in the year 3 ABY (After the Battle of Yavin) and the Battle of Endor took place in the year 4 ABY. That means that the second Death Star was being constructed in orbit around the moon during the events of both Ewok movies. We have to guess this because there is no indication in the movies, not even a casual reference to the Empire. Surely a teenage boy like Mace would wonder about the Rebellion, similar to Luke in ANH.
There are many other indications that the writer of the movie had never seen Return of the Jedi or just didn't care. For instance, when Han, Leia, Chewie and Luke sneak onto the planet in ROTJ, the Empire is blockading the moon. How did the Towani's manage to get anywhere near Endor without TIE fighters turning them into space dust? And what were they even doing way out in the Outer Rims? I have a theory that might salvage a tiny bit of the movie.
We are told in ROTJ that Rebel spies have located the second Death Star. These spies tell the Rebels about the shield generator, the status of the Death Star and the Emperor being there. What if Jeremitt and Catarine Towani were the Rebel spies? They were snooping around in their star cruiser when a squadron of TIE fighters discovered them. Their ship was no match for the best the Empire had and the result was them crash landing on the moon. Obviously, none of this is true, but it does make me feel a little better about wasting an hour and a half watching this horrible movie.