You may not pick up on it, but I sense a strong anti-Ewok sentiment in our culture, even to this day. It might seem like an insignificant hatred compared to that of Gungans and Prequels, but it exists. I think it’s mostly people who were in their teens or early twenties when RETURN OF THE JEDI came out, and had to prove they were big boys by rejecting what they thought the kids liked. To this day they call this proud people who helped defeat the Empire “teddy bears” and other slurs. The Ewoks were just product placement to sell dolls and they ruined Star Wars by being too furry and cute, they say bitterly, before clicking “favorite” on an adorable cat video.
As I’ve argued before, this viewpoint is ludicrous. The cuteness is a deliberate juxtaposition – they’re cuddly, but they try to roast Han on a spit, they bludgeon Stormtroopers to death with rocks and use their helmets as drums. Saying they shouldn’t be cute is like saying Rocket Raccoon shouldn’t be a dumb little raccoon, he should be a big muscular tiger man. It’s missing the point. Furthermore, it’s not the first time this trick was used in the Star Warses. The Jawas were cute little dudes who make adorable squeaky noises, but also they were sleazy Droid-poaching pricks. It’s a Star Wars thing.
So I am staunchly pro-Ewok, but I can’t really defend CARAVAN OF COURAGE (or THE EWOK ADVENTURE as I seem to remember it being called when it was a TV movie in November, 1984). Still, I thought it would be worth revisiting before Disney’s Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens rewrites history so that the war never ended, robbing the Ewoks of their signature victory.
This is a lower budget, lower excitement Star Wars spin-off with a story by George Lucas, teleplay by Bob Carrau (Ewoks cartoon, Alvin & the Chipmunks cartoon), directed by John Korty, who had done famous TV movies like GO ASK ALICE and WHO ARE THE DEBOLTS? [AND WHERE DID THEY GET 19 KIDS?], as well as the Lucas-produced animated feature TWICE UPON A TIME. I’m not sure if this is considered canon anymore because it doesn’t have R2-D2 and C3PO in it as official endorsers, and there is no opening crawl. Instead there’s narration by Burl Ives (WHITE DOG). It might actually be part of the Rankin-Bass Frostyverse.
The narrator’s actually a good idea. Since the Ewoks don’t speak English (or “Basic Space English,” as we hardcore Star Wars Trekkies know it’s officially called), he’s able to explain what they’re doing sometimes, and it kind of seems like some old Wonderful World of Disney documentary. The production designer is STAR WARS vet Joe Johnston, art director is Harley Jessup, who had done TWICE UPON A TIME and is now a Pixar guy. The music is not John Williams, but Peter Bernstein (SILENT RAGE, PUPPETMASTER VS. DEMONIC TOYS) does a decent job of following somewhat in the vein of his Ewok themes.
We see the familiar treehouse matte paintings of the Ewok Village, but they must’ve torn down the sets, because we mostly see the Ewoks in other huts built on the ground. According to Wikipedia this takes place between STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE, so I am surprised to learn that Princess Leia is not the first human that Wicket (Warwick Davis) hung out and ate snacks with. The adventure happens when a hang-gliding Ewok (Wicket’s dad I think?) finds two human kids who survived the crash of their family’s “star cruiser” and have been separated from their parents.
If you think any version of Anakin Skywalker was whiny just wait til you meet Mace (Eric Walker). This kid’s a total douchepod. He threatens the Ewoks and shoots at them with a laser gun blaster and still keeps pushing them around and yelling at them even after they provide shelter, food and medical care. The second his ailing sister Cindel (Aubree Miller) eats up all the naturopathic medicine he starts yelling at them for being out of it. Throw this brat to the Sarlaac. He’s worse than a damn Goonie.
The girl is not nearly as much of an asshole, and wears a cool headband like she could be the little sister in a BREAKIN’ movie, but she repeats that she’s sick and that she wants her mom so many times you start hoping for a coma. When Mace points at his mouth and asks the Ewoks “Food? Do you have food?” you hope the response in Ewokese translates to “Yes, yes we are going to eat you.” Actually, when they first found the kids they held up their spears and almost skewered them, which was not a bad instinct.
We learn a little bit about the Ewok culture. When they set out to find the kids’ parents, Logray gives them each a sacred totem representing different Ewok warrior traditions. Mace of course complains that his is “just a stupid rock.”
The highlights are the occasional matte paintings, puppet bits and Phil Tippet stop motion animation. Also the bad guy is a giant Orc type guy called the Gorax:
He’s pretty cool looking but all he does is keep the parents in a bird cage type thing in a mountain castle until the Ewoks come and fight him with axes. I don’t really know what his deal is. He’s just some kind of brainless fee-fi-fo-fum type of individual, I suppose.
Also on their way there they have to climb across a spider web and get attacked by very chintzy giant spiders, which was the inspiration for the Punky Brewster episode that one of the HOBBIT movies was adapted from.
Unfortunately because the budget is low, the forest moon of Endor has an awful lot of the same animals we see on boring old Earth: lamas, goats, a ferret, chickens, a rabbit. At least some of the ponies are miniature, so the Ewoks look cute on them. (Sorry, there are cute parts.)
The second Ewok TV movie was EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR, which aired a year later and is such an enormous improvement that I kinda liked it. I’m not saying it’s STAR WARS good, or that there is any sort of battle for Endor in it, but it has way more of the kind of stuff I want to see in a movie like this. More creatures and special effects, less regular humans, except for Wilford Brimley living in a Yoda type house. And way more stuff happens. It’s pretty cool.
This one was written and directed by Jim and Ken Wheat, the brothers who wrote THE SILENT SCREAM, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, THE FLY II and PITCH BLACK. They also wrote the unfinished 1987 version of APT PUPIL that was gonna star Ricky Schroder as the kid and Nicol Williamson as the Nazi. Actually, these Wheat brothers probly have not gotten enough credit over the years for an interesting body of work. Somebody should look into these guys.
Their installment seems to be trying a little more for a traditional fantasy type of feel. There’s an evil sorceress lady named Charal (Sian Phillips, CLASH OF THE TITANS, DUNE) who turns into a raven. That’s kinda strange to see in a star war. There’s a journey and a castle. They talk about magic power alot, but not The Force. I think the idea is that this is Endor and/or a moon of the planet Endor, and it is a primitive moon, so the shit that goes on here is less spacey and more hobbity. Or more Willowy. I definitely think Lucas was going through a hobbity phase and was trying to get that out in these movies but then he still had some left so he made WILLOW.
There’s one major thing I should warn you about though. It happens right at the beginning and it’s kind of a shock. Let me show you what I’m talking about:
Yeah, Wicket speaks some English now. He’s been hanging out with Cindel for a year, so it rubbed off on him. And maybe Burl Ives wasn’t available.
Also, Cindel’s whole family who she rescued in the last one get murdered right at the beginning like it’s ALIEN 3 and then she and the Ewoks get abducted and taken away in a cage. But #1 I was really happy to be rid of that horrible brother, and #2 you’re still reeling from Wicket speaking English, you’re not gonna be upset about people getting shot to death and stuff.
I mean, this adds further confusion. If this is before RETURN OF THE then why didn’t Wicket use any English with Leia? This doesn’t seem to fit. I hope this will be explained in THE FORCE AWAKENS. Otherwise I just don’t know what we’ll do.
Since Wicket talks he’s a little more expressive, more mouth movements (though his eyes always look crazy). Davis has some good acting moments, getting across gestures from inside that furry suit. Also there’s a part where he does this excellent HOME ALONE impression:
At the beginning of the movie Wicket and Cindel skip around together having a lovely time when suddenly the village gets attacked by savage alien dudes. There’s a pretty cool battle between the arrow-shooting Ewok tribe and the blaster-using marauders:
Their leader is the gigantic Therak, played by Carel Struycken (THE ADDAMS FAMILY, TARZANA), who is trying to get his creepy hands on some kind of power that he keeps asking Cindel’s dad about threateningly, but he really has no idea what the dude is talking about.
Right away this is a clear improvement over CARAVAN because you have this whole army of these guys battling the Ewoks and, although in many ways they are the bad guys, they cannot be praised enough for murdering her brother Mace. Obviously they care about making this a watchable movie, and deserve credit. The filmatists also went through the trouble of replacing her original father with Paul Gleason, only to kill him off right at the beginning. She doesn’t see it, she’s been kidnapped with some Ewoks in a wagon made out of a ribcage, and she has this Fitbit type bracelet thing with lights on it that she’s been wearing since the first movie, and we find out when the lights go out that its purpose was to tell her which of her family members were still alive. She tells Wicket that her whole family is dead. But don’t worry:
It’s every child’s dream! Wicket is her best friend and the Ewoks are her family. Kinda creepy though, I think some of those Ewoks forgot to put their eyeballs in that day.
Luckily Cindel and Wicket are able to slip out of the wagon and escape. They find a weird creature named Teek who zips around in fast speed like The Flash and leads them to an adorable little cottage in the woods and brings them food. It turns out an ornery castaway named Noa (Wilford Brimley, HARD TARGET) lives there. He acts like Cindel and Wicket are pests, but quickly warms to them and practically adopts them as his kids or his kid and his dog or something.
I was wondering why we seem to run into so many humans on Endor. It seems like maybe it’s just an easy place to crash. Cindel’s family crashed there, and Noah crashed there. Noa actually has been stuck here for years because he needed the same engine part that Cindel’s dad had just found that was gonna get them off the planet. Unfortunately that asshole Terak took it because he thinks it’s some kind of magic crystal or some shit.
Eventually Noa and Teek decide to help Wicket and Cindel go up to Terak’s castle and get their god damn Ewoks back. They go on a journey together and it’s very LORD OF THE RINGS as they travel through the previously unmentioned rocky area of the forest moon of Endor. Don’t these remind you of Peter Jackson shit right here:
Obviously this TV movie from the ’80s is where Jackson got the idea to create the fantastical world and characters of LORD OF THE RINGS. Even more incredibly, Wilford Brimley’s character Noa…
…is quite clearly the basis for George Roger Rabbit Martin, author of the Beauty and the Beast TV show as well as the Game of Thrones books.
This not only has way more makeup effects than the first one, it also has more stop motion. There were a few bits in the first one, but this one is almost like a Ray Harryhausen movie. Some of the marauders ride on upright animated lizards, and Wicket has to fight a dragon thing in a cave that snatches Cindel and flies away with her. Stuff like that.
This one also has a little kernel of truth in the story, because it’s all about how the bad guys steal the power source that Cindel’s dad needed to fix their spaceship to get them off this damn planet. They think it’s some kind of magic, and they demand that he and then Cindel show them how to use it. They don’t understand that it’s technology. So what we have here is superstitious people fucking things up for everybody. When I watched this it made me think about our own country and people who stand in the way of scientific progress, whether it’s global warming or stem cells or what have you. But then a horrendous terrorist attack happened overseas, based on a particularly medieval interpretation of a religion, so I had to think of that too. I don’t mean to undermine the seriousness of these atrocities by comparing them to the damn Ewok movie, but my point is that the kind of things that happen in the world today are already in these old stories because this shit has been happening forever. Superstitious assholes fuckin it up for everybody else.
Dude, if you choose to believe in magic because it’s too hard to read a book about space ship engine repair that’s fine. But don’t push your ignorant ways on me. I got places to go.
I did wonder why they didn’t understand this technology but had blasters. I decided maybe they just found some crates of them somewhere and didn’t really understand how they work. Or some scoundrels somewhere sold them to them and fucked up Endor. Bad enough having to worry about getting snatched by a Gorax or crashed into by some dumb human’s falling spaceship, now the marauders got lasers.
I got a kick out of a couple moments during the prison escape sequence that seemed overly harsh for such a whimsical fantasy adventure. First there are guards playing a card game, and Teek slips a card in one of their sleeves to make it look like he’s cheating. They pull out their blasters and kill each other. Nobody seems surprised or upset about this. Then they find that sorceress Charal in a cell next to the Ewoks, because Terak turned on her. Normally in a story with this tone they would let her out and she would have learned her lesson and return the favor by helping them. In this one Wicket is about to let her out until Cindel yells “NO! SHE’S EVIL!” and throws the keys down a drain.
The ending is great. Noa gets his ship working after all these years and, though he has made a home and friends here, decides to leave. Cindel, though Wicket and the Ewoks are her family now, decides to go with him. So Wicket and Teek have to say goodbye and watch them fly away.
You see! It’s a double E.T. ending! The girl was Wicket’s E.T. and the Wilford Brimley was Teek’s E.T. But they have to let their E.T.s go home, and be good and I’ll be right here and all that, and hopefully now they feel better about the divorce or whatever.
According to once-canonical, now-heretical Star Wars reference materials, Cindel grew up to become a journalist on Coruscant. I’m sure her experiences on war-torn Endor informed her work.
It’s worth checking out the double feature Ewoks DVD just for the second one. The bad news is that it’s out of print and expensive to buy, and I don’t know what kind of chances there are of Disney ever re-releasing it. Fortunately I still have a video store to rent it from. So there are some cases where being behind on the technology is actually better. I would compare this more to the Ewoks being good with spears and gliders and less to the marauders preventing people from using their space ships. Some day physical media may help topple the Empire.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.