Sunday, 20 December 2015

Star Wars: Ewok Adventures - Caravan of Courage / The Battle for Endor

With The Force Awakens big in every one’s mind, Disney has a plan to capitalize on Star Wars fever by announcing a seemingly endless stream of spinoffs. There’s Rogue One and the Han Solo spinoff, not to mention the proposed Boba Fett movie. So with these on the horizon it’s worth travelling back in time to the 1980’s and have a look at another time Star Wars attempted spin-off films.

A lot of people hate the Ewoks. Even before they could blink with the help of added CGI, a lot of fans really despised Ewoks. But a lot didn’t, me included. They’re harmless and never really offended anyone. They were for kids sure, but at least they weren’t Jar Jar. They always seemed like such an iconic part of the Star Wars universe, something I’ve loved since I can remember. It’s difficult to hate something like that. The question is, after watching both of the straight-to-TV spinoffs, are they still harmless?

The first Ewok ‘experience’ is Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. And actually, it’s not the worst thing ever. It’s not good, but it’s not awful. It follows a boy named Mace (the first Mace in the Star Wars canon) and his sister Cindel looking for their parents that have been kidnapped by the Gorax. It’s set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, though many argue it’s set 150 years AFTER Episode 6 and Ewoks just have long life spans. Although honestly it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. It’s not canon anymore anyway and if you’re going to enjoy this then the extended universe will probably not be a concern.

Mace is quite cool I guess, and Cindel is cute. She builds up a friendship with Wicket (Warwick Davis) from Return of the Jedi and that’s fun. There’s not really anything of note in the plot, it’s a simple find the bad guy’s lair and defeat them type of story. I suppose we find out a few details of the Ewok culture but it’s nothing anyone will care about. The prosthetics are pretty subpar as well, with the Gorax being the worst. That costume wouldn’t even pass for a Doctor Who villain from the 1960’s. One strange thing about it is that they actually kill of one of the main Ewoks, as if George Lucas hadn’t scarred enough children for life with the Ewok murder in Return of the Jedi. The biggest fault with it is that it never feels like Star Wars. But more on that in a minute.

The second of the Ewok stories is Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. This is the Empire Strikes Back to The Caravan of Courage’s A New Hope. Ok, so it’s nothing like that. But the sequel is bigger and better and a little darker. Straight away in the sequel Mace and his parents are killed off, leaving Cindel an orphan. On one hand you feel like it makes the original film feel pointless on the other Cindel was the best part of the first one. It see’s Cindel and the Ewoks join forces with a hobo-looking Wilford Brimley to take on a band of roving Sanyassan Marauders and an evil witch. Yeah this is what I meant about it not feeling like Star Wars.

In The Battle for Endor there is a witch called Charal. Now when you click her name on the wiki it take you to the page for ‘Dark Jedi’. But that seems like a poor retcon by a desperate fan to try and make sense of a character who looks like a Power Rangers villain. At one point we see her turn into a bird and fly away, they dispatch her by trapping her in bird form. I’m no expert on the extended universe but I’ve never heard of a Jedi power being shapeshifting into an animal. Some sources claim she is a Nightsister, but I’m not so sure. Whatever she is it doesn’t fit into this world of Ewoks. 

The two Ewok films feel like a practice for the 1988 Ron Howard and George Lucas outing, Willow. There’s the fantastical Hobbit-like quest and the questionable effects. But then I don’t love Willow and that film is better than these two, so this comparison does the two Ewok adventures no favours.

As I said, these two films feel very distant to Star Wars and not just because of the inclusion of witchcraft. The sound design is completely different, the blasters for example just feel wrong. The creatures don’t feel like they could exist in the Star Wars universe either.

At the end of the day, Lucas made the films for his daughter. It’s difficult to complain about something that was made as a gift from a father to his child. And it’s not even that bad, it’s certainly no Holiday Special. It’s made for the younger members of the Star Wars fanbase and it shows. It’s simple and upbeat and the filled with creatures and bright enemies. With that being said, there are some odd choices when it comes to the deaths of characters. Not sure how Lucas’s daughter felt about the death of Chukha-Trok.

If you have any young Star Wars fans in your house you could do worse than showing them these two films, just bear in mind that aside from the Ewoks there isn’t really anything to link it to the saga, and not very much for an older fan of the series. As it stands, both films are ok. Nothing more. But that is at least an improvement on the infamous Holiday Special. Caravan of Courage and The Battle for Endor get a less than dazzling two stars.


Jack Bumby

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