Once upon the Ewoks were the only Star Wars movies in town. Let’s take a look back at them…
With the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the time has come once again for everybody to look back on the whole Star Wars movie franchise. But Lucasfilm hasn’t made that easy. There are at least two live-action Star Wars movies that they simply refuse to re-release. (Three if you count the genuinely awful feature-length Star Wars Holiday Special.)
Those films are, in case you didn’t know, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. These two formerly canonical motion pictures were produced in 1984 and 1985 and released on the ABC network in America, and theatrically distributed overseas. They both won Emmy Awards for Visual Effects, and for years they aired repeatedly on television and enjoyed home video releases on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD.
But that was then. Now, of course, the Ewok movies are massively out of print and, according to many Star Wars fans, they no longer “count.” So no one’s really talking about them anymore.
That’s because the Ewok movies, along with most of the expanded universe Star Wars stories, were completely jettisoned out of continuity after Star Wars moved to Disney in 2012. But let’s be honest, they were already in the process of being deleted from history at least one year beforehand when the Blu-ray collection Star Wars: The Complete Saga came out and didn’t include either of the Ewok films. (Lucasfilm apparently thinks the word “complete” means something different than what it actually means.)
So for many years now it’s been pretty hard to find Caravan of Courage or The Battle for Endor. As a result, most people who haven’t seen them seem to think they stink about as badly as The Star Wars Holiday Special. This is preposterous of course (because NOTHING stinks as badly as The Star Wars Holiday Special), but it begs the question. Are the Ewoks movies as bad as you’ve heard, or even as bad as you hazily remember?
The answer is yes… and no. One of the Ewok movies is pretty darned terrible, but the other is better than its reputation suggests, and it’s at least as entertaining as some of the less popular, canonical Star Wars films.
The first film, Caravan of Courage, is a prequel to Return of the Jedi and stars Warwick Davis as Wicket, the same Ewok who helped defeat the Empire at the end of the theatrical trilogy. The movie kicks off when a ship carrying a human family crash-lands on the forest moon of Endor. The Towani family gets separated quickly. The parents are kidnapped by the Gorax, a giant ogre-like creature, and their two children Mace (Eric Walker) and Cindel (Aubree Miller) are stuck in the wilderness until they’re taken in by friendly Ewoks.
It’s worth noting that Caravan of Courage doesn’t follow many of the usual rules of Star Wars. The Ewoks breed Shetland ponies and llamas, for example, and no effort was made to make these creatures look in any way alien. Also the whole movie is narrated by the late, great Burl Ives (the narrator from Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer), who helps explain what the Ewoks are chittering about and makes the whole film feel like a kooky National Geographic special.
Let’s cut right to the chase: Caravan of Courage is the bad Ewok movie. It’s a slow and grating film about a bratty teenager ordering Ewoks around like he owns the place, and repeatedly getting saved by little bears who clearly have better things to do than endanger their own lives while protecting him. Mace even receives a magic ceremonial rock which he promptly throws away in disgust, a selfish act that almost dooms them all. He’s probably the whiniest jerk in all of Star Wars, and depending on how you feel about the younger versions of Anakin and Luke Skywalker that’s really saying something.
Anyway, they assemble a caravan and venture forth to save Mace and Cindel’s parents. Along the way they meet heroic Ewoks and it looks like they exterminate a whole colony of pixies for no good reason, except for one, which they kidnap and force to work for them.
Caravan of Courage ends when all the heroes venture into the cave of the Gorax and discover that Mace and Cindel’s parents are being kept in a massive hanging birdcage. They proceed to save them and kill the Gorax, but the funny thing is, the Gorax doesn’t actually do anything that evil. Near as we can tell the Gorax wasn’t even going to kill anyone. It looks for all the world like this giant, intelligent creature found some helpless stray animals in the woods and brought them back home and took very good care of them. If you’ve ever adopted a stray cat, imagine if that cat’s family showed up a couple of days later and wrecked your house and murdered you. That’s what happened to the Gorax. Poor guy.
So one year later we got Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, a film with a problem right there in the title, because the battle is actually for the forest moon of Endor. Nobody actually sets foot on Endor in this or any other Star Wars movie. It’s weird.
Even weirder, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor opens with every member of the Towani family horrifically murdered except for Cindel, who escapes with Wicket, who can now speak English. All the rules are broken right away. It’s kind of amazing.
The plot this time is that the evil ruler Terak (Carel Struycken from Twin Peaks) and his sorceress Charal (Siân Philips from David Lynch’s Dune) are trying to unlock the secrets of technology because it threatens the rule of magic. Oh yeah, there’s magic in this movie. They’re not using the Force, it’s just magic. By Star Wars standards, all of this is insane.
So anyway, Cindel and Wicket escape by building a hang glider out of skeletons and team up with another castaway named Noah (Wilford Brimley, yes really) to save a whole bunch of captured Ewoks. Never mind why Terak and Charal need Ewoks, since they really don’t seem to care much about them one way or the other. The heroes storm the palace and save everybody and then there’s a huge battle and there’s a bunch of awesome stop-motion monsters and, frankly, it’s pretty cool.
Yeah, it’s true. Ewoks: Battle for Endor may lay waste to established Star Wars mythology but it’s a fast-paced and unusual action movie with impressive visual effects. Even Wilford Brimley, the guy from those diabetes commercials, is a pretty convincing hero. He has to act like Cindel’s surrogate father, and he’s genuinely sweet about it, but he also has to be a craggy old salt who straight-up fights monsters to the death when necessary. And you buy it, you really do.
The Ewoks movies weren’t completely isolated from the rest of Star Wars. Characters like Cindel appeared in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, and the Gorax popped up in the Star Wars Galaxies video game. They may have been the black sheep of the Star Wars family, but they were readily available and generally accepted until relatively recently.
Now, of course, they’re hard to find and they’re out of continuity. But although they’re no longer “canon” it’s completely unreasonable to suggest that they no longer “count.” That’s like saying all the James Bond movies before Daniel Craig don’t count. Maybe they’re in a different continuity but they’re real movies with a real history, and they still deserve to be seen.
And make no mistake: The Ewok movies are real Star Wars movies. They were made by Lucasfilm. They were major releases. They won awards. A whole generation of kids grew up with them. Yeah, at least one of them sucks and they all kinda wreck the established mythology but you could say the same things about the prequel trilogy if you’re feeling really snarky about it, and those still “count.”
Besides, if the buzz is any indication, Porgs are going to be way more popular than the Ewoks ever were. So you might as well get ready for Convoy of Coolness: The Porgs Movie and Porgs: The War for Ahch-To by checking out what happened the last time the Star Wars franchise got a little too high on its own cuteness.