Friday, May 9, 2014

May the 4th: The Ewok Adventures

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…


Episode ?????.II


Our story begins long, long ago,

deep in an enchanted forest on the

distant moon of Endor.

In an Ewok village, Deej tries to

summon two of his sons who went

into the woods and have not

returned. He fears they may be lost.

Using his skin glider to look for his sons,

Deej sees a strange shining object in

the trees below. But, anxious to find

his missing children, he continues the


Although Return of the Jedi had completely burnt Lucas out on telling the Star Wars Saga, he was always acutely aware how much fans wanted to return to that universe; especially the youngest ones. Remembering how popular the Ewoks were with this crowd (though, at the time, very few others), Lucas handed a couple of fun story outlines to his production team so that a couple of made-for-TV movies could be produced. These became the Ewok Adventure films: Caravan of Courage (1984, directed by John Korty) and Battle for Endor (1985, directed by Jim and Ken Wheat).

"Yub Nub!"
Already, being produced in-house by Lucasfilm upped the quality of the films remarkably compared to the previous television special. While they still don’t even begin to approach the Saga proper, the filmmaking and effects are certainly better than most TV movies of the time, and even a few theatrical ones. More than that, though, with the writing and general atmosphere these films truly feel like George Lucas stories.

However, they still don’t quite feel like Star Wars stories. At least not enough of the time. While Star Wars has always been a fantasy film set in space as opposed to true sci-fi, the Ewok films seem to be in full-on Dungeons and Dragons mode, especially Caravan. And, once again, there’s strangely no crawl; what I typed above is actually from one of Caravan’s most annoying features: Every so often, Burl Ives will come out of nowhere, telling us what’s going on as if he’s narrating a nature documentary, when all of this information could have be easily given by Ewok subtitles. Thankfully, this is absent in Battle.

As a matter of fact, of the two, I felt like I was able to get more into Battle as it downplayed if not completely removed a lot of what annoyed me about Caravan. The narration is gone, and the straight-up magic is confined to the character of Charal (who feels like a cross between Maleficent and Mother Talzin, and in some EU sources is in fact a Nightsister) as is the inexplicable appearance of Earth animals.

"Not her! She's evil!"

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. For an Ewok adventure, the little guys are really only supporting characters. The main character actually seems to be a little shipwrecked human girl named Cindel Towani, who is for all intents and purposes an annoyingly stereotypical cutesy little kid. She forms a strong bond with Wicket throughout the films, and even teaches him Basic which…really makes no sense if this is actually supposed to take place concurrently with Empire Strikes Back, as the official timeline states. It’s better to think of this, if one does at all, to take place after Jedi, once the Empire is destroyed and the Rebels leave, and the Ewoks go back to daily life for a while. Then again, the point is completely moot in light of the new canon restructuring anyway.

"We gotta make like a tree and get outta here!"

Caravan deals with the Ewoks helping Cindel and her older brother Mace (in hindsight clearly named after the famous Jedi Knight and Republic General) on an epic quest to rescue their parents from the behemoth known as the Gorax. Mace, who dresses like Marty McFly and whines so much he could be mistaken for a Skywalker, naturally goes on his own mini-Hero’s Journey. He acts like the stubborn pre-teen he is throughout the entire story, and by the end realizes why everything he said and did was wrong and became a better person out of it, just in time to rescue the parents.

Battle makes all of this mean absolutely nothing by KILLING MACE AND THE PARENTS OFF IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES what the poodoo?!

"I regret nothiiiiiii-"

Yes, Battle starts with the Ewok camp being raided by…let’s say Orcs, because no matter what their canonical name is that’s exactly what they are…who round up the furballs and shoot up the Towanis (except for Cindel) in order to get a ship’s power core because they think it’s magic for some reason. Cindel and Wicket escape and have to free their friends with the help of another marooned pilot named Noa Briqualon (a gloriously grouchy Wilford Brimly).

"If I let them stay, they'll want to be friends, and that'll give everyone diabeetus."

For me, aside from Brimly, the standouts of these films are the characters of the Gorax and Teek. While the Gorax’s facial prosthetic didn’t always work just right, the overall character design is a very strong and interesting one and he feels right at home as a Star Wars apex predator. Teek, who is Noa’s companion, is a blindingly fast half-rabbit-half-macaque with a goofy grin and a penchant for comic relief and maniacal giggling. I can’t help but wonder if he’s a sort of proto-prototype for another comic relief character Lucas would dream up down the road.

"I think he's just looking for any excuse for a reference at this point."

Once again, if you are young and/or a Star Wars fan, both these films are entertaining time-wasters. Most of their issues can be forgiven due to the medium and the time period, and in fact come off comparatively decent when those are taken into account.

"I'll grind your bones to make my bread!"

By this point, however, Star Wars was part of the collective consciousness for long enough for jokes and references to appear in popular culture. Next week we’ll see what happens when one of the undisputed masters of comedy gets his hands on the Saga…

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