Rogue One is being hailed as the first Star Wars film to deviate from the main series. It promises to be the start of a new anthology series that chronicles multiple stories in the Star Wars universe. However, it’s not really the first time this has happened with Star Wars. In fact, there have been two feature films that were released theatrically overseas, though they aired as made-for-TV movies in the States.
The movies were spinoffs from Return of the Jedi, featuring the Ewoks as supporting protagonists. Specifically, Wicket from Return of the Jedi was one of the main characters in both of these films. Are these discarded films worth a Star Wars fan’s time? Let’s take a look…
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
Both of these films take place sometime before Return of the Jedi. The main characters in this first film are Mace (no, not that one) and Cindel (no, not that one), two siblings who become separated from their parents after their ship crashes on the forest moon of Endor. Their parents end up captured by a giant beast called the Gorax. Meanwhile, Mace and Cindel meet up with the Ewoks from Jedi and convince them to help in the search for their parents.
It’s clear that Caravan of Courage – originally broadcast as The Ewok Adventure during its television premiere – is aimed at a very young audience. The plot is threadbare and even needs explaining from a kindly narrator (the warm and welcoming Burl Ives). The story is told from the kids’ perspectives, so there’s a sense of childish adventure at play that falls in line with something like The NeverEnding Story, which coincidentally released that same year.
But how is it?
Unfortunately, Caravan of Courage is a real slog. The pacing is sluggish and a lot of the movie is eaten up in the first act. The actual search for Mace and Cindel’s parents doesn’t start until the film is a third of the way over. Another grating part of the film are the kid actors. Granted, their performances lead to a lot of delightfully terrible line readings – Mace is a treasure trove when it comes to these – but they also make them more annoying than endearing. Probably the biggest strike against the film is its production. The flat direction and staging make the reused Ewok costumes look a lot cheaper and goofier than they did in Jedi. Fun fact: the production designer on both of these films was Joe Johnston, who would later go on to direct The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park III, and Captain America: The First Avenger.
There are some fun things at play in the movie. For some reason, we are treated to an Ewok on a hang glider. That’s the kind of silly we need more of in our lives. Also, the Ewok shaman Logray apparently has a spinning top made from twigs and aluminum foil that has the power to find missing parents. It’s also worth pointing out that this movie has a lot of creatures in it, including Tinkerbells, amazingly cheesy spiders, the villainous Gorax, and a monster that could possibly be the inspiration for ManBearPig.
But, Caravan of Courage is an endurance test for most of its running time. The actors are wonderfully bad and some of the effects offer some cheesy laughs, but it’s a snore of a movie when it comes to keeping things interesting. Amazingly, it actually got a direct sequel. How did that fare?
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor
The sequel seems to pick up shortly after the events of Caravan of Courage. Cindel’s dad – who has been recast as the vice principal from The Breakfast Club – is close to repairing the family’s ship. Oh, and Wicket can now speak English. Yes, he amazingly forgot that talent by the time he ran into Princess Leia. Anyways, the Ewok village is attacked by a group of marauders who are searching for something their leader, King Terak, calls “the power.” It becomes apparent that he wants the components from the ship that will allow him and his people to leave the planet.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor is a both better and worse than its predecessor, but the worse elements are all fairly humorous. To be fair, the sequel starts off with a bang by killing off all the human characters from the first film except for Cindel. It’s a pretty heavy opening for a kids movie. There’s also a lot better pacing with the action and characters in this movie. King Terak is a better villain than the Gorax. He also has an interesting sidekick in the form of Charal, a sorceress who can shapeshift into a raven and other forms. Another fun fact: Charal is played by Siân Phillips who a year prior had played the Reverend Mother in David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune.
We get introduced to some more fun creatures – including a dragon bird that looks like a cousin to the Giant Claw – and probably the best character in this series, Noa. Noa is played by Wilford Brimley of The Thing and “diabeetus” fame. Noa is a grumpy hermit who befriends Cindel and Wicket. Later, he ends up fighting Terak using nothing but a walking stick. Suffice to say, Noa is a badass.
Why is it a better Ewok movie?
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor is still pretty shoddily made. The Ewok costumes look pretty bad at this point, and Wicket particular can come off a little creepy at times.
Still, it’s a much more enjoyable affair than Caravan of Courage. There are still some bad line readings from Cindel. The childish nature of the production shines through quite a bit. But, it’s a nice little addition to the Star Wars universe. Of course, it has to be ignored thanks to Wicket’s magical language skills. And it is unfortunate that you’ll have to chug through the first film to really appreciate the intense opening.
A third Ewok movie was being planned but never came to pass. If it had, we would have had a whole other Star Wars trilogy to pick apart. As of now, these are two films that seem to be lost to time somewhat. They don’t deserve that treatment. This isn’t the holiday special.