Friday, December 18, 2015

MR The Ewok Adventure

Here's a review in celebration of the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (there's your keywords for your googleAds!). With a new Star Wars film on the big screen, let's have a look at the other Star Wars films nobody usually talks about.

Did you ever wonder what happens beyond the battle of Endor?

Here's the original first Star Wars spinoff, long before the prequels, the Disney sequels, the TV series and any of the upcoming standalone spinoff films were ever produced... 

Don't miss out my previous Star Wars-related reviews!

Movie: The Ewok Adventure also known as Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, just Caravan of Courage or nowadays under the title of Ewok: Caravan of Courage, originally tentatively titled The Ewok Holiday Special 
Directed by John Korty
Release date 1984
Genre Adventure/Science-fiction/Fantasy made-for-tv family film
Country USA

The Ewoks have always been controversial figures in the Star Wars series. Some call them the first sign of trouble from series creator George Lucas, others just dislike their cutesy marketable appearance.

Personally I never had much of a problem with the Ewoks.

Hey, Star Wars has always been a children movie for me! As much as I adore the franchise, the Ewoks are perfectly fine in a world that features the like of Darth Vader, Chewbacca or even a giant praying mantis drinking soda with satan in a bar! And I'm not kidding with that last one!

In 1984 and 1985, Lucas released two made-for-TV spinoff movies revolving around the Ewoks.

The first one was initially called The Ewok Adventure. It's one of the very first spinoffs released after the theatrical release of Return of the Jedi. It is set sometime between the 4th and 6th "Star Wars episodes".

Although it was made for TV, it aired on the big screen in some places in Europe under the title Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure which is now the alternative title the film is mostly known as nowadays.

Unlike the main Star Wars films, it was only written by George Lucas (with Bob Carrau), the film was directed by John Korty, who had mostly directed a bunch of Sesame Street segments through the 1970 to the mid-80s.

The film made its debut on ABC on November 1984. Yeah, it's hard to think the Ewoks movie is already over 30 years old!

Caravan of Courage sees the story of the Towani family, whose starcruiser crash-landed on the forest moon of Endor.

The parents Jeremitt and Catarine have gone missing. The stranded children, Mace and Cindel, are soon found by some woodland creatures, the Ewoks. Mace is basically your stand-in Luke character while Cindel's a tiny 5 years old that quickly make friends with Wicket from Return of the Jedi.

The Ewoks take them to their village. They ask the Ewok shaman for some information regarding the Towani parents. They soon find out the parents have been taken by this evil creature called the Gorax.

And so Mace, Cindel and Wicket set on a journey to rescue the adults. They go through the forest, fight some monsters, trek across a desert while meeting a few other Ewoks who join them along the way - including a pretty badass axe-wielding Ewok.

Together this strange little group form a family and get ready to test their skills against the dangerous Gorax. And get to the happy ending... at least, until the sequel came along...

George Lucas originally conceived the film from an idea he had for a TV series. His original 1-hour TV special would revolve around the Ewoks. They would break the special into two films.

His last experience with TV had been really negative, six years earlier with the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. That's why they had to rename this Ewok Holiday Special. Lucas wanted to take more control over the content produced around his films. He even want as far as scrapping an entire TV ad campaign, which didn't work with his vision for the Star Wars universe.

It's difficult to exactly pinpoint the actual timeline of the events of the movie. The film was originally meant to take place after the Star Wars trilogy at first. But they finally set it before so they could have a young Wicket around. Officially it's supposedly set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi but that would mean there should be a giant Death Star in construction in the orbit. One way to imagine this is so the Empire shot down the family starcruiser, but it's better to not think too much about this really.

The entire film was shot around the Skywalker Ranch, just miles from the studio.

The movie stars Eric Walker, Fionnula Flanagan, Guy Boyd, Aubree Miller and of course, Warwick Davis. Speaking of, Warwick Davis is really the only Ewok that put much work into his role. The film is narrated by Burl Ives - who most of you might recognize as the voice of the snowman from the 1964 classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The overall acting in the film is kinda cheesy, but the two kids gave decent enough performances for a low budget TV production, and Warwick Davis still delivers and he was the only one that really put some actual effort in his "yub yub" noises.

Joe Johnston who worked on the Star Wars film as production designer and art director back when he was at Industrial Light & Magic developed much of the ideas for the film. He not only just created the overall look of the Ewoks with George Lucas but he also had written the children book "The Adventures of Teebo". He already had designed much of the background for the world of Endor and the Ewoks.

I know for some the Ewoks represent George Lucas' marketing taking over the franchise as early as the 1980s, but I was always fine with them. The Ewoks were all the rage in the 80s, they could be just as well marketed for boys or girls, and didn't have the same constraints as the more war-oriented part of Star Wars.

But this cheaply produced TV movie could have been a lot worse. The movie turned out to be a lot better than it had any right to be. There's a few noticeably good special effect for a small TV production, specially considering the time it was made. And the effects are not that bad, they kinda redeem this silly goofy children film in my eyes.

When you peel of the Star Wars brand from the film it's a fairly standard family film. Some of the monsters they encounter are great though.

Sure, the Ewoks can get on your nerves after a while. They're known for their famously intelligble language! But on small dose it works better than, say, Wookies' growling (which is one of the many issues in the Holiday Special). All must been done through body language. So instead of subtitles we are offered a narration... Which is pretty strange, it's like your watching some bizarre scifi nature documentary! And it appears and disappears randomly through the film.

Aside from the nauseating cuteness of the Ewoks, there's some great creature designs in this film despite the low budget nature of the film!

The special effects are kinda cheesy, since this was just a simple modest TV production from days long gone by, it's a far cry from what modern audiences are used from TV these days, but it's fun and goofy. The effects were once more done by ILM, with some budget constrains, granted. Most of it is done through matte paintings, costumes and stop motion. It's overall kind of decent apart from a few odd scenes. While I imagine people nowadays would call it awful or sub-part, yet I imagine it's the same people that is annoyed by the overuse of CGi in the prequels as well.. Make up your mind, people! Sure they're kind of bad, but they're also charming. Yes, the Ewoks look like actors wearing costumes with simple faces, but the villain Gorax looks fantastic! He has a great design and he's even pretty creepy! It's basically just a giant troll that lives in the caves of Endor.

In more ways than one, the film is kind of the complete opposite of the prequels (or the upcoming modern new Disney films). It's small scale, there's no grand war, we don't see a single exotic world, it's relies on practical effects, it's far more fantasy and less science-fiction-based. And, heck, it's even only available in full frame compared to our modern Imax widescreen releases!

Caravan of Courage is basically The Hobbit in the Star Wars universe. It even goes through the exact same motions. We see our tiny protagonists team up with various smaller woodland warriors, forming a fellowship through the story, exploring a spider-nest, etc.

The story is pretty basic but well paced enough to keep things moving. Some of the monsters kind of look cool. The film mostly relies on the children's shoulders since the Ewoks can't speak. Eric Walker is the main character of this first film. He's not that great an actor but he was kind of reminiscent of Mark Hamill in the first film, complaining just as much through the whole adventure.

It's kind of funny to think the first Star Wars to ever get a standalone movie were the Ewoks! And not, say, Boba Fett! Strangely enough Wicket himself is probably the one to get the less screentime in the film compared to some of the other Ewoks. It's a weird fantasy look into the culture of the Ewoks. The weapons they use, the magic talismans they have.. Which would be the premise of the first animated Star Wars series, the Star Wars: Ewoks TV series which is more or less a continuation of these films. The humans in the film are nothing special aside from a stand in for the audience, but that's understandable for kids. There's very little actual nods to the proper Star Wars films aside from Mace's outfit which seems to match the X-Wing pilots uniform. Oh, and the awesome monster made for one cool new creature, with decent makeup and props.

Since this was a "lesser" Star Wars product, nobody expected to see John Williams return. The music and the theme song were composed by music Peter Bernstein. He did a pretty great job all things considered, even going as far as mixing a few familiar cues from the trilogy. All in all, the soundtrack is probably my favorite aspect from this film.

Overall, Caravan of Courage is really not a bad film by any means. This first Ewoks film is actually okay. Good enough, aside from the cheesy tone expected.

Both films don't hold up that will, but this first film made for a decent fun Star Wars-ysh adventure. Plus, hey, it has never been altered to be modernized! Cbeck it out, it's well worth a look!

The film has been very rarely re-released on home video. Aside from the long out of print VHS, there was a DVD double feature collection in 2004 with its sequel, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, under the title Star Wars: Ewok Adventures pictured above.

Ewok: Caravan of Courage would be followed by this direct sequel the following year, in 1985. This second film never received a sequel, although a third film, simply known as Ewoks III was planned. According to Warwick Davis some plans were made for it in the late 80s, but the film would be scrapped in favor of new proper Star Wars film.

Both films were followed by an animated series revolving around the Ewoks as well, Star Wars: Ewoks, which aired on ABC from 1985 to 1987 for two seasons.

Despite the films' relative obscurity compared to other SW productions, elements from them would show up in other Star Wars expanded universe productions over the years.

I think it's safe to say the best thing to ever come out from this film would be giving us the George Lucas co-production directed by Ron Howard - the 1988 fantasy film Willow (also starring Warwick Davis).

I give it:
2 / 3 Anakins!

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