It’s laborious to think about a time the place a brand new Star Wars undertaking wasn’t introduced each different day, however in the mid-Eighties the franchise was starting to loosen its dominance on popular culture. While Return of the Jedi topped the field workplace in 1983, new initiatives inside the galaxy far, far-off have been scant, with solely the core Marvel comedian guide collection and some online game diversifications holding the saga alive. The breakthrough novel Heir to the Empire from writer Timothy Zahn wouldn’t be launched till 1991, and the buzz on any new movie initiatives had all however died as George Lucas‘ enthusiasm for making a prequel trilogy had seemingly waned.
Given the minimal initiatives on the horizon, Lucasfilm turned in direction of its most sustainable asset — the Ewoks. The furry forest creatures have been considered one of the extra divisive parts of Return of the Jedi, with many audiences and critics alike agreeing that they have been a step too far into the cutesy realm and existed solely to promote merchandise. Yet, that’s precisely what Lucasfilm did — an Ewoks cartoon collection debuted in 1985, with Ewok plush dolls, Ewok youngsters’s books, and Ewok Marvel comics all following. At this cut-off date, the Ewoks have been the face of Star Wars.
As Ewok mania reached new heights, Lucasfilm returned to the world of Star Wars tv for the first time since the infamously horrible The Star Wars Holiday Special aired in 1978 (and was subsequently by no means launched once more). With a plethora of costumes leftover from Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm produced two Ewok-centric tv movies for launch on ABC and signed Warwick Davis to return for his position as Wicket, the Ewok that befriends Princess Leia. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure aired on November 25, 1984, and the follow-up Ewoks: The Battle for Endor aired a yr later on November 24, 1985.
George Lucas himself had considerably realized his lesson from the catastrophe of The Holiday Special and took a barely extra lively position in creating the Ewok TV movies. With the intention of creating one thing that may enchantment to youthful followers together with his personal youngsters, Lucas wrangled a crew collectively that consisted of holdovers from Return of the Jedi (together with manufacturing coordinator and future director Joe Johnston) and tv professionals adept at working in youngsters’s media. Despite the booming Star Wars model, the movies’ productions have been about as primitive as the Ewok know-how, utilizing matte work, pressured views, stop-motion animation, and different particular results frequent amongst made-for-TV films for the course of the shoot in Marin County.
Caravan of Courage launched the Towani household, a gaggle of human vacationers that crash land on the Forest Moon of Endor previous to the occasions of Return of the Jedi. The youngsters Mace (Eric Walker) and Cindel (Aubree Miller) are separated from their mother and father and misplaced inside the mythic realm of Endor (which now has a extra excessive fantasy really feel not dissimilar from Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal). Of course, this implies they’ll ultimately run into the Ewoks, together with Leia’s buddy Wicket (Davis) and his band of buddies. The result’s a fairy tale-like quest to seek out the elder Towanis throughout which the heroes encounter magical creatures like the Gorax, a troll-like creature seemingly impressed by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Orcs and Cave Trolls.
At the threat of spoiling a youngsters’s movie that’s over 35 years previous, we’ll say that the 1985 observe up Ewoks: The Battle for Endor takes a a lot darker flip, starting with a sequence of horror that rivals Revenge of the Sith’s Order 66 montage or the mass slaughter at the finish of Rogue One. Seriously. There have been reportedly plans for additional installments, however rising manufacturing prices and Lucasfilm’s flip in direction of different initiatives shuttered any plans for a conclusion to the trilogy.
Here’s the factor: the two Ewok movies aren’t good. They’re not the colossal miscalculation that The Star Wars Holiday Special is, however somewhat cheaply made money grabs that merely don’t maintain up. At the similar time, they’re completely price watching no less than as soon as for Star Wars followers inquisitive about this unusual level in the saga’s historical past. Now that the two movies are lastly out there on Disney+, followers have the probability to include them of their “May the 4th Day” binge-viewing.
For one factor, the Ewok films have been broadly unavailable till their April debut on Disney+. Besides a scant launch on Laserdisc in 1990 and a double-sided DVD (keep in mind these?) in 2004, they by no means noticed an official launch and have been by no means supplied for buy or rental on streaming providers. Perhaps Lucasfilm was embarrassed of the quaint productions and didn’t wish to tarnish the Star Wars title, or maybe the digital restoration proved to be too costly. More probably, they figured no person actually cared and that even hardcore followers and completionists wouldn’t discover their absence.
Yet, each Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor assist clarify the trajectory of the Star Wars franchise. Long earlier than “Canon” grew to become a headache and the timeline was tracked obsessively, initiatives that bore little resemblance to something in the universe might nonetheless see the Star Wars title slapped upon them formally.
The movies additionally clarify why it took one other 35 years earlier than a live-action Star Wars tv undertaking got here to fruition: it is costly! Meticulous craft is poured into creating each creature, ship, and site for every of the theatrical movies, and that spotlight to element in the world constructing is difficult to emulate on a weekly tv collection. While the manufacturing high quality is fairly immaculate on The Mandalorian, that present got here geared up with a Disney funds and was the flagship collection for the launch of a brand new streaming service that now boasts over 100 million worldwide subscribers. Yet even The Mandalorian needed to show its price by creating know-how that made the funds of a CG-filled Star Wars collection manageable.
Given the manufacturing constraints on the Ewoks TV films, the creature work and designs are all fairly spectacular. Leaning extra into the fantasy side of the universe really differentiates the two movies from the huge variety of Star Wars ripoffs produced by Roger Corman and different imitators at the time. They additionally got here at a time through which recognition for The Muppets was at an all-time excessive because of Jim Henson’s foray into movie with The Muppet Movie in 1979, The Great Muppet Caper in 1981, The Dark Crystal in 1982, Muppets Take Manhattan in 1984, and later Labyrinth in 1986. It’s laborious to understate the dedication and precision required for Muppet performers, and that degree of meticulous craft is price observing even on a lesser undertaking.
They’re additionally price a glance to see Warwick Davis’s contributions to the saga. Davis is one very long time performer who’s at all times certain to return to the Star Wars universe, having adopted up his Return of the Jedi debut with cameos in a number of movies in each the prequel and sequel trilogies. The Ewok films got here shortly earlier than Davis received a starring position in George Lucas’s different live-action fantasy undertaking Willow, and the rising appreciation for that movie with its planned continuation is perhaps much more cause to observe extra of Davis’ work in these specials.
Wicket’s characterization is barely completely different from his look in Return of the Jedi. As The Holiday Special proved, having furry creatures communicate solely in an alien language with out subtitles was going to be a barrier. As a end result, Wicket speaks English (or in the Star Wars canon, “basic”). It’s awkward however definitely helps make the dopey man as shut as the Ewoks can come to having a number one character. Wicket’s friendliness in direction of people and his naïveté made him Return of the Jedi’s comedian reduction, and it is attention-grabbing to see these traits reimagined as the protagonist who should show himself inside his tribe.
Disney+ has progressively added extra classic Star Wars initiatives together with Genndy Tartakovsky’s good Star Wars: Clone Wars, the authentic Ewoks animated collection, and The Holiday Special’s animated section The Story of the Faithful Wookiee, which noticed the debut of Boba Fett. Yet the archive remains to be incomplete, with the animated Droids collection, the unaired Star Wars: Detours present from Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, and several other choose behind-the-scenes documentaries nonetheless misplaced to time. Star Wars followers will even observe that the unedited variations of the authentic trilogy that don’t embrace the Special Edition adjustments are additionally lacking.
Expanding the Disney+ archive to characteristic forgotten initiatives from over the years (together with numerous Disney movies with delicate material) will take time. However, it could result in a productive look at how movie and tv have modified over the previous hundred years. And the Ewok movies in their very own means they assist construct a broader understanding of what made-for-TV films seemed like of their period. In a time effectively earlier than “streaming” or “digital” releases have been a factor.
So for Star Wars followers who’ve breezed by way of the saga numerous occasions, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor are each strong various “May the 4th” viewing choices. It’s price wanting into the previous to understand the plethora of Star Wars media now at our disposal, and maybe a foul episode of The Mandalorian will appear just a little extra redeeming in hindsight when you’ve witnessed Wicket poke at a cease movement monster.
KEEP READING: The Best Shows to Watch on Disney+ Right Now
Originally titled ‘Bios,’ the sci-fi movie hails from director Miguel Sapochnik and had been slated for release by Universal.
About The Author