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Star Wars: The Ewok Adventures (Caravan of Courage and The Battle for Endor)

With the second Death Star destroyed and the Empire in shambles, the Star Wars franchise had nowhere left to go in the '80s- except to television. This DVD presents the two Star Wars made-for-tv movies, “The Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage” and “Ewoks: The Battle for Endor”. The Ewoks, those much misaligned creatures from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi get a few stories of their own with these telefilms, and if you didn’t hate them before these flicks, chances are you’ll hate them by the time you’re finished with them, if for no other reason than making these movies exist.

At first glance it’s hard to recognize these films as being part of the “Star Wars” franchise. There’s no opening crawl - in fact, the opening narration of “Caravan” states “A long, long time ago on the forest moon of Endor”. The Empire, Stormtroopers, mentions of a hokey religion and/or sorcerous ways are all left behind as the films focus on the teddy bear like creatures who helped claim victory for the Rebel Alliance.

So here’s the story: A family crash lands on Endor. After scouting around, the parents return to their ship to find their children missing. They are in turn discovered by a giant creature who captures them. Fast forward an undetermined period of time as the Ewoks discover the shipwrecked vessel and find the children within - Cindel, played by newcomer Aubree Miller, and Mace... no, not that Mace. This skinny white boy (Eric Walker) is considerably less imposing than the great Samuel L Jackson. After a period of confusion while the two different races learn to understand each other, the Ewoks decide to help Mace and Cindel find their missing parents, and take a caravan through California... er, the forest moon of Endor.

After you spend the first movie becoming attached to Cindel and Mace, the second movie does the absolute unthinkable. Within the first ten minutes, Mace and his mother and father are dead, leaving Cindel all alone with the Ewoks, except the Ewoks are now prisoners of the same marauders who killed Cindel’s family. Cindel and the now english-speaking-Wicket (Warwick Davis) escape from the marauders and befriend a speedy looking alien named Teek and the gruff-as-always Wilford Brimley. In the movie Brimley claims to be someone named Noa, but we all know the truth - Wilford is a space traveler who was alive and old a long time ago...). Cindel, Wicket, Teek, and Wilford.. er, Noa work together to save the captured Ewoks from the ugly marauders and their witch-like ally (still no mention of The Force, but she uses magic). Soon the Ewoks get to showcase the same primative technology that made them victorious over the Imperial forces in a “Battle for Endor” (actually it’s just a battle for a spaceship, but that sounds much less dramatic).

Both films suffer from the same major problems, the first of which is horribly bad acting. Now, to be honest, that’s really not the fault of anyone other than the producers who felt the need to create these films. When the main actors in your play are either children, or emotionless costumes, the acting is going to be terrible. Aubree Miller is adorable as Cindel, but she recites her lines with a painful lack of emotion or depth, common for a actor of her age. She just wasn’t old enough to do more than read the line as she was told to do. Eric Walker is a bit older and should probably know better. His constant whining makes the early moments of Luke Skywalker look macho by comparison. The Ewoks are the real problem though. While the geniuses at ILM could design a Jabba that could move its tail, arms, mouth, and eyes, the Ewok costumes weren’t designed with that kind of flexibility. In fact, there is no facial movement whatsoever, which means any time you have an Ewok speaking (which is pretty much the entire first film), you can see it’s not moving it’s mouth to do so. With no facial movement, emotion is forced to just body movement which works as long as there’s not a closeup... which there is most of the time. In order to help make up for the lack of emotion, and the inability to tell the story with most of the characters not speaking English, narration is provided to advance the story.

Either these films were exactly what Lucas imagined or. unlike his more prominent movies, he’s content to release the Ewok films in the state they’re in, because the effects are decidedly not-CGI. While the forced perspective effects of the giant in “Caravan” work well until the normal sized creatures interact with it, the rest of the effects are less than spectacular. Particularly worth mentioning is the horrid stop-motion animation reminiscent of the original dewbacks. Between Burl Ives narration and the stop-motion animation, these movies are about half a step away from being a Rankin/Bass holiday production. The recent release of the original Star Wars Trilogy was chock full of the kind of extras a DVD fan goes nuts over - commentary tracks, a major behind the scenes documentary, trailers, etc. Hopefully you got your fill out of that set, because there is nothing extra here. No commercials, no commentary explaining the movies, or the reason for the movies... nothing.

The two movies are presented on one flipper disc. In an odd decision, the movies are in reverse order on the disc - “Caravan of Courage” is on side B, while “The Battle for Endor” is on side A. If someone who didn’t know the movies purchased the set, they’d get to see Cindel’s family killed before they were rescued.

Of course, it’s unlikely this release will be picked up by anyone who isn’t already familiar with them. The truth is, the only real reason to pick these up is for nostalgia, but nostalgia is only worth so much. In fact, I’m learning more and more that there’s a higher value in feeling nostalgic about a box left on the shelf than in purchasing the movie and watching the truth that had been forgotten - some things we’re nostalgic for in life just aren’t that good.

After seeing the emotionless expressions of the Ewoks, the wooden acting, and the out of date (even for its time) special effects, I wondered what happened to Lucas’s vision for the Star Wars world he was just butchering a few months ago. Then I realized - this is the sellout side of Lucas - the part that strives to make a dime on anything Star Wars related. At least that’s the motivation that would appear to be behind both the original creation of these movies, and their new release on DVD. If you’ve seen these films, enjoy your memories of them. If you haven’t seen them, you don’t need to. Leave this DVD pack on the shelf the next time you’re out shopping.