It's a TV relic of yesteryear, and also serves as an embarrassment of epic proportions that has to been seen to be believed. And once you see it, you'll wish you could forget it. But enough about the Star Wars Holiday Special! That's because we've got Ewoks on the brain. Or, more specifically, 1980s Ewok TV movies.
We may have already had guests like Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Pedro Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Diego Luna, Lawrence Kasdan, Kumail Nanjiani, and countless other Star Wars luminaries on EW's new Dagobah Dispatch podcast, but if we're being completely honest, the only reason we started the pod in the first place was to discuss in depth two of the most curious oddities in the history of the franchise. And those would be the two Ewok movies that aired on the ABC network in the mid-1980s.
In the first of our two-part series, we look at The Ewok Adventure. Or, as it is also called depending on when and where you watched it, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. The fact that this made-for-TV movie cannot even settle on a title is merely the first indication that you are in for something truly special should you choose to spend 1 hour and 37 minutes of your life revisiting this lost
classic curiosity which has somehow now bluffed its way onto the Disney+ streaming service.
Eva Sereny/Lucasfilm/Kobal/Shutterstock Aubree Miller in 'Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure'
Before we dive into this low-budget oddity and what makes it so confounding and confusing, a little background. After the grand success of the Star Wars Holiday Special, clearly George Lucas was champing at the bit to get more top-notch television product into the pipeline. But instead of heading back to Kashyyyk to see how the latest Life Day was progressing with Chewbacca's mischievous son Lumpy, the producer set his sights back on Endor and the Ewoks, fresh off their hard fought (if somewhat unbelievable) victory over the Galactic Empire thanks to their superior knowledge of sticks and stones. An ill-fated deal was struck with ABC for a movie of the week and An Ewok Adventure (or whatever it is supposed to be called now) was born.
On Nov. 25, 1984, viewers were
treated subjected to a story in which a family's starcruiser crashed on the forest moon of Endor. Unfortunately for the space family onboard, parents Jeremitt and Catarine (played by Guy Boyd and what-the-hell-is-she-doing-in-this? Fionnula Flanagan) get separated from teenage son Mace (Eric Walker) and pint-sized Cindel (Aubree Miller). The kids get taken in by the kindly Ewoks, only to learn that their parents are being held prisoner by the evil giant monster Gorax for reasons that are never explained, so they go on a mission with their new furry friends to save them.
I've already told you way more than deserves to be told to anyone about this film. I really should stop now. In fact, I probably should have stopped before I even began. Instead, not unlike young Mace and Cindel, I will forge on against my better judgement and outline for you all the ways in which this Star Wars TV movie is completely confusing and just tosses any semblance of quality or franchise consistency completely out the window.
Meet the Galaxy's Biggest Jerky McJerkface
The biggest problem with Caravan of Courage — and that is saying something — is that the lead character of teenager Mace is a total A-hole. First off, the dude shows up after the Ewoks have saved his little sister and just starts firing his blaster at them. Only he doesn't call it a blaster. He repeatedly refers to it as his "gun." Which brings us to our first weird franchise consistency issue: Has the word gun ever been used in any other Star Wars property? Yet that's what Mace keeps calling his blaster here. Did nobody read the script and catch that?
Anyway, let's go back to what a jerk this kid is. Not only does he try to fry the Ewoks for helping his sister, but then the little punk never apologies. Nor does he thank his saviors for providing them with food and medicine, instead choosing to demand more. "Where's the medicine. We need some MORE medicine! We need more medicine! She needs more medicine! Look at her. We need some more medicine. We need more medicine. We need more of this!" That's not me making up or stringing together different, isolated lines of dialogue. That is an actual exact quote from this whiny little brat.
Eva Sereny/Lucasfilm/Kobal/Shutterstock Aubree Miller and Eric Walker in 'Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure'
And he never gets any better. Later, when the traveling party who agreed to risk their lives to save this insufferable kid's parents all receive totems of legendary Ewok warriors for their journey, Mace attempts to grab the nicest looking crystal for himself, and then complains loudly when he is instead given what he deems "a stupid rock" — a rock he proceeds to toss on the ground in disgust even though that "stupid rock" is what they need to save his stupid parents.
There are a million more examples I won't subject you to, but rest assured this terrible tyke is so annoying you will find yourself wishing the Ewoks would go back to their pre-C-3PO ways of simply eating people.
The Ewoks Now Speak English
I wish I was making this up, but I am not. Somehow over the course of Caravan of Courage, the Ewoks start… speaking English? At one point, little Cindel (dressed in a pre-schooler's disco space suit) teaches Wicket how to say "crash" and "starcruiser" — because if you want to start an alien species off with really easy words to learn, "starcruiser' is definitely at the top of the list.
The Ewoks are clearly fast learners, because not too long later, another one of them is talking… in complete sentences! On the eve of their journey, one of the natives actually starts engaging in a bit of smack-talk, proclaiming "We help you and make Gorax…" and then finishes the thought by stabbing their map with a knife. First off, seems like you would want to protect your map and not start ripping it if you want half a chance of succeeding on this hare-brained mission, but maybe that's just me. More importantly… WHY IS HE TALKING?!?
Is this now officially canon that Ewoks have apparently gained the power of human speech? I really hope not, especially when the lumberjack Ewok (I'm not even going to bother to explain that one, but yes, there is a lumberjack Ewok) uses his last dying breath to say the word "frrrrrrrrrriend." I legitimately threw up in my mouth a little when that happened.
The Ewoks Use Magic!
If you thought the Ewoks defeated an army of stormtroopers and AT-STs with mere sticks and stones, think again! Because according to Caravan of Courage, they also wield the awesome power of magic!
We first catch wind of this rather dramatic development upon meeting Logray the village mystic, who proceeds to spin a giant top that somehow then magically shows the kids scenes of their parents in despair at the hands of the unruly Gorax.
Later — and I promise I am not making these names up — Kaink the Ewok priestess forces the humans to pass an actual magic test before she will join the caravan, and we watch a crystal turn into a lizard in Mace's hand. (In typical Mace fashion, the teenager responds with "So what? It turned into a lizard. Big deal. I don't think these guys are going to help us, sis. C'mon, let's get out of here." Jerk.) Why Kaink agrees to go on the journey with them when Mace clearly failed the magic test is never explained.
Eva Sereny/Lucasfilm/Kobal/Shutterstock 'Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure'
The Ewoks at some point in the film just start going magic crazy. They use a magical green crystal to hypnotize a ginormous attacking spider, and Mace's "stupid rock" also magically shows the group how to get into the Gorax's lair. There are also magical pixies at play, and, in the movie's most bizarre sequence, Mace touches the water in a pond and full-on disappears before then reappearing trapped under the surface of the water. Only through the power of Wicket's magic walking stick is Mace saved. Bummer.
But when did Endor become the Magic Kingdom? How come we knew nothing about people getting attacked by water, or magical compasses, or crystals turning into lizards and hypnotizing monsters? Seems like that type of information would have come in useful during the Battle of Endor had it been even casually conveyed to translator/God C-3PO at some point.
Someone Brought All of Earth's Animals to Endor
Have you ever noticed how you never see Earth animals in Star Wars? Elephants become banthas. Camels become eeopies. Puffins become porgs. That's just the way it works. Until now! Because An Ewok Adventure is filled with regular old Earth animals. And not just that aforementioned magical lizard (which, by the way, later turns into a magical mouse).
The Ewoks have a veritable zoo in their village: chickens, donkeys, llamas, ferrets, horses — you name it! Logray the mystic even has an owl! We also see a random goat at one point eat through a rope. Again: They have goats on Endor! That seems like breaking news to me. It's unclear where all these animals were hiding during Return of the Jedi and why we have yet to see them on, like, any other planet in the entire Star Wars galaxy.
Admittedly, this is a very minor point in the grand scheme of things, but serves as yet another curious example of franchise tenets and rules being randomly bent or ignored for no real reason. Why George Lucas (who wrote the story and executive produced the movie) did not at some point say "Yeah, we don't do chickens or guns in space" is anybody's guess.
Less Than Special Effects
So, clearly this ABC movie of the week was not made with the same budget as a major theatrical offering. And, therefore, it would be unfair to grade the special effects of An Ewok Adventure on the same scale as the original trilogy. It also should be pointed out that there are some effects that are, for 1984 television, actually quite good. In particular, the work on the Gorax (a kind of half-orc, half Wookie looking beast) and scaling it to appear as a towering figure over the humans and Ewoks is impressive.
But there is a reason nothing from Caravan of Courage made it into the recent Light & Magic documentary series showcasing the best work of ILM. Even with legends like Phil Tippett and Dennis Muren working on this, the team at Industrial Light & Magic clearly only had so many hours and so many dollars to spend on this franchise side-project made for the cultural outhouse that was 1980s broadcast television.
Eva Sereny/Lucasfilm/Kobal/Shutterstock Aubree Miller in 'Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure'
While it's hard for the Ewoks themselves to be taken too seriously when their mouths don't open when they talk and their eyes never blink, the most egregious example is in the spider attack scene — again, spiders on Endor? — with a phony baloney arachnid that looks like it was constructed for a New Jersey middle school production of James and the Giant Peach (you can actually see the wires holding it up in one shot as it very unthreateningly descends upon its prey).
That just adds to the overall cheap feel of the production, as does one "night" scene that was clearly shot outdoors in the middle of the day — a not uncommon practice in 1980s TV movies, but one we are not used to seeing in higher end Star Wars productions.
There are some good things about Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. The words "Yub Nub" are spoken several times, offering a welcome reminder of the unfortunately exorcised classic Ewok banger from ROTJ. And… well, actually that's about it. (Unless you include the five-minute scene of an Ewok hang gliding, which I most certainly do.)
There's also an odd narration provided by Burl Ives that provides occasionally questionable information ("Logray the village mystic is as old as the trees") that I can't help but assume was added in post-production once someone realized nobody would understand what the hell was going on half the time. However, the narration does kind mirror Ives' similar work in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, giving the TV movie a nice familiar and deliciously cheesy tone, no more so than during the final — if somewhat debatable — last line of "Courage, loyalty, and love are the strongest forces in the universe."
How strong? So strong that… THEY MADE ANOTHER EWOKS TV MOVIE! YES, A SEQUEL! CARAVAN OF COURAGE GOT A SEQUEL! While you digest and process that somewhat disturbing bit of information, check out our entire roundtable discussion of An Ewok Adventure on the newest episode of the Dagobah Dispatch podcast below (which also features an interview with Ewok Adventure cast member Warwick Davis and his costars of the new Willow), and come back next week for our dive into Ewoks: The Battle for Endor!