Ask even the most casual fan how many Star Wars films there are, and the majority of them will tell you that there were six. More devoted fans, however, will probably begin naming some of the more obscure entries in the Star Wars universe. Theres the now infamous Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978 (the one George Lucas would rather forget about), the multiple animated Droids and Ewoks movies which spawned from the animated television programs, and the most recent addition to the family, the animated Clone Wars series. But only those strongest with the force will mention 1984s Caravan of Courage and 1985s The Battle for Endor, the two made-for-television Star Wars movies starring those lovable but feisty forest-dwelling teddy bears, the Ewoks.
For the 2004 Christmas season, Lucasfilm released several of their older Star Wars related films on DVD, including Star Wars Ewok Adventures, which contains both Ewok movies on one dual-sided disc. Those looking for a DVD jam-packed with special features and hidden goodies may find that, as Obi-Wan might have said, these arent the discs youre looking for. Both movies are presented in their original, full-screen aspect ratio complete with a two-channel stereo audio track. The options menu simply allows you to toggle English subtitles on and off (which is in itself a fairly useless feature considering every other line is spoken in Ewokese). Despite being a bare bones disc, the audio and video quality on both discs are good, considering the age and date of the original source material.
Caravan of Courage follows the adventures of the Towani family, a friendly human family simply out scouting the universe. When their ship crash lands on Endor, mom and dad Towani (Catarine and Jeremitt) are captured by Gorax, a mean giant who resembles a Planet of the Apes reject. Mace (their teenage son who closely resembles a young Mark Hamill) and his young sister Cindel soon set off to rescue them. Along the way, the two lads run into Wicket (played by Warwick Davis), Logray, and several other Ewoks who agree to help the kids on their mission.
Caravan of Courage suffers from the ultimate movie killer its boring. The Ewoks run around looking cute in the forest (which no doubt sold even more Ewok-related merchandise) and eventually theres a big climax where Mace rescues his parents from the Goraxs lair while the Ewoks distract him (and Cindel just stands around and screams), but between point A and point B theres mostly just a lot of shots of people walking through the forests of northern California. Er, I mean Endor. Theres a chance encounter with a giant spider (to which one can see strings attached) and a night sequence where the group encounters fireflies (and ILM flexes their muscle), but overall theres just not much here. Caravan of Courage could have just as easily have been titled Safari of Snores.
The Battle for Endor, the Caravan of Courage sequel, does not suffer from the same boring pace (although one would still be hard pressed to call it action packed). The Battle for Endor begins with the Towani family (who havent fixed their ship yet) getting ambushed by Marauders, a fierce gang of goons who all closely resemble Jabba the Hutts skiff henchmen from Return of the Jedi. In the fierce opening battle, mom, dad, and Mace are all killed. Who says Lucas doesnt know how to write a great kids movie?
The rest of the film follows a somewhat familiar plot. Lets see, a young adults parents are killed. The young adult meets an old man who lives by himself. The old man and the young adult team up to storm the bad guys castle (who was responsible for killing the young adults parents), which ends in a big swordfight between the old hermit and a bad guy with a helmet and a cape. Yup, its pretty much Star Wars all over again, except with a bunch of Ewoks thrown in to raise the cutesy quotient. The crotchety old man in this film is Noa (Wilford Brimley), who eventually takes a liking to Cindel and Wicket and helps them along their journey. The enemy is not Darth Vader or anyone else associated with the Empire for that matter. Its King Terak, with Charal the Witch at his side. Witches are far less powerful than Jedi. Charal cant shoot lightning, use a lightsaber, or even perform a simple Jedi mind trick. All Charal can do is turn into a crow and back, and once she loses her magic ring, she cant even do that. Some witch. Eventually Cindel gets captured, Noa teams up with Wicket and learns the value of friendship, and eventually Noa must battle King Terak for control of the power in a fierce lightsaber duel (only instead of lightsabers, King Terak wields a sword while Noa uses a big stick).
The Battle for Endor contains much more action than Caravan of Courage. Marauders are constantly showing up and shooting at everyone, and eventually the Ewoks even begin scavenging rifles from dead Marauders and shooting back! There are flying dragons, dinosaurs, and all other kinds of crazy things in this movie you never knew existed on Endor before.
As far as production goes, The Battle for Endor is better than Caravan of Courage, although neither movie holds up particularly well. Despite names like Dennis Muren and Phil Tippet in the credits, the special effects are, as they say, not so special. The background matte paintings stand out like sore thumbs in many shots. The stop motion creatures (such as the Marauders dinosaurs) dont look as good as the Taun-Tauns from five years earlier. The audio is just as lacking. Noticeably missing is John Williams famous theme music and THXs patented sound effects. At least they could have made the blasters sound like the blasters from the movies!
The biggest annoyance is Wickets face. Its obvious they didnt use the same mask as they used in Return of the Jedi or if they did, they removed all the mechanics that originally made the mask move. Instead of a cute little blinking Ewok, Wicket looks like a possessed teddy bear whose eyes are bulging out of his head from drinking twenty cups of Ewok coffee and has had one too many shots of Botox in his face. This is extremely noticeable every time Wicket talks IN PLAIN ENGLISH. I guess George Lucas finally got tired of writing around major characters who didnt speak English and finally gave in. Wickets chatters on throughout the entire movie, sounding a lot like E.T. and constantly reminding you that things could have been worse in Return of the Jedi.
If either of these movies had been generic sci-fi films unrelated to the Star Wars universe, they would have been forgotten as quickly as they aired. Unfortunately for us however they ARE Star Wars related, which means we are compelled by the dark side to purchase this disc. Amazons $12 price tag makes the pill a little easier to swallow for collectors, who might be the only market for this package. My three-year-old son fell asleep during Caravan of Courage, and later begged for me to turn The Battle for Endor off so he could play Lego Star Wars on the Xbox instead. Recommended for hardcore collectors and loyal Ewoks fans only.