Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Recent Watches: The Ewok Adventure (1984)

The decade and a half between Episodes VI and Episode I were an uncertain time for “Star Wars” devotees. Fans flat-out did not know if George Lucas would ever make another "Star Wars” movie. At the time, the fabled first three episodes were nothing but ideas. In the nineties, an explosion of interest in all things “Star Wars” would lead to an Expanded Universe, composed of novels, comic books, toys, and video games. Back in the eighties, what passed for an Expanded Universe was decidedly more kid-focused. There was the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” and two different Saturday morning cartoon shows. The only feature length films to appear during these post-“Return of the Jedi,” pre-“Phantom Menace” days were two TV movies devoted to the adventures of the Ewoks. The first of which was shown on ABC in 1984 under the title “The Ewok Adventure” and received a theatrical release overseas as “Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure.” The two films aren’t well-regarded by fans and have faded into obscurity for everyone else.

The story is set between the events of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” making this Episode 5.1 or something. A family star ship crashes on the moon of Endor. The mother and father vanish one night while exploring the forest, abducted by a strange, giant creature. The children, Mace and his little sister Cindel, try to survive on the planet alone. It’s not long before they encounter the colony of Ewoks, who take a liking to little Cindel. Soon, the children discover that their parents are still alive. Joined by a team of specially selected ewoks, the caravan sets off to rescue the kids’ mom and dad and defeat the wicked Gorax.

Some people dislike the ewoks, finding the antics of the cutesy teddy bear creatures to be too much. Within “Return of the Jedi,” I’m inclined to agree with that. Fuzzy aliens getting into funny antics is certainly out-of-place in a serious film about intergalactic war. Contained within their own story, the ewoks function much better. I hate to say it but, when left to their own devices, the ewoks are actually… Kind of cute. The movie features occasional narration from Burl Ives, which is a bit distracting.  Mostly, it’s there to give the names of the ewoks and help clarify some plot points. Some of the antics are a bit too cute, such as an early bit involving a hang-glider. Warwick Davis’ Wicket, ostensibly one of the stars of the show, is still too useless for my taste. However, when focused on the day-to-day culture of the ewoks, “The Ewok Adventure” is actually rather charming. It’s fun to see Wicket and Cindel play, or to see a mother ewok tending to her infant child. Turns out, the ewoks are mystics with a world, religion, and culture all their own.

Unlike “Return of the Jedi,” which isn’t strictly a kid’s movie no matter what George Lucas says, “The Ewok Adventure” is obviously a kids’ movie. This is most apparent in its young protagonists. The most common complaint lodged against the film is its main characters are annoying. Granted, Eric Walker as Mace isn’t the best actor. Aubree Miller as Cindel can occasionally grate as well, especially when she starts crying. However, the actors have a decent brother/sister chemistry. Most importantly, they actually act like real kids, panicking when bad things are happening but capable of bravery, patience, and understanding.

“Caravan of Courage” functions best when exploring the dangerous world of Endor. An effective sequence has the kids being cornered by some sort of giant bear-like creature, who is brought to life through a charming mix of stop-motion and suit effects. Halfway through, the titular caravan of courage is formed, the movie evolving into an unlikely “men on a mission” flick. A number of ewoks are gathered, each gifted with a special item and equipped with a specific skill. There’s an axe-wielder and a mystic, to name two examples. There are strange sights to behold, like a lake that sucks people under or a dancing array of pixie like creatures. Once they reach the cave of the Gorax, the movie becomes even more of an adventure. In a scene that reminds a lot of “Krull,” the group climbs over a giant spider web. Naturally, there’s a giant spider in that web, which leads to a fun scene. The Gorax is an appropriately intimidating monster, basically a kaiju-sized Bigfoot, with an appetite for people and wielding a huge axe. He even kills one of the ewoks, in a surprising moment. The final confrontation with the Gorax is about as intense as you’d expect a kid-centric spin-off to “Star Wars” to get.

Look, I’m not saying “The Ewok Adventure” is a masterpiece. It’s an interesting side story to the original trilogy. The effects and production values are excellent, far better then you’d expect from a TV movie. It’s good to know George Lucas never sparred a dime, even for a project like this. The story moves at a steady pace, far peppier and quicker then any of the proper “Star Wars” films. Getting a closer look at the ewok’s world and culture actually redeems the pesky little critters a bit. I rented the film multiple times as a kid so maybe it’s the nostalgia talking. But if you’re willing to put up with a little bit of kid movie antics, and if you have some affection for goofy eighties fantasy flicks, “Caravan of Courage” is way better then it has any right to be. [7/10]

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