Movies That Ruined My Childhood: Ewoks – The Battle for Endor (1985).
If you think Disney’s Star Wars movies are destroying your childhood now, wait till you get a load of this tale of murder, mayhem and adorable furry creatures.
Solo and Rogue One are not the first Star Wars spin-off films. That dubious distinction goes to a pair of straight to cable features about the Ewoks. The first, Caravan of Courage: an Ewok Adventure, was little more than a Star Wars branded version of Lost in Space. While it did have some wonky creatures and a pair of the lovably ferocious teddy bears going to the big merchandising store in the sky, it was a pretty tame affair. Not so with the sequel, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.
The sequel to Caravan of Courage should have been called Festival of Fear, because it got incredibly dark and twisted. What was probably intended to be the further adventures of the mop-topped hero of the first film instead turned into a story of slaughter, witchcraft, marauding warlords, and hideous monsters. Fun times!
Ewok: The Battle for Endor (1985).
Young Cindel Towani and her family are finally ready to escape from Endor, after having crash landed there in the first film. The local Ewok tribe, including Wicket from Return of the Jedi (Warwick Davis) have helped the family to survive the jungle planet since their arrival…but they can’t protect them from the ravenous forces of Terak and his marauders. The war-band was also stranded on Endor and hope to take the Towani’s repaired star ship back to their home base, by any means necessary.
ANY. MEANS. NECESSARY.
Right off the bat, The Battle for Endor shows its teeth. The endearing Towani family from the first film is viciously gunned down by the marauders right before our eyes. We had just spent an hour and a half getting to know them (ABC usually ran both films in tandem, so I first saw this right after having re-watched Caravan of Courage). The first film really tries to make Cindel’s brother, Mace, into a stand-in for a young Luke Skywalker, with Cindel providing a softening influence on his rebellious streak. Imagine my surprise when we see him get blown to smithereens in the first ten minutes!
I don’t know why the studio tacked so hard into “the horrors of war” theme when the first film was so family friendly. Even when a monster kidnaps their parents in the first film, they manage to all wind up OK by the credits. Maybe Ma and Pa Towani tried to haggle for more money and George Lucas decided to “alter the deal” a little. Here there’s nothing left to the imagination: Cindel’s whole fam damily is dead as door nails, at the hands of a grotesque space pirate and his cackling space witch.
A Space What?
Another aspect of the Ewok movies in general, and Battle for Endor in particular, that makes it such a weird departure from Star Wars is that it’s very much a fantasy instead of a science fiction story. There are dragons, ogres, witches, and castles, all things that do not figure at all into the wider SW universe. The tone of Battle for Endor is somewhere between Willow and Jim Henson’s the Story Teller…and we’ll get to how terrifying that series was!
ILM at its Best…and Worst.
You have to give credit where it’s due, Industrial Light and Magic does their job with style. They got told to make a bunch of Star Wars monsters on a TV movie budget and they delivered. Instead of going with mostly costume work like they did in Caravan, Endor has quite a few stop-motion and go-motion animated beasties. Despite 30 plus years of distance, they still are quite impressive. As a child, the boar-wolves that the marauders use to attack their prey stand out as terrifyingly effective.
The suit work is pretty solid as well. The Ewoks look like glassy-eyed teddy bears with ferocious teeth, just like I remember them from Return of the Jedi! Terak is suitably (?) hideous in his make-up and battle gear, though I think the actor isn’t pointing his sword in the right direction most of the time he’s swinging that dang thing around! The sorceress Charal likes to shape shift, and ILM handled her transitions nicely. Her outfit in human form could have used some work…
All’s Well…No, It’s Not.
Interviews with the writing staff and George Lucas reveal that the story for Battle for Endor was a hodge-podge of whatever they had watched that weekend. George had seen Heidi, so he wanted to tell the story of Cindel bonding with a gruff old curmudgeon played by Wilford Brimley. Unfortunately that meant casually murdering her family and inserting some random old fart into the story, all because TCM was showing a Shirley Temple marathon that week! The rest of the staff had seen The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad recently, so that explains the stop-motion creature feature we got.
The problem is that none of it really added up to a story that A) felt like Star Wars, B) felt like a sequel to Caravan of Courage, and C) made a lick of sense, either tonally or emotionally. The story culminates in a pitched battle with Terak where Ewoks get blown to bits right and left until Old Man Quaker Oats manages to jump start his crashed battleship (Jesus Christ, how many people crash land on this goddamn planet anyway!) Wilford Brimley then summons the power of diabetes to incinerate Terak and his minions in horrific detail with his turbo-lasers. Cindel and Brimley then wave goodbye and leave Endor. I assume this leads to a celebration by the Ewoks, since the cause of two movie’s worth of death and grief have finally left their planet! Unfortunately, this is pre Return of the Jedi, so they’re not out of the woods when it comes to humans getting them killed in unrelated conflicts.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor is such a confusing mess, that I can’t fathom why it got made, why they kept the characters from the first movie, or why they marketed it to families. There is quite a bit of visual flair to its simple story, such that you can find something of interest to occupy your eyeballs, but it doesn’t do any favors to fans of Star Wars, the Ewoks, or the first movie Caravan of Courage. Add in all of the extremely casual carnage and creepy Grimm Fairy Tales vibe, and you have a movie that baffles while it terrifies. But at least it’s better than the prequels.