Synopsis: In Caravan Of Courage the Towani family are separated when their shuttlecraft crashes on Endor. While the parents are soon captured by the giant known as Gorax, Mace and Cindel, the son and daughter, are missing. When the Ewoks discover the missing Towani children in the remnants of the shuttlecraft, it becomes clear that the children must establish trust with them in order to embark on an adventure to rescue their parents.
eyelights: it’s better than the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special‘. its score by Peter Bernstein.
eyesores: it’s an Ewok adventure. it’s a TV production.
‘The Ewok Adventure’ (or, as it’s known on home video, ‘Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure’) is a television special that was first broadcast on ABC on November 25, 1984. Intended for younger audiences, the film was a tie-in to the final part of the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, ‘Return of the Jedi’ (although its events take place before the ones in ‘ROTJ’).
I still remember when it first saw the light of day. I can’t say for certain that I watched it when it was broadcast, because I seemed to miss a lot of special programming, and a friend of mine had a VCR, so I may have watched it when it was released on home video. But I do recall my disappointment, expecting more ‘Star Wars‘-related thrills and adventures.
Of which there are none.
I didn’t see it again until two decades later, when it was released on DVD.
Firstly, one needs to fully understand that ‘The Ewok Adventure’ is not a ‘Star Wars’ film. While it takes place in the same universe, it’s an Ewok film (hence the title). Please note: the Ewoks don’t talk and they come from a rudimentary culture. Now, this may not limit the story options, per se, but it’s a far cry from what most ‘Star Wars’ fan would expect.
Secondly, since this is geared towards younger audiences, this means that what is deemed entertainment is of a very different caliber than that of general audiences. Although ‘The Muppet Show’ proved that it was possible to overlap the two, most productions aimed at pre-teens sets their sights low. Such is the case with the story and antics here.
‘The Ewok Adventure’ follows Mace and Cindel Towani as they look for their parents, following a crash landing on Endor. With the help of the Ewoks, the kids discover that the parents have been taken by a large giant in a nearby mountain. So they go off on a trek across Endor, in the hope of rescuing them – with the capable help of their furry friends.
One of the first problems to plague this film is the fact that, unlike the ‘Star Wars’ films, it’s a television production; anyone expecting incredible visual effects, amazing puppetry, awe-inspiring landscapes, and intricate costumes and set designs are immediately disappointed: the ship the Towanis crashed in is no bigger than your average family car.
And it looks cheap.
“Cheap” is the pervading impression one has while watching ‘The Ewok Adventure’: the designs of any new characters look like crap, the costumes are uninspired, the puppets are garbage, the stop-motion animation is three decades old, the props don’t look real, and even many the Ewoks, who are recycled from the movie, look like overstuffed teddy bears.
One is as far removed from ‘Star Wars’ as can be.
And the animals in this world? They’re Earth animals! I mean, the Ewoks have ferrets as pets, for goodness’ sake! Are they space ferrets, maybe? That would explain it. Oh, and they have chickens, too! Space chickens? And what about their space ponies? What makes them special? Anyway, it just looks like the producers gave up on creating this alien world.
Further cementing this cheap-o vibe is the main cast. While I admit that finding good child actors can be a feat, there’s no reason that a ‘Star Wars’-related production couldn’t get the pick of the litter. Sadly, Aubree Miller (who plays Cindel) is pathetic and Eric Walker (who plays Mace) is about as watchable as Mark Hamill was in his whinier moments.
(And just to remind us of the latter, and vaguely tie this film to its parent series, the producers had Mace wear a uniform inspired by Luke’s orange flight suit.)
But the adult actors aren’t necessarily terrific either: fed poor expository lines and dumb dialogue, they try their utmost to be convincing, but can’t seem to convince themselves. And Burl Ives (who was so memorable as Sam the Snowman in ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer‘, narrates the piece as though he were bored out of his mind, or trying to read himself to sleep.
Given the script, it wouldn’t at all be surprising.
The script basically links together a series of barely interesting sequences into a wannabe adventure film. But most of it is filler: An Ewok flies on a glider; the Ewoks do some slapstick; Cindel is ill so they need to find medicine; Mace gets his hand caught in a tree; Wicket scares a horse that Cindel is on and they have to retrieve it. Oh, the humanity!
One of my favourite (read: worst) sequences is one where Mace decides to touch the surface of a pond and is immediately transferred below the surface. Stuck there, he depends on the Ewoks to get him out, except that everything that touches the water disappears too. So they eventually use a talisman to save him – like four hours later, while he’s under water!
Who came up with that risible notion? Probably the accountants: “Look, we can’t afford to have a creature come out of the pond and grab Mace.” “Why don’t we make him fall into it instead?” “Well… then he’d just get out.” “Yeah.” “Why don’t we just make it a pond that he can’t get out of?” “Fuck yeah! It’s a great idea: we just saved another 50 grand right there!”
Another beauty is when the Ewoks and the two children camp out (to kill more time) and, in the middle of the night, Mace is woken up by the visit of Tinkerbell… ahem.. of a bright sprite. He follows it out of his tent and then the Ewoks wake up and they are visited by dozens of other sprites. Hurray for watching an animated Lite Brite show for a few minutes!
And of course, there’s the way in which the kids discover the whereabouts of their parents: after being attacked by a wolf-like creature made out of rubber and ratty fur, they discover some of their parents’ belongings on it. And since the creature belongs to the giant, they now know where to find them. Because a wolf would carry the parents’ belongings!
Breathe, breathe… this was made for kids, after all. And simpletons.
Ultimately, the kids save the day, as one has to expect, after an Ewok distracts the giant: Mace is propelled in the air by the other Ewoks and releases his parents from their cage. This suspense-filled moment consists of watching them climb down a rope while the giant wanders about. Followed by his fall (the most brutal effect yet!) in a pit after chasing them.
The only truly noteworthy part of ‘The Ewok Adventure’ is the score by Peter Bernstein, son of the legendary Elmer Bernstein. While there are no classic ‘Star Wars’ themes to be heard at any point in the film (does the Jawa theme count?), he does play on a few, evoking a John Williams-esque feel. I found that impressive given the expectations this series creates.
Ultimately, ‘The Ewok Adventure’ (or ‘Star Wars Episode 5.1’, if you must…) isn’t all bad, but it barely passes as entertainment. Heck, I was its target audience at the time and I was disappointed. Kids today are far more sophisticated, so I can’t fathom who would enjoy this now. And yet it paved the way not only for a sequel, but also the once ubiquitous ‘Ewoks’ cartoon.
I guess the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ had set the bar pretty low.
Date of viewing: November 21, 2015