Wilford BrimleyEwoksStar WarsEric Walker
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor
Medium: TV
Year: 1985
Director: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Writer: George Lucas, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Keywords: SF, Ewoks
Country: USA
Actor: Wilford Brimley, Warwick Davis, Aubree Miller, Sian Phillips, Carel Struycken, Niki Botelho, Paul Gleason, Eric Walker, Marianne Horine, Daniel Frishman, Tony Cox, Pam Grizz, Roger Johnson, Michael Pritchard, Johnny Weissmuller Jr.
Format: 94 minutes
Series: << Star Wars >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089110/
Website category: SF
Review date: 1 March 2010
It's the second live-action kiddified load of Ewok garbage! Well, unless you count Return of the Jedi. Caravan of Courage was inappropriate for family viewing on the grounds of being infantile, but the omens are better this time because at least we have a less painful title.
What's interesting about this one, relatively speaking, is that it's written and directed by Ken and Jim Wheat. They're really writers rather than directors, but their next projects after this would be A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and The Fly II. These days they're best known for Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick and further attempted Vin Diesels. I hadn't expected to see their names on something like this. Obviously they're doing George Lucas's evil bidding and so you can forget any idea of exploding Ewok heads and murderous criminal heroes, but it's still possible to argue that there's more of an edge this time. We begin with a massacre that kills off 75% of the humans from Caravan of Courage, for instance. That's always encouraging, especially when one of the victims is a teenager. See, they're getting in practice for Nightmare on Elm Street already! The only problem is that it's being done in an edited-for-TV fashion that avoids the money shots and leaves it unclear that anyone got killed at all. "Mummy and Mace are dead!" wails Aubree Miller. How the hell does she know? I couldn't have said for sure and I'd been watching it on television. Was the film planning to have her supposedly dead family return and tell her off for wishful thinking? (Spoiler: no.)
There's another sequence later on that's avoided a scary shot that would have helped the visual storytelling, but if you can overlook that, there's some mildly impressive violence here. I liked the battle scenes. We have guns, arrows, explosions and on-screen death of unimportant characters. The villains are fond of torching people's houses. These battles would have looked convincing in real Star Wars. The nastiest thing here is probably a moat full of unspecified flesh-eating creatures, which the film can get away with because the audience doesn't actually see anything and it's all done with suggestion. An actor pokes a stick into the water and then pulls it out again, shredded. That's enough. We get the picture. Shortly afterwards there's a tense moment when Wicket's trying to climb up to safety, then later the alien chieftan randomly cuts a rope that's stopping two of his men from falling to their deaths offscreen. Splash. That was evil, i.e. a good bit.
The chieftan's death at the end is pretty spectacular too. That was nasty, i.e. another good bit.
Don't think this isn't still kiddie stuff, though. The sole survivor of the opening massacre is Aubrey Miller, now aged six. She loses her family, yes, but she still has her best friend Wicket and he's now learned to speak English! (Sorry, Basic.) That's one horror we were spared in Caravan of Courage, since the humans could only have sappy conversations with each other. "Goodbye not good." Ouch. She and Wicket end up teaming up with a grumpy old man played by Wilford Brimley, who's secretly got a heart of gold but nonetheless likes telling people that they're not welcome, he doesn't want them here and it only means trouble to have friends. This misanthropy would have been more convincing if Brimley hadn't looked like Santa Claus. At one point he has a conversation with Miller and helps her come to terms with her grief over losing her family, which had me cringing for until to my surprise I realised that what he's saying is actually quite good. Maybe I've lost all sense of proportion in saying that, though. We're talking about the kind of dialogue where telling someone that your family is dead has to be followed with, "It makes me sad."
Brimley also has a space monkey sidekick with super-speed. He can tie people to trees and climb a mean rope, but otherwise he's mostly annoying.
There's a fine array of bad guys and beasties. My favourite were the stop-motion riding animals, which are basically fish with legs. There's something charming about stop-motion animation, although it was getting a bit old-fashioned even in 1985. Happily also we don't have any real-world animals, as opposed to the previous film's petting zoo of chickens, ferrets, llamas and so on. Well, maybe there are horses. I'm not sure about that offhand. I've also found a reference online to Cindel's family originally being from Earth, which might seem to contradict the "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" bit except that it's easy to suppose that other planets might also be called Earth, Rock, Sea or whatever by their inhabitants. Visually, both this and Caravan of Courage are rather impressive. It's not cheap-looking at all, with some rather good sets and models (e.g. the caves, the castle), while the Star Wars bits (e.g. the star cruiser) look almost startlingly true to the originals. Industrial Light & Magic helped make this film, you know.
The bit that feels wrong is the witch, played by Sian Phillips. I'm not using being metaphorical or anything, by the way. You'd think she'd stepped out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, except that I don't remember C.S. Lewis giving us a distractingly moulded breast(s)plate. I believe Star Wars fandom has retconned her into being an ex-Jedi, but that's flying in the face of the fact that these two Ewok films are going out of their way to do magical fantasy in the Star Wars universe. See also last time's Queen Izarina of the fairies. Phillips has a magic ring and can turn herself into a raven. I didn't actually mind her, but her presence does weird things to the movie's tone and she ends up dropping out of the plot in favour of the alien chieftan.
The acting's better than last time. Almost everyone from the previous film's dead (yay!) and the sole survivor turns out against all the odds to have learned to act. Aubree Miller's become competent. She can do facial expressions and everything, while she's even holding her end up with the dialogue. I was oddly intrigued by her reading of "people just moved away and left all this junk behind." I'd previously been under the impression that she'd dropped out of the industry aged six, but imdb tells me that this year she did post-production as assistant editor on a film called The Message. Wow. You go, Miller! Meanwhile the adults are obviously less important than the infants and furballs, but even so both Wilford Brimley and Sian Phillips are proper actors. Brimley was in Cocoon and also played Dr Blair in John Carpenter's The Thing, while Phillips played Livia in I, Claudius. Neither of them are being noticeably stretched, but Brimley's quite endearing I suppose and they're both more than doing their jobs.
Don't laugh, but apparently there's controversy about the continuity of these two films. Official Star Wars continuity places them between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, yet Wicket can speak English here and yet has seemingly forgotten it again when he meets Leia. Maybe they're really two different tongues that we're just hearing as English? Other people have claimed that an Ewok called Chukha-Trok is apparently alive at the end of Return of the Jedi despite having died in Caravan of Courage. These are scary people and my head hurts. Further extensions of this mighty saga can be found in the Star Wars: Ewoks animated series and in Tyrant's Test, the third book of the Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy.
This is a definite improvement on last time and in many ways even quite good, but it's still aggressively kiddified. I don't merely mean that it's for children, but that it's for a US TV executive's idea of being for children. Proper children's stories are great. This film is often vaguely tiresome and not infrequently eye-rolling. There's little that can be said in defence of those two Ewoks holding off a bad guy army in comedy fashion, even compared with Jar-Jar's slapstick battle at the end of The Phantom Menace. However it does feel like authentic Star Wars when Phillips isn't on-screen and there are definitely things I liked here, such as the Wheat brothers' nasty streak and the way Aubree Miller's come on as an actress. Would I have watched Part III if they'd made it? Of course. Would I recommend this to normal people? Hell, no.