Dear heavens, that was horrible. It's proper Star Wars, yes, but it's Star Wars for those pre-school kiddies who haven't quite mastered speech and whose mothers think they're not old enough to be allowed to watch PG movies yet. Actually it's not a great fit for that demographic either, but I'll be buggered if I can see who else it could possibly be aimed at. Everyone else would be better off just watching Star Wars.
The root of all its problems is that it was made for TV. It apparently got a short theatrical run in Germany, but I'll bet today even Germans haven't heard of it. That's not a bash at the production values, which are easily good enough for cinemas, but it's hard to imagine a storyline this dopey making it into theatres. It's like Disney at its absolute worst. The two lead actors are Aubree Miller (aged 5) and Eric Walker (aged 14), and I wouldn't have guessed that Miller was even as old as five. Maybe they filmed in 1983, when she was four? I swear she was being promised candy to get to the end of her lines or something, because she certainly doesn't understand the concept of line delivery. Walker had at least been a child actor in other stuff, whereas the only things Miller ever acted in had "Ewok" in the title. Nevertheless she's still the better of the two leads, on the grounds that she doesn't really understand words but at least has one good scene (explaining to an Ewok that their star cruiser crashed), whereas Walker comes closer to competence but is twice buttock-clenchingly terrible.
The story goes as follows. Miller and Walker have lost their parents and are with the Ewoks. They find their parents. The end. There are a few twiddly bits along the way with bits of Endor wildlife, including a couple of moderately badass creatures towards the end, but in terms of plot construction I think I've pretty much covered it. Early on, I was quite enjoying the film. After a while, I started to realise that almost nothing was happening at a languid pace in a Children's Film Foundation kind of way. Towards the end, I was pausing the movie to give myself a break whenever the pointlessness overwhelmed me. I didn't have anything else to do, mind you. My brain simply needed to breathe. This film isn't badly made as such, but seems to think that an audience of four-year-olds doesn't need a plot. I'm seeing better story construction in each of the five-minute Paddington Bear children's BBC TV episodes that my wife's watching at the moment because they're cute.
Of the two leads, Miller works better. She's likeable, in a "not entirely sentient" kind of way, and is at least the same size as the Ewoks. Walker though is being a dick, both in the writing and the acting. He's the kind of boy who on being given a rock, says it's just a "stupid rock" and throws it away. He has "I'm A Dick" attitude. He's annoying. Happily his first Ewok encounter ends with him tied to a stick as if they're going to cook and eat him, but unfortunately they let him live. It even seems that some of this was deliberate, but I hope they didn't expect him to be such a bad actor. He also looks a bit like Mark Hamill, in a frog-like kind of way.
Meanwhile the Ewoks, like the Wookies, speak their own alien language throughout. George Lucas has basically created a foreign language film for kiddies. This works slightly less well than in The Star Wars Holiday Special
, because the film's cheating with: (a) a narrator, and (b) occasional snippets of pidgin English in the Ewoks' dialogue. This is mostly mimicry like "ET phone home", but there's a scene where Walker admits he's thrown away his rock and the Ewoks reply "You did?" and "Good Lord-o". Occasionally the Ewoks also look like men in costumes, when you can see the folds in the cloth.
Then you've got the dialogue, which for the most part is unexceptional but occasionally switches into Projectile Vomit Mode. "Do you miss mummy and daddy?" "I just wish I never would have done anything wrong. I wish I had been the best kid there every was. I just wish now I could tell them how I felt. Tell them I love them." "I'll be scared without you."
As Star Wars lore, it looks and sounds right. Peter Bernstein (son of Elmer) is doing his best John Williams impersonation, helped a lot by lifting chunks of original score outright. Ironically Endor is now the most geologically diverse planet in the Star Wars universe, having been allowed more than one kind of terrain. Its desert of Thelma has acid pools and dry lakes, for instance. It's also got quite a lot of beasties, both science-fictional (e.g. rampaging killer A.L.F.) and real (ferrets, llamas, rabbits, goats, chickens, owl, ponies). The latter nagged at me. They look cute, yes, but what implications are we supposed to be taking from their presence? Oh, sorry, forgot. We're not supposed to be thinking at all, because we're supposed to be four years old. Oh, and the name of the Dick's character is Mace, so it's not as if this thing would be completely without influence in the wider scheme of things.
The second-best thing about this film is its fantasy tone. Such little plot as it has could be kindly described as having a quest structure, so we have surreal bits like the cloud of Tinkerbells and the children having to pass a magic test. A crystal turns into a lizard when the Dick touches it, then a mouse for the Little Sister. I also liked the scuttling arrowhead, the stop-motion animation and the scene where a river eats Dick. The tinkerbells would have been better (and less unintentionally creepy) without their cartoon eyes and mouth, though.
The best thing is that apparently one of the matte paintings has Winnie the Pooh in a tree. If I ever went insane and watched this again, I'd be trying to spot that.
The finale is where we really enter "PLEASE be over" territory. The kids' parents are being kept in a cage with bars they could have climbed through at any time. Personally I'd have risked that fifteen-foot drop any day over being eaten, although the monster who's keeping them is so gigantic that I wonder if he wasn't thinking of them as pets, not food. To him they're an after-dinner snack, not a meal. The Dick has a gun which runs out of power (the only time this has ever happened in the Star Wars universe), except when it doesn't. There's an idiot Ewok who attacks the giant's foot with a stone axe and deserves squishing. To my surprise, the pipsqueak gets what's presumably a bloodless mortal wound and then a death scene. The puppet spiders look rubbish, too. I'd been watching peacefully enough until all this came along, you know.
In small quantities, this thing is quite good. It won a Primetime Emmy, you know. Nevertheless we're talking about something less entertaining than The Star Wars Holiday Special
. Time will tell whether or not it's better than its sequel, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor
(1985). Recommended to anyone who wants to teach pre-school children to put down lighted candles on straw.