I grew up in the days of television with three channels, five if the weather was right. A time when we had a VCR but pre-recorded films were too expensive to purchase. A lot of my entertainment needs were met by consuming videos recorded directly from network television. One of those precious tapes (which my grandmother still has in her vast archive) was Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.
I loved all the Star Wars movies with a passion known only by children alive in the early '80s. Action figures? Try an Ewok hut playset with a button you could push and the whole top of the hut popped up and there was a friggin' working elevator. We had that. Mom stopped at a fast food place on the way home and what did she bring with her? Return of the Jedi-themed glassware (it was only much later that I realized exactly why I absolutely had to drink out of the metal bikini Leia glass). To understand what Star Wars was like as a cultural phenomenon of its time, imagine being one of those lucky 5-year-olds who are currently living through the Marvel cinematic universe and you'll get some of the picture. Cereal. Sticker books. Underpants. Jim Henson's Muppet Babies had a Star Wars parody episode, even though there were two Star Wars Saturday morning cartoons already.
But ubiquity rarely correlates with quality. Recently, I found myself wondering if my beloved Ewoks: The Battle for Endor would hold up when not viewed through the tiny eyeholes of a cardboard mask my grandma cut out from the back of a box of Kellogg’s C-3PO cereal.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor is the television movie sequel to Ewoks: Caravan of Courage, which I have never seen despite once living in a bedroom wallpapered with in-box Star Wars figures. Which were alphabetized by first name.
Imagine all the sex I had in high school.
But back to The Battle for Endor. The movie is both a horrifying survival tale in which a child is constantly endangered and a development ground for George Lucas’s Willow. Which I guess is also a horrifying survival tale in which a child is constantly endangered.
Battle for Endor might actually be an early draft of Willow.
The story opens with Cindel Towani, aka Great Value Drew Barrymore (Aubree Miller), traipsing across the forest moon of Endor with Wicket (Warwick Davis).
Cindel’s family have crashed their starship and have been hanging with the Ewoks while they fix it. This Ewok-human interaction takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which explains why Wicket was quick to trust Princess Leia when he encountered her but which does not explain why the Ewoks were going to eat Han Solo.
Unfortunately, Endor is also home to a horde of marauding villains led by the fearsome Terak, who looks like a Planet of the Apes extra and behaves like Gary Oldman from The Professional with the motives of King Louie from The Jungle Book.
Terak wants to get his primitive hands on the power of intergalactic travel. He and his henchman attack Wicket’s village and the Towani family, who die one by one as Cindel watches their lives snuffed out in real time via a kind of family Fitbit.
Now both orphans, Cindel and Wicket manage to escape Terak’s minions, avoid getting eaten by a giant bird creature, and survive a harrowing flight on a homemade hang glider. They hide deep in the forest, where they meet Teek, a furry, intelligent creature who possesses the power of super speed.
Teek is also Wilford Brimley’s roommate. In his role as grizzled, stranded galactic explorer Noa, Brimley at first resolutely refuses to help the vulnerable little girl in the woods before growing fond of her and ultimately coming to her rescue when she is captured by Terak’s witch, Charal, a kind of early Bavmorda prototype played by Siân Phillips.
Is the movie predictable? Absolutely. From the moment Noa throws Cindel and Wicket out into the cold, you know he’ll eventually adopt her and care for her as his own. It’s clear from the beginning that the Ewoks captured and enslaved by Terak will escape and have their fuzzy vengeance because they look like teddy bears and nobody is going to show one of them actually roasting over a cheery fire.
The film is rife with strange inconsistencies. How is it that Terak’s entire crew is riding on dinosaur-like creatures but Charal has a magical color-changing horse? This implies there are horses in this galaxy far, far away, despite numerous stand-in lizard beasts of burden we’ve seen scattered on various planets. And as for the witch, is she using the Force to pull off her magic or does some other mystical power exist in the Star Wars canon that we’ve never heard of before and never will again? Throughout the film, Wicket speaks Basic (OK, English), a skill he appears to forget before the arrival of the Alliance in Return of the Jedi. One of the largest continuity errors in the timeline is the presence of blasters and other sophisticated weaponry that the Ewoks ultimately didn’t utilize against the Empire in Return of the Jedi. In fact, the Empire’s footprint isn’t felt at all in this production, despite the fact that they almost certainly had arrived and begun construction of the shield generators at this point.
Remember what I said about the sex I had in high school? So much. So much sex.
Despite its contradictions in Star Wars canon and the wooden acting of its child star, the movie is honestly stunning. Many people forget that before the special edition rereleases of the original trilogy, most of the creatures were Harryhausenesque and many action sequences were awkwardly blue-screened. In terms of the original movies, The Battle for Endor is on par with Return of the Jedi for visual effects, and leaps and bounds ahead of what was being featured on television at the time.
What I found most surprising when rewatching The Battle for Endor was how much it felt like a Star Wars movie, despite being stubbornly its own thing. George Lucas’ heavy involvement with the creation and production of The Battle for Endor is evident in everything except in the dialogue. While Lucas conceived the story, the teleplay was mercifully handled by Jim and Ken Wheat. What could have turned into a shockingly bad spectacle to eclipse the awfulness of the legendary Star Wars Holiday Special actually ended up as a satisfying adventure in the vein of the Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina and Tales From Jabba’s Palace short story anthologies.
So, does it hold up? If one were to approach this production sans childhood nostalgia, fully aware that this was a made-for-television production from the early '80s, it would actually be pretty difficult to be disappointed in it. Really, how could anyone walk away dissatisfied from a movie that features a Wilford Brimley fight scene?
While it’s not of vital importance to the vast Star Wars franchise, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor does mark an important point in George Lucas’s brief shift from science-fiction-oriented projects to fantasy fare, which resulted in Willow (that other movie where Warwick Davis drags a human child on a dangerous adventure and befriends a grumpy sidekick to defeat an evil witch) and his collaboration with Jim Henson on Labyrinth.
My conclusion? Ewoks: The Battle for Endor absolutely holds up.
Also, Wicket straight-up murders a guy.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.