"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" hasn't even opened in theaters yet and we're already drooling over the announced spin-off movies involving familiar characters we love, with at least one likely to follow the adventures of a young Han Solo. Dedicated fans, however, will remember that these upcoming films aren't the first feature-length spin-offs from the Star Wars universe.
Step back in time with me to an era of big hair, acid-wash jeans and neon T-shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Star Wars is big and George Lucas decides it would be a good idea to make a couple of Ewok-focused movies. Because everyone loves Ewoks. Except for maybe "Force Awakens" director J.J. Abrams. A few days ago, we got confirmation that there won't be Ewoks in the new movie.
In 1984, Lucas gifted the world with "The Ewok Adventure," now known more popularly as "Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure." The made-for-TV film is the story of a brother and sister stranded on Endor, lost without their parents on the forest moon. The movie did manage to snag a prime-time Emmy for outstanding special visual effects, but rightfully lost out in the outstanding children's program category to a special episode of American Playhouse about a World War II orphan.
I was willing to put my young Star Wars idealism on the line and watch "Caravan of Courage" as an adult. I'm doing this for you, so you don't have to. I don't remember if I saw "Caravan of Courage" when it first aired, so I'm coming into this fresh. I want to see if my childhood passion for all things Ewok has stood the test of time and to give myself a small refresher on the Star Wars universe before "The Force Awakens" opens next week.
The movie opens with a Burl Ives narration. This immediately conjures up images of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The Towani family's starcruiser is wrecked. The kids, Mace (no relation to Mace Windu) and Cindel, are missing. Then there's a monster. Cut to credits.
There's a ton of incomprehensible Ewok dialogue. There's an Ewok hang glider that looks like the Wright Brothers built it during a fever dream. There's a naughty goat. There's a daring rescue followed by even more Ewok grunting. And that's just the beginning.
Viewers are treated to a knife-wielding Ewok, an impulsive and violent human boy, a sick and helpless little girl and a giant stop-motion rat/bear/razorback creature. Actually, the stop-motion stuff is pretty cool. The rest of it, not so much.
It's hard to watch through the whole film. I take breaks. I come back to it. I try to remember how exciting this all was when I was a child. The final rescue sequence takes longer than a Yoda training session. There's a symbolic death and then everyone has a party. I welcome the ending credits.
I'm not yet mentally ready to watch the second spin-off, "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor," which came out in 1985. There's a lot of carnage involved, and I can't handle any more Ewok-talk just yet. Hold me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and protect me from the Ewoks. I'm not saying I will never watch "Battle for Endor," but I'm going to have to give myself at least a year to recover from "Caravan of Courage."
The Ewok legacy
I don't blame the Star Wars powers for these cheesy movies. The Ewoks were a huge deal. My brother and I had matching brown Ewok stuffed toys. My brother even agreed to trade his security blanket for his Ewok. This was serious stuff.
What surprised me most is how I thought Ewoks were so cute when I was a kid, inhaling every Star Wars movie and playing with my Princess Leia action figure. Ewoks aren't cute. Ewoks are scary.
"Caravan of Courage" is a great reminder about just how creepy the Ewok faces look. They are also brutal warriors, willing to brandish knives at children and ruthlessly battle creatures 10 times their size. Some of them wear skulls on their heads.
This Ewok-soaked film gives me a new appreciation for the pacing, characters and special effects in the original Star Wars trilogy. It's much easier to embrace and be engaged by the fast-paced adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia than it is to trudge along with a couple of kids and their Ewok buddies.
What's fun about "Caravan of Courage" is the opportunity to settle into life on Endor and enjoy sights like a llama, shaggy ponies and a ferret in the Ewok village. If you thought Endor was just a big forest, you'd be wrong. There's a desert landscape full of acid pools and dry lakes. What's not so great is the pervasive cheesiness, sight gags, slow pacing, stilted acting and silly plot.
Watch or not watch?
I can't make this decision for you. "Caravan of Courage" is a must-see for Star Wars completists. If you saw it as a child, it might be best to just leave it at that and cherish your hazy, fading, rosy-hued memories of the movie.
The humans wear "life monitors" on their wrists that seem to have seen into the future and predicted the arrival of the Fitbit a couple decades ahead of time.
At 50 minutes in, I couldn't believe there was still 40 minutes left.
Ninety minutes of Ewok-talk is about 80 minutes too much.
Rebel-style orange flight suits are a fashionable choice for children.
Tinkerbell lives on Endor.
Never locate your monster lair next to a bottomless chasm.
"Courage, loyalty and love are the strongest forces in the universe." If Burl Ives said it, it must be true.
At least "Caravan of Courage" is better than The Star Wars Holiday Special.