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My first Star Wars? An 'Ewoks' film, and I was hooked anyway

I didn't know what Star Wars was. I just bumbled into a weird corner of it in my local video store. Then I made my parents rent that cheapo sequel all the damn time.

Lucasfilm

Editors' note: As the 40th anniversary of Star Wars approaches, we continue our look at the many ways the sci-fi mega-franchise has impacted our lives.

I'm 35. So unlike some of my more, ahem, senior colleagues, I didn't have the pleasure of seeing the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time in the cinema. I saw the first three movies on the big screen when they were re-edited and rereleased though, because they had made a big impact on me at a young age.

What 7-year-old could resist this?

Star Wars on Video/MGM/UA

Well, kind of.

We got a VHS machine when I was about 7. It was one of the first front-loading models and weighed about as much as a small car. Suddenly a world of prerecorded entertainment was open to me at our grubby local video store.

This was long before the internet, of course, a more innocent, less heavily marketed time. The media wasn't a viciously efficient machine for wringing cash out of parents. I didn't have many toys based on TV shows -- Tygra the Thundercat with realistic whip action, but that was it -- and my friends and I in small-town England hadn't really heard of Star Wars.

As a kid you don't know what's "good" -- at least critically speaking. More importantly, my parents didn't know what was good either. They were too old to be into stuff like Star Trek and Star Wars and just wanted me to watch nice things that wouldn't make me violent.

So among all the tapes of "Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers", I picked out a fantasy-looking thing. It was "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor". Oh, sweet summer child.

I don't remember the cover, but a Google Image search turned up this (the "U" is the kid-friendly universal certificate in the UK) and it looks right. There's a monster with a sword and a guy with a gun and some funny-looking creatures. I reckon I was trying to pick something that looked grown-up and my parents let me have it because of that U.

Now, if you haven't heard of this opus, I don't blame you. It's a 1985 made-for-TV sequel to the better known but widely derided "Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure". (I rented that too, I remember, and didn't like it as much.) Despite being poorly regarded in general, it has some serious talent -- Wilford Brimley from "The Thing", Sian Phillips from "Dune", Paul Gleason from "Die Hard".

George Lucas is credited with the story and executive-produced it, though both "Ewoks" movies were stricken from the official Star Wars "canon" when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney. Co-writers and directors Ken and Jim Wheat went on to create "Pitch Black" and the Riddick universe.

It must have made a big impression because I got my poor parents to rent the crap out of that thing. My most abiding memory is the battle around the family's ship at the beginning. The young heroine Cindel is hiding. She has a bracelet with coloured lights for each of her family members and looks in terror as the lights go out one by one. (What a horrific concept, by the way. Like Mrs. Weasley's clock but much more terrifyingly binary: your family is alive or dead.)

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Then there's the adorable Wicket, the plucky little fuzzball with a leather cap, a little spear and sass up to his elbows. (Having not seen "Return of the Jedi" I was unaware Ewoks are willing to eat humans.) He rescues Cindel and they find a grumpy old wizard guy and they help each other ... that's about as much as I remember. There's a witch, I think? Like "Anne of Green Gables" with blasters.

And that's the key. The blasters. It was the production design, copied and pasted from Star Wars proper, that captured my imagination. The mix of sci-fi and fantasy, pew-pew lasers and wizards in the woods, was a heady combination for my little mind. Long before Star Wars became a cultural juggernaut, I bumbled across this odd little corner of it, a wild, wooly offshoot. And even though it was rubbish, it still had enough of that magic to ensnare and ensorcel me.

Later, I saw the original trilogy on TV (I remember wearing out a recording of "Empire Strikes Back" with Christmas ads) and loved it, and eventually in the theatre. But only grudgingly would I admit these movies were superior to "Battle for Endor", my first taste of that galaxy far away.

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