Robin’s Underrated Gems: Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)

In case you haven’t noticed, Star Wars fever is spreading throughout the entire world right now, so I thought it might be a good time to revisit one of the more obscure projects from the Star Wars universe. After the Ewoks were introduced in Return of the Jedi and became such an integral part of the plot, you just knew that dollar signs were popping up in George Lucas’ eyes. Needless to say, within two years of Jedi’s release, the Ewoks became the subject of two made-for-television spin-off movies and their own animated series. During my childhood, I always assumed that the Ewoks were universally beloved, but as I got older, it was interesting to look back and learn that they actually received mixed reactions when Jedi originally came out. Many older Star Wars fans found them annoying and disliked the idea of these primitive cuddly creatures defeating Imperial Stormtroopers during the climactic battle sequence. But as someone who was only five years old when I first saw Return of the Jedi, I can confirm that the Ewoks were extremely popular within my age demographic. When we learned that new movies about the Ewoks were going to be airing on TV, we treated it as a huge friggin’ deal! The first of these movies aired in November 1984 and was titled The Ewok Adventure

The story of The Ewok Adventure involves a family named the Towanis crash-landing their star cruiser on the forest moon of Endor and becoming shipwrecked. Shortly thereafter, the Towani parents are kidnapped by a giant monster called the Gorax. The two children, teenage Mace and his younger sister Cindel, eventually wind up befriending the Ewoks and stage a rescue mission to save the parents. Truth to be told, even as a kid, I always found The Ewok Adventure to be kinda dull. The climactic battle with the Gorax is fairly entertaining, but as a whole, the film is lacking in action and excitement. I actually wanted to write an entire column about The Ewok Adventure, but just couldn’t find enough interesting things to talk about. George Lucas’ original idea was to do a one-hour television special about the Ewoks, but a decision was made to expand it to two hours. This might explain why the story feels padded and there are long stretches where nothing interesting seems to happen. However, when a made-for-TV sequel titled Ewoks: The Battle for Endor aired the following year, I found it to be far more entertaining. After re-watching it as an adult, could I objectively call The Battle for Endor a good movie? Well, maybe not, but I can’t deny this was a childhood favourite of mine and there’s an awful lot of nostalgia there.

If nothing else, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor deserves props for having one of the ballsiest opening acts ever seen in a film intended for children. As the story opens, the Towani family has nearly finished repairing their star cruiser and are ready to leave Endor and return home. Sadly, they never get that far, as the Ewok village is attacked by a group of scary-looking creatures called the Sanyassan Marauders, who look like a cross between apes and reptiles. The lead villains include the head Maurader, Terak (Carel Struycken), who seems to believe that the energy crystal from the Towanis’ star cruiser contains magical powers, and Charal (Sian Phillips), a sorceress who has the ability to transform herself into a raven. The Marauders proceed to take the Ewoks prisoner and turn little Cindel (Aubree Miller) into an orphan by murdering both of her parents and her older brother, Mace. Yes, you read that right. After devoting an entire movie to young Mace’s quest to rescue his parents, the sequel just decides to kill all these characters off within the FIRST TEN MINUTES!

Looking back, it’s amazing that children everywhere didn’t suffer massive PTSD after sitting through Battle for Endor, as it contains about six movies’ worth of traumatizing moments before the first commercial break even hits. After Cindel and the Ewoks are captured by the Marauders, both she and her Ewok best friend, Wicket (Warwick Davis), are able to escape. They soon cross paths with Teek (Niki Botelho), a furry creature who moves with super speed and is pretty much an Endor version of the Flash. Teek takes Cindel and Wicket back to his home in the woods, where (for reasons that are never really explained) he lives with a human companion named Noa. Like the Towani family, Noa was travelling in a star cruiser before he crash-landed on Endor and he’s been stranded there for a long time. And as if this movie wasn’t dark enough already, it turns out Noa had a friend named Salek, who was captured by the Marauders and wound up like this…

It probably sounds like The Battle for Endor is the most depressing movie ever, but the entertainment value actually shoots through the roof the moment Noa appears onscreen. That’s because Noa just happens to be played by none other than Wilford Brimley. It’s hard enough to look at Noa without thinking about memes involving oatmeal and diabetes, but it also doesn’t help that he spends about 90 % of the movie being a surly, grumpy bastard who likes yelling at children and Ewoks…

Wilford Brimley’s performance is easily the most entertaining aspect of Battle for Endor. It’s hilarious to learn that Brimley apparently did not along with the directors, Jim & Ken Wheat. As a result, all of his scenes had to be shot by the film’s production designer, Joe Johnston (future director of such hits as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Captain America: The First Avenger). This might help explain Noa’s constantly miserable demeanor throughout, but Battle for Endor becomes even more hilarious when it attempts to turn Wilford Brimley into a badass action hero. It’s amusing enough that this movie provides you with the sight of Brimley scaling a castle wall with a grappling hook, but the height of silliness is probably the climax, where Noa uses his walking stick as a weapon during a sword fight with Terak. The Princess Bride this is not…

The storyline for Battle for Endor is a pretty simple one. Cindel eventually gets kidnapped again by the Marauders before Noa, Wicket and Teek are forced to mount a rescue operation to free Cindel and the rest of the Ewoks from captivity. This all leads to a big battle sequence in the Endor forest which attempts to recreate the climax of Return of the Jedi, as the primitive Ewoks uses their skills to defeat the technologically superior Marauders. If you’re one of those people who disliked the “Ewoks vs. Stormtroopers” battle in Jedi, you might not like seeing it again here. However, as a viewer who was only seven years old at the time, the climactic battle sequence was pretty damn epic! All in all, the greatest strength of The Battle for Endor is that it contains plenty of action and moves at a much better pace than its rather sluggish predecessor. Many of its setpieces are pretty silly, but strangely fun to watch, like when Teek coerces two Maurader guards into shooting each other by shoving a card up one of their sleeves during a poker game.

I was always a big fan of Wicket in Return of the Jedi, so I thought it was pretty neat to see him essentially get his own movie and become the central hero of the story. Amusingly enough, you also get to hear Wicket recite all his lines in English, since, for the convenience of the plot, they simply claim that Cindel taught her Ewok friend how to speak the language in between movies. So herein lies the dilemma: when you’re a kid, movies in which the Ewoks are the main characters sound like pure awesomeness, but if you watch these movies for the first time as an adult, you might find the whole idea insufferable. So how can I objectively rank Ewoks: The Battle for Endor as a movie? Well, truth to be told, most of the praise I’ve thrown at this film is purely the nostalgia talking. I can concede that in spite of the story’s darker elements, The Battle for Endor does do a pretty solid job at delivering the goods for its younger audience, though I can’t see older viewers getting a whole lot out of this film. That said, I still think both Battle for Endor and The Ewok Adventure are relatively easy to watch and never cross the line into becoming painfully bad, like, say, the Star Wars Holiday Special (or many of the scenes in the prequel trilogy, for that matter). But while The Ewok Adventure is easily skippable, I’d still recommend checking out Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, if only as a curiosity piece. I mean, where else are you going to find a children’s film in which a little girl watches her entire family get killed and seeks salvation from Wilford Brimley?

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