The cozy amber-tinted memories of youth. A simpler time of simpler tastes. As the cynical, crushing weight of adulthood often sends us nostalgically yearning to revisit the things we once held dear, those special things are usually not quite how we left them. Like a favorite climbing tree’s branches that we once had to leap for, now boringly coming up waist-high, the films we adored as children and tweens typically do not measure up the same now. Sometimes old favorites are best left to our memory. Yet now and then they miraculously hold up, or even prove to have hidden subtext we never realized. They say you can’t go home again, but I think it is high time that I tried.
The Artifact: The Ewok Adventure (1984)
What Is It: A made-for-TV movie.
The Background: Return of the Jedi was a polarizing film, both for Star Wars fans and for the creative forces behind the films. For most people the divisive element can be summed up in one word: Ewoks. Or in the case of my older brother, four words: those stupid fucking Ewoks.
For the Ewok haters, it wasn’t just that George Lucas had followed the somber and devastatingly adult Empire Strikes Back (and concluded the triology) with cutesy-silly fury dwarfs. Things became even worse when it became known that the Ewoks were originally supposed to be Wookies, before Lucas got all Lucasy. This of course enraged a vast section of the male fan-base, as the very idea of a huge Wookie battle was the very thing of nerd boners. (These boners all went flaccid upon finally realizing this dream in the prequels.)
Me? I saw Jedi in the theater, but was so young I have no exact memories of it. Like most children who saw Jedi, I goddamn loved the Ewoks. Loved them. I had a stuffed Wicket. I cried when that one Ewok dies in Jedi. I laughed at their slapstick gags. I cheered when they hit the stormtroopers in the head with rocks (I can hear my brother say: “You can’t take out a stormtrooper with a fucking rock!). When I learned that there was going to be a movie dedicated solely to the Ewoks?! That was my own little kid boner moment.
The Memory: In 1984 I couldn’t really comprehend the difference between theatrical movies and made-for-TV’s movies. They all seemed the same to me. So as far as I knew, this was just another Star Wars movie. I was just as exited for it as I would have been for a fourth proper theatrical film.
The Ewok Adventure was epic in both scope and tone. The film’s opening remained etched into my mind for decades: two parents (including Lost semi-regular, Fionnula Flanagan) frantically looking for their missing children around the wreck of their star-cruiser, when suddenly a gigantic horrible monster – the Gorax – lumbers between the towering red wood trees and descends upon them. Then the following morning we join the two missing children, teenage Mace (Eric Walker) and the young Cindel (Aubree Miller). Cindel is ill and the two kids soon cross paths with an Ewok family – the family of Jedi‘s Wicket (the great Warwick Davis). Using special Ewok erb magic, Cindel is cured and everyone becomes friends. Then using more literal Ewok magic, an Ewok medicine man figures out that the kid’s parents were abducted by the Gorax and are being held captive in his lair.
Then the epic adventure begins as the kids, alone with Wicket’s family, head off on a Lord of the Rings style quest to rescue the parents, picking up other Ewoks along the way the help them – like the super badass lumberjack Ewok who throws axes. Once they reach the Gorax’s lair, things become truly terrifying as the Ewoks battle glowing-eyed spiders and then finally the Gorax, who I found so terrifying I could barely look at him.
In the end, all works out great, the parents are saved, the Gorax killed, and then everyone dances.
For years my friends and I used to say “lerdo” (sp?), which clearly meant “idiot” or something similar in the Ewok language.
How Long Has It Been: I feel like there was a time when I watched this movie constantly. Though I don’t know that I ever owned. But I had not seen it since the 80’s, until this week.
The Reality: First off, I don’t know when the film became Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. That’s how the film was titled when it was released theatrically in Europe in the 80’s, and I guess at some point Lucas worked his title changing magic on it.
The other big thing that I didn’t remember was that the entire movie is narrated by Burl Ives with the kind of explain-everything intrusiveness of Ron Howard’s narration on Arrested Development. Though, given that the Ewoks don’t speak English and that CP3-O isn’t around, I suppose it needed to be done so we’d know what the fuck was going on.
All-in-all the film – directed by Oscar-winning documentarian, John Korty, from a story by Lucas – is really perfect for what it is: a kid’s TV movie. As an adult, it was fun while the nostalgia lasted, but eventually it becomes pretty boring. And obnoxious at times; particularly the teenage Mace, who is an extraordinarily whiny bitch. Really, most of the humor and emotional beats don’t hold up. Back in the day I loved Wicket’s two quarreling brothers. I thought they were hilarious. Not so much now (though I suppose two dwarfs wrestling in bizarre costumes never gets entirely old).
It is funny how kids can’t really differentiate between certain kinds of things. In 1984 I felt like Ewok had FX on par with Jedi. The Ewoks themselves of course look the same (they’re the same costumes). And while the film is pretty impressive for a TV movie, there are some really jinky FX on display – in particular the “scary” glowing-eyed spiders towards the end; one Ewok’s vicious battle with a spider reminded me of Bela Lugosi’s self-puppeteered battle with the octopus from Ed Wood.
Not really engaged in the story this time around, my adult brain couldn’t help but dissect the film. For one thing, why does Wicket’s family now live all alone in a tiny hut in the middle of the woods? Did they get ejected for the Ewok tree village? I also find it interesting that people thought Ewoks were so cute. Because they’re actually kind of hideous. Yeah, they’re short, pudgy and fluffy, but their faces are the things of nightmares. I mean, looks at these fucking guys…
If you found one of these things staring at you, would you say “awww” and hug it? Or run screaming in terror? Ewoks don’t blink! Ever! This combined with their creepy teeth and dogs noses, makes them sorta horrifying. But their language is cute. I can’t lie. I’m probably going to start saying “lerdo” again.
The Gorax was one of many nightmare inducing things I didn’t expect to find on TV as a kid. Possibly only the Jabberwocky from the 1985 Alice in Wonderland fucked me up more. The Gorax himself is still pretty cool, and that opening scene I described actually remains effective. Although the climax, featuring the Gorax bumbling around after the Ewoks, is no where near as suspenseful as I once found it.
The most ridiculous part of the movie for me now is the two parents’ reaction when the kids show up at the Gorax’s lair. In typical kid’s movie fashion, the parents are overjoyed. You’ve come to save us! Obviously your parents would be so proud and happy you journeyed across a hostile alien world to save their lives, right? Now as an adult, of course, the moment just seems preposterous. No parent I know would be happy to see their two young children wander into the lair of the giant monster that is about to eat them. The parents don’t even tell the kids to run or get out of there! Shitty, shitty parents.
More than anything, watching the film now, I couldn’t stop marveling at what a completely insane thing The Ewok Adventure is. What a weird movie that must have been to work on.
Paradise Lost or Magic Reborn: The magic certainly wasn’t reborn, but given that I realized the Ewoks were kinda stupid back in college, it’s not like I had started to assume that The Ewok Adventure was a better film than Jedi. It was basically just what I now expected.