Home > Reviews > REVIEW – Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

REVIEW – Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

Directed by: John Korty
Produced by: Thomas G. Smith
Screenplay by: Bob Carrau
Story by: George Lucas
Edited by: John Nutt
Cinematography by: John Korty
Music by: Peter Bernstein, John Williams (themes)
Starring: Eric Walker, Warwick Davis, Aubree Miller, Daniel Frishman, Debbie Lee Carrington, Tony Cox, Kevin Thompson, Margarita Fernández, Pam Grizz, Bobby Bell, Fionnula Flanagan, Guy Boyd, Darryl Henriques (voice), Sydney Walker (voice), Burl Ives (narration)
Originally known as: The Ewok Adventure
Year: 1984

 

What happens when you’ve seemingly brought an end to one of the most profitable film sagas, and yet you still want to make money off of the property in a similar medium? Why, you make a spin-off, of course! Return of the Jedi had brought the original film trilogy to a close on its release on May 25, 1983, but George Lucas was obviously far from finished with the series, despite this. (And who can complain, really?) Even before the concept of the prequel trilogy was thought up, and well before Disney’s acquisition and foray into the sequels and their own spinoffs, there were already plans to expand the series beyond the core films and even into the realm of television – just, you know, not in the form of a variety show. The Star Wars Holiday Special was considered to be an embarrassment by almost all involved, including George Lucas. So when this project began to move forward, Lucas ensured he had full creative control.

Based on an original story by Lucas and reusing assets from Return of the Jedi, the project would feature Jedi’s breakout (and very marketable) sidekick characters, the Ewoks – the cuddly bear-like natives of Endor who assisted in the defeat of the Empire – in their very own adventure. The Ewok Adventure, as it was then aptly known, was conceived as a half-hour TV special but was retooled into a full-length TV movie at the insistence of ABC as a condition of their agreement to air the special. This allowed for The Ewok Adventure to even have a brief theatrical run overseas under the title Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, a name that has since stuck, even on U.S. home video releases.

Set an indeterminate amount of time before Return of the Jedi, Caravan of Courage follows Mace and Cindel Towani, a brother and sister who were separated from their parents after their star cruiser crashed on Endor. Discovered by the Ewoks, they take the children in and decide to help them find their parents, who may have been taken by a troll-like creature known as the Gorax to his layer up in the mountains. Along the way, however, the older brother, Mace, must learn to move past his prejudices against the natives and realize, through this trial, that he doesn’t always have the answers he needs. Sometimes, you need friends to back you up.

As you may expect, Caravan of Courage is aiming for the younger crowd. If you thought the Ewok scenes in Return of the Jedi were insufferable, get ready for an overdose of Lucas’ idea of pre-Jar Jar cute sidekicks. Quite a bit of the movie is spent watching these guys do silly things. At the very least, though, the performers are good for what they’re doing. Warwick Davis, the child actor who famously portrayed the main Ewok in Return of the Jedi, returns as Wicket, and he’s clearly into the role, but it’s really hard to find fault in what is ultimately a pantomime performance. The other actors in the Ewok costumes are just as good as can be expected, and I guess when you put them next to the two human leads in this film, they do actually manage to come off as somewhat charming creatures.

Mace Towani is written very much as a precocious kid with era-appropriate ‘tude, so you know that all the kids thought he was too cool for school. Headstrong, stubborn, and always getting himself into trouble, he’s intended as the audience surrogate and even looks a bit like Luke Skywalker, Jr. at first glance. Since the film already assumes the audience loves the Ewoks, however, he really comes off more like the bully who always picks on the more likable main characters until learning his lesson – only to revert back to his old ways in another episode. Except, instead of episodes, it’s mere minutes later. And instead of being a side character, he’s the hero!

His younger sister, the cherubic Cindel, is certainly less obnoxious, and probably should’ve been the main character all along. Sadly, she is ultimately pointless, going along with whatever her older brother has planned and sometimes taking a break to play and chat with Wicket. She doesn’t even participate in the climactic confrontation with the Gorax. I understand she’s only 5, but you’d kind of figure that she’d get to do something, particularly since she is apparently important enough to bring along in the first place, rather than leave behind in the care of the Ewoks. She seems to be there to draw in the same crowd that watched Shirley Temple movies just because she was a cute little girl with dimples, but that’s not enough to make the character particularly entertaining nor interesting here. She doesn’t even sing and dance, for example, though I guess we all know Lucas has an aversion to that

Caravan of Courage was never going to be as epic nor as technically sound as the big-budgeted theatrical releases. The plot seems to be inspired by The Hobbit, with a hero who sets off on an adventure with a band of allies to defeat the creature in the mountains and take the MacGuffin waiting for them. Sadly, half of the film is wasted not on this grand adventure, but watching as Mace berates the Ewoks who are just trying to help make Cindel feel better after she becomes sick, and one can only take so much of Cindel’s moping and Mace’s chiding before your sympathies turn self-reflexive. When the adventure proper does begin, the movie presents us with special tools given to each character, promising that they will be of some importance along the journey. Again, the film doesn’t live up to its promise, as most of them are as inconsequential to the plot as this film is to the rest of the Star Wars franchise, and cheap whimsy frequently takes the place of true danger or even wonder. The film ultimately ends with a whimper, as not even a horror-movie inspired second act to the Gorax confrontation elevates it above the other monsters we’ve already seen.

Really, the only intriguing concept in the film, for me, is a really nerdy one – that it introduces apparently real magic into the world of Star Wars. One could argue that the Ewoks are merely using the Force in a way that’s different from the way that both the Jedi and Sith do, a concept backed up in the old expanded universe. This film is very much a part of that cast aside universe, which also means that the film and its sequel, The Battle for Endor, are one of the few projects that Lucas directly had a hand in creating that are no longer considered canon by Disney. (See also: The Force Unleashed video games)

It’s hard to really know where the blame should lie with this film’s failure. That it was originally a half hour special suggests that it was stretched beyond its capacity to fill up two hours (including commercials). That it was merely a cash-in project that had readily available assets also suggests that this wasn’t exactly a labor of love. The bland and often annoying characters and stiff acting from the child stars don’t help matters, either. There’s potential in revisiting and revising the basic story of Caravan of Courage, but that’s pretty much it. The movie was ultimately successful enough to warrant a sequel and even an animated spinoff series of its own, so I guess someone liked it. As for me, I should probably be glad that I didn’t initially connect this film to the greater Star Wars saga at the time. This is a lifeless, boring, and understandably often forgotten film that even narrator Burl Ives seems to be rendered bored by. Child me was a picky person who was worried way too much about what was cool, and I could see me trying to save face the same way that I hid my affinity for Power Rangers from certain friends had I connected the two at the time. This is neither bad enough to be ironically entertaining, like the Holiday Special is, nor is it good enough to really warrant anything but an initial viewing out of curiosity – and, even then, only if you’re a die hard fan.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5

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