Having never watched The Battle for Endor before, I was truly shocked by its opening. Two decades before Anakin will slaughter younglings in Revenge of the Sith, this light and fluffy children’s movie begins by brutally butchering most of the cast of the first film. Caravan of Courage’s kid hero, and young audience surrogate, Mace, now a foot taller, has all of five seconds of screen-time before he’s killed in an explosion. His parents too – the characters the plot of the last film was built around saving – are also murdered. Lucas and company must have decided they wanted to push the story on without them, and this was a shockingly dark way to do so. With 75% of the human characters dead and most of the Ewoks captured, we’re left with young Cindel and Wicket to carry the movie.
When this initial attack began, mere seconds into the film, I almost jumped out of my seat. The Empire! It must be, right? They’ve arrived to secure their position on the moon for the events of Return of the Jedi and these weird Ewok adventures will finally begin to resemble Star Wars. But no. Instead of Stormtroopers the villainous marauders are just marauders. The uninspired design has them resembling generic, cheap sci-fi baddies rather than something Star Wars-related, and they couldn’t even be bothered to give them a cool name. The marauders are simply known as “marauders”. Having said that, the design isn’t much worse than the similar design in The Mandalorian episode “Sanctuary”, it’s just that the production value is inferior, with lifeless masks the performers have to shout through to be heard. Diction must have been the most important aspect when casting them.
Carel Struycken, of Twin Peaks, Men in Black, and Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, plays the lead marauder Terak, beginning the terrible naming convention of the film. You see, Terak killed Salek shorty before Charal captured Cindel. These names are far too similar. I had a hard time keeping track of who was who. Terak (the bad guy if you’re also struggling) is after something known as “the Power”. This turns out to be a crystal that powers Star Cruisers but he speaks about it as if it’s some mystical object which will imbue him with magical powers and the reveal is quite underwhelming. Especially when he captures it but then has no idea what to do with it – the film in a state of flux until Terak loses his Macguffin just so he can chase it again and add 30 minutes to the run time.
Cindel and Wicket escape their foes and, after an encounter with a fun stop-motion monster, try to find a new home in the forest. Maybe it’s just me but I had never presumed that Wicket was a child before. The film plays him like a contemporary of the young Cindel but, when it came to Return of the Jedi, I thought Wicket was acting in a playful and inquisitive nature like most Ewoks would if they were to meet humans, not because he was a child. Younger than the village elders perhaps but not five-years-old. Wicket has also learned English, or Basic as it’s known in the Star Wars galaxy, which allows him to communicate like an ape from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I guess this is necessary for a film starring a teddy bear and a five-year-old girl, especially if you don’t want a narrator like the first film, but I think Ewoks work best as physical comedy rather than talkative characters.
Cindel and Wicket soon meet Noa at his little house in the woods. If in the last movie Mace and Cindel were audience surrogate characters for the kids watching, then Noa is the grumpy old guy we older viewers can relate to, wanting nothing to do with this nonsence. Played with maximum huffage and puffage by Wilford Brimley, Noa at first wants nothing to do with the kids but clearly has a heart of gold that soon shines through and he becomes Cindel’s adoptive father. Found family is always a good theme and idea in Star Wars, whether it be my beloved Star Wars: Rebels or even the sequels. Here, the brutal opening of the film does give their relationship surprising weight. There is a rather shocking upskirt shot of Brimley getting out of bed that desperately needed cutting however.
Noa is joined by his companion Teek, a furry rodent thing with super speed. I have no idea whether Teek is supposed to be an Ewok or another creature altogether but his physical appearance is a total failure. He’s clearly included to be the cute new character, and Cindel treats him as such, but he actually looks horrifying, like those deformed dogs with their tongues permanently hanging out. He needed to be taken out back and drowned in the lake. With Porgs, Babu Frik, and Grogu, we’re currently in an era of cute merchandisable Star Wars which is actually successful, but Teek is a huge early failure. Are the Ewoks themselves no longer cute enough, despite spinning off two movies purely based on their cuteness? It also feels as if Teek was included to give Lucasfilm a technical workout and see whether they could perfect his super speed ability onscreen. It looks as good as simply speeding up the film can I suppose.
Cindel is kidnapped by a witch and taken to a castle. That’s right, a witch and a castle; the film, like its predecessor, being straight fantasy lacking a Star Wars twist. I’ll give a little credit to the castle for desperately trying to be like Jabba’s Palace but with the low budget if feels more like that terrible Masters of the Universe movie. Although the mechanical throne is pretty cool. The witch – the aforementioned Charal – uses magic and can even turn herself into a raven. I don’t know which feels less Star Wars-y: witches or ravens. Retroactively, in books, Charal is said to be a Nightsister but she lacks any of the interesting elements, from visuals to story, that made the Nightsisters so successful in The Clone Wars. That show perfected how to make witches fit in Star Wars. Speaking of canon, Battle for Endor introduces Blurrgs, which went on to appear in The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian. Even here they’re a cool design and I’m glad they were plucked out for new, better stories.
Noa, Teek and Wicket rescue Cindel and the Ewoks from the castle which leads to the eponymous final battle in the forest for Endor itself. Kind of. This film certainly has much more action than Caravan of Courage and, for the first and only time in both movies, the final battle scene actually felt like Star Wars. Cheap, not-very-good Star Wars, but Star Wars nonetheless. Even the music was noticeable as the mini battle took place. However, I don’t know whether they couldn’t or whether it was just a creative decision, but not using classic Star Wars sound effects is lame. An Ewok raises a horn to its mouth to begin the fighting and a pitiful noise comes out. Why not use that iconic four-note sound from Return of the Jedi? Was it a John Williams creation? The battle also highlighted how awkward the Ewok suits must have been. There is an awful lot of stumbling around and failing to grab onto things.
With the marauders dead, the battle comes down to a final duel between Noa and Terak. No lightsabers of course but rather a staff vs a sword. Imagine Luke and Rey’s stick fight in The Last Jedi but, well, with an elderly man vs a 7 ft giant in a mask he can’t see out of. It’s not great. And it’s made worse with an ending I don’t understand. Wicket slingshots a rock at Terak but hits the ring around his neck. The ring then, inexplicably, burns him alive. This is the same ring that the witch uses to turn into a raven so I guess she’s now stuck as a raven and can’t use it to become human again? The film is very unclear when it comes to the final fates of the villains. At least in Caravan of Courage, the baddie getting an axe in the back and falling down a big hole was self-explanatory.
The Battle for Endor’s greatest improvement over its predecessor, and biggest surprise, is that I was never bored while watching it. It may slow a little too much in the middle when we arrive at Noa’s home but overall, it’s a far better paced movie than Caravan of Courage. Whereas that film only got going after 40 minutes of interminable setup, Battle for Endor starts off with a shocking burst of action and remains engaging. That being said, most of the other problems remain. This is a weird, generic fantasy movie that just happens to star those furry Ewoks from that one Star Wars film. It may not follow a Tolkien-esque storyline like Caravan but all the fantasy elements remain, although thankfully with a few more blaster battles. The Battle of Endor is a poorly-executed TV movie but isn’t without a certain charm. It’s the better of the two Ewok movies but still won’t be part of my Star Wars viewing rotation any time soon.
What are your thoughts on Ewoks: The Battle for Endor? Which Ewok movie is the best? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.