Continuing our series of articles examining the various screen incarnations of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, we turn our attention to the Ewoks’ second TV movie, The Battle for Endor…
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, 1985.
Directed by Jim and Ken Wheat.
Starring Wilford Brimley, Warwick Davis and Aubree Miller.
Having fixed their starcruiser the Towani family prepare to leave the forest moon of Endor until the evil Marauders – led by King Terak and sorceress Charal – attack the Ewok village. With her family slain, young Cindel is taken prisoner but manages to escape with the aid of courageous Ewok Wicket. They soon stumble upon Noa, an old man also stranded on the moon, and set out together to defeat the Marauders.
Although George Lucas’ 1984 television special Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure had met with general disregard from critics, ratings for the feature were impressive enough for network ABC to quickly commission Lucasfilm to deliver a sequel set for broadcast the following year. ABC had also secured the rights to two animated shows based upon the Star Wars universe – Ewoks and Droids – that would run through 1985-86, helping to keep the franchise in the public eye and shifting merchandise despite the conclusion of the theatrical trilogy.
Unlike the previous special Lucas adopted a more hands-off approach to The Battle for Endor, with his involvement primarily confined to story development and post-production. He hired brothers Jim and Ken Wheat - who would go on to contribute the screenplay for David Twohy’s 2000 sci-fi action movie Pitch Black in addition to horror sequels The Fly II (1989) and The Birds II: Land’s End (1994) - to write and direct, along with cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky, best known for his work as director of photography on The Muppet Movie (1979) and The Jazz Singer (1980).
The sibling directing team contributed the idea of the space marauders as villains, while the rest of the story was developed during brainstorming sessions with the Wheats, Lucas, Joe Johnston, and ILM regular and Academy Award-winning visual effects man Phil Tippett, who received an Emmy for his work on Caravan of Courage. In an interview with EON Magazine, Ken Wheat discussed Lucas’ involvement in the production. “Lucas guided the creation of the story over the course of two-four hour sessions… and the story idea he pushed was having the little girl from the first Ewok TV movie become an orphan who ends up living with a grumpy old hermit in the woods.”
Young actress Aubree Miller reprised the role of Cindel Towani along with Warwick Davis as Wicket, while Eric Walker briefly returned for a cameo as Cindel’s brother Mace. To fill out the supporting cast of human characters the Wheats hired Wilford Brimley as ‘grumpy old hermit’ Noa and Welsh actress Siân Phillips as the evil witch Charal. Industrial Light & Magic were naturally responsible the visual effects, while production designer Joe Johnston and composer Peter Bernstein continued to offer their services from the first movie. Once again the redwoods of Marin County doubled as Endor, with filming commencing on May 11th 1985 and lasting for seven weeks.
Ewoks: The Battle For Endor premiered on Sunday, November 24th 1985 and also received a theatrical release the following year in Germany. As with much of Lucasfilm’s television output (most notably The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles), the second Ewok movie allowed ILM to experiment with visual effects techniques, while the narrative also shares considerable similarities to 1988’s Willow (directed by Ron Howard from executive producer Lucas’ story). It received three Emmy nominations and was successful in the Outstanding Special Visual Effects category (as with Caravan of Courage the previous year) and critics certainly appeared more lenient towards the special than its predecessor, with Variety describing it as “a worthy entrant in the Star Wars canon”.
While some commentators were impressed by the darker tone and more action-orientated focus, others were confused as to which audience the movie was targeting. This view is understandable given a parental advisory warning alongside with the more ‘cutesy’ elements of the movie, and despite Variety’s praise The Battle For Endor is certainly far weaker than any other live-action incarnation, save of course for the disastrous Holiday Special. However it would also be the last live-action incarnation of the Star Wars canon to see the light of day for the next fifteen years, and for that reason both Ewok features still hold a special place in the heart of many fans.
Bringing Star Wars to the Screen: Episode IV – A New Hope
Bringing Star Wars to the Screen: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Bringing Star Wars to the Screen: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Bringing Star Wars to the Small Screen: The Star Wars Holiday Special
Bringing Star Wars to the Small Screen: Caravan of Courage - An Ewok Adventure
Bringing Star Wars to the Small Screen: The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour