With Star Wars – The Complete Saga released first the first time on Blu-ray around the world, we find ourselves asking if it is really complete? It certainly contains all the films released to cinemas, albeit not the versions that were seen originally, but this is by no means the complete Star Wars story.
There are at least three other Star Wars films that predate the prequels that remain in lowly standard definition, and shockingly remain completely untouched by George Lucas. That’s right, as disturbing as it may be, the closest thing we have to an original 1970s Star Wars product is film in which one of the Golden Girls argues with Greedo and Wookies wear clothes. Long before Ewoks could blink, they had no less than two of their own adventures – and they were pretty damn good. So come with us as we journey back to a time before the Internet, when VHS was king. It was a long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away…
The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
There are few items in the Star Wars legacy that are as simultaneously coveted and reviled as The Star Wars Holiday Special. Indeed, George Lucas himself has disowned it as the kind of misguided concept one takes on when buoyed by the success of something as monolithic as Star Wars. Only screened in its entirety once, on 17 November 1978, it has never officially seen the light of day since. Thanks to years of video bootlegging, and the wonder of the Internet, we can now access it on YouTube.
Few films can claim to have Princess Leia singing about Life Day, a family of Wookies in red robes and a Jefferson Starship music video. The movie is set on Life Day, the Star Wars Universe equivalent of Christmas. Chewbacca is heading home to see his hitherto unmentioned family, where we ultimately discover Chewie has been naked this whole time. All of this is really an excuse for a series of vignettes and shorts that are increasingly bizarre. We see Ackmena (Bea Arthur) running the Mos Eisley Cantina, where they are still playing that one song. Only this time Arthur is singing “Good night, but not goodbye” along to it. We also get the first appearance of Boba Fett. Boba Fett? Where? The badass bounty hunter appears in cartoon form, battling dinosaur-like creatures. This is pretty much where the cult of Fett began, and could have just as easily ended did he not turn up for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi a few short years later.
With no less than four musical numbers, including one with a busty chorus-line of Wookies, some comedy skits and an acrobatic routine, with the exception of the Boba Fett clip, The Star Wars Holiday Special is an almost completely irredeemable train wreck. Lucas once reportedly commented that “If I had the time and a hammer, I would track down every copy of that program and smash it”. If nothing else, it harks back to a time when the Force wasn’t to be taken so seriously, and Star Wars was simply a really popular film of the late 1970s, and not the cultural phenomenon that it is today. After all, where else can you find a Star Wars film that sees everybody marching off into the sun in perfect harmony?
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984)
The Towani family have crash-landed their starcruiser (“Starcruiser CRASH!”) the forest moon of Endor, and the two Towani children – Mace and Cindel – are soon separated from their parents. The native Ewoks have also lost two of their children, but discover the Towani kids while looking for them. Despite Mace’s initial apprehension about the Ewoks, he is won over when they help nurse his little sister back to health. Fast becoming friends, the Ewoks agree to help the children find their parents. So off they trot, braving all manner of dangers not previously seen on Endor.
For a television production that is nearly thirty years old, the production values on this are incredibly high. The film screened for the first time in 1984, where it is known simply as An Ewok Adventure , but we now tend to use the European title of Caravan of Courage. This was LucasFilm’s first foray into the world of television, unless you count the The Star Wars Holiday Special, and they obviously wanted to get it right, or at least not as wrong as the Holiday Special. A fair bit of money was spent on recreating Endor for the small screen, and it shows. The lead children all give solid performances, with Mace (Eric Walker), bearing more than a passing resemblance to a young Mark Hamill. Although special effects may seem a little dated by today’s standards, they were almost cinema-standard in 1984 and still hold up reasonably well. Certain scenes will no doubt be permanently etched in the brain of children of the 1980s from repeat viewings on the small screen, and they still retain much of their dramatic tension now. The scene in which Mace is trapped underwater is tense and gripping.
Although a little dated in some respects – especially a scene with a giant spider, which is both reminiscent of and outdone by a certain Tolkien-related film – this is an almost perfect family film. The scary bits will freak the kids out a little, but are never so scary that they will have them looking away for too long. It is action-packed, and moves along like a bullet.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)
This picks up not too long after the events of Caravan of Courage. The Towani family have been staying with the Ewoks while they carried out repairs on their ship. This idyllic setting is shattered when an army of the Marauders, led by King Terak and the witch Charal attack the Ewoks village, killing all of the Towani family except Cindel. Together with the Ewok Wicket, they manage to escape the Marauders and hook up with a forest creature named Teek and an old man named Noa, played by the ever-popular Wilford Brimley, who starred in such films as Cocoon and The China Syndrome. They all bond and resolve to fight the evil forces that inhabit Endor.
This film has a very different tone to Caravan of Courage. To put it blunty, unlike the Return of the Jedi Ewoks, these guys pack heat and they kick ass. The first big difference is the obvious budget increase, making this seem even more like a top-notch (for 1985) LucasFilm production than the first one did. Again, the effects are a little dated by today’s standards, but they are far beyond what would have been seen in the average made-for-TV production of the era. One criticism is that sometimes these effects tend to overshadow the simplicity of the story, which was plotted by George Lucas and adapted for the small screen. It is far more violent than the previous entries, as it is geared towards action rather than the family drama of Caravan of Courage. Quite a few blasters are fired, and there is a body count as big as a downed Death Star. At its heart, it is still a story of good overcoming evil, little beating big and love conquering hate. Otherwise, this is another superior piece of family entertainment. Many of the films that George Lucas has been involved with but not directed since 1977 are far superior to his recent efforts, which show a brilliant mind that is also completely clueless to working with actors.
These films have some of the advantages of the Ewok animated spin-off series. As this does not revolve around the Skywalker family, this is part of the “Expanded Universe”. Not being as beholden to Star Wars lore, the show can pretty much tell any story it likes, and it does. The departure works well in terms of storytelling, but one’s enjoyment of these films is going to depend largely on how much you like the Ewoks. Although mysticism and magic are brought more into play than the previous depictions of the Ewoks, and a number of other Endorian creatures are introduced, they are pretty much the same characters as they were in those few scenes from Return of the Jedi. As such, if you hated them then, chances are you aren’t going to love them now. Yet this is a terrific piece of adventure filmmaking, and if you’ve ever wanted to see Ewoks with guns, this may be your only chance.
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor were released on DVD back in 2005 as Star Wars: Ewok Adventures by Fox. The Star Wars Holiday Special has never been made officially available for home release. Of course, of you investigate the bonus features on the Blu-rays, you may find a small surprise.