Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. And yet others thrive on a tone not easily marketed in Hollywood. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these films for what they get wrong — when they get it wrong — and what they right do in spite of the wishes of the studio or the director.
This week: Ewoks: The Battle for Endor
We love Star Wars rip-offs here. In fact, part of our theory of cheesy movies in the late 1970s and 1980s revolves around the singular importance of the 1977 original film as the cornerstone of cinematic trends for next decade. Be it something like Starcrash, the worldview of The Man Who Saved The World (aka Turkish Star Wars) or even obscurer, low budget would-be space operas, we find these also-rans very appealing.
So what happens when Star Wars itself leverages its brand to produce something which has the feel of a ripoff? It turns out to be this weekend’s cheesy movie, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.
The plot concerns young human Cindel Towani (Aubree Miller). Her family has been stranded on the forest moon of Endor for months, but after she and her brother Mace (Eric Walker) allied with a band of Ewoks to save their parents in Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, things have been looking up. In fact, their disabled spaceship is almost ready for liftoff. Unfortunately, the ship’s power source has attracted the attention of Terak and his Marauders. The band of space orcs mow down Cindel’s family and kidnap her along with the friendly Ewoks.
While being transported to the Marauder castle, Cindel and Wicket W. Warrick (Warwick Davis) manage to escape. Finding themselves in an unfamiliar part of the forest, they meet Teek (Niki Botelho), a superfast creature of indeterminate origin. He lives with Noa (Wilford Brimley) a curmudgeonly old cuss who also owns a disabled spaceship. He wants nothing to do with Cindel and Warrick, but they soon worm their way into his home as his gruff demeanor masks a heart of gold.
Back at the Marauder castle, Terak compels the shape-shifting witch Charal (Sian Phillips) into finding Cindel under the incorrect belief that she knows how to use the power source he stole from her family’s spaceship. Charal manages to kidnap Cindel, leaving Wicket, Noah and Teek to do the heroic thing and rescue her from the Marauders. At this point, Wicket remembers his fellow Ewoks and organizes a prison break. It all leads back to Noa’s ship and the titular battle for Endor.
And if the plot reminds you more of one of the many fantasy movies we’ve profiled here, that’s the key to The Battle for Endor‘s charm. While Star Wars always straddles a line between sci-fi and high fantasy with its space wizards and laser swords, The Battle for Endor topples off the side of the burro with the Marauders looking more like something out of Beastmaster and poor Sian Phillips clearly dressed for her upcoming role as a Deathstalker villain. And unlike the high-minded ideals surrounding the Force, Charal’s powers are depicted as nothing more than the sort of witchery you might expect in a sword and sandal movie. Nonetheless, that haphazard treatment of the Star Wars tone makes the film far more cheesy and enjoyable than it might otherwise be.
It probably also helps that the film completely undermines the first Ewoks telefilm, Caravan of Courage, by killing Cindel’s family in the first ten minutes. Originally, George Lucas pitched a story to writer/directors Jim and Ken Wheat which was, essentially, Heidi in space. The three soon agreed Cindel from Caravan should be the Heidi character. This decision radically alters the feel of both films as Cindel is put into traumatic experience after traumatic experience. A internet fan-theory suggesting she and Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Captain Phasma carries some weight because Cindel gets the raw end of Lucas and the Wheats’ seemingly cavalier decision regarding her family.
But at the same time, it makes Battle for Endor all the more fun to watch as it simultaneously makes you feel foolish for investing in the Caravan characters while also forcing the surviving Towani to make nice with Wilford Brimley, an actor so gruff, the Wheats employed Lucasfilm mainstay Joe Johnston to direct his scenes. It’s a wild ride.
Also wild is the very quality of the filmmaking. While the creature effects and matte paintings look good enough (to say nothing about the superb shooting location in California’s redwood forests), the movie was very clearly made on the cheap with much of its runtime devoted to four characters — two of them in creature costumes — while the bevy of Ewoks and Marauders take a nice long break during the film’s second act. They reappear, but a certain cheapness is on display during the third act Battle for Endor, which ends up looking more like a small skirmish over a stream than the sort of conflict the Ewoks would experience in Return of the Jedi, a film supposedly set after Battle for Endor.
That cheapness, to say nothing of the broader fantasy elements and wholesale slaughter of the Towani clan — give Battle for Endor a particularly cheesy feel. At the same time, you could easily see Lucas agreeing to these sort of production values on an Ewoks television show. Instead, he decided this possible look for Star Wars on television was too costly to make and it became Lucasfilm’s last foray into live action television for over 30 years.
Nonetheless, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor will offer those of a certain age a nostalgic tinge back to a time before ABC and Star Wars were owned by Disney and Brimley could carry a primetime slot on his presence alone.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor is available for rent on Amazon Prime.