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Ewoks: Battle For Endor (1985) - FilmReview

Terak, the Sanyassan warlord who seeks all power
As reviewed previously, 1984 Star Wars spin-off Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure left a vastly positive impression on my childhood. I was in love with Ewoks, owned most of the Kenner action figures in the 1980s and do consider Return of The Jedi to be my favourite of the original trilogy. The funny thing is I recall seeing Ewoks: The Battle For Endor, the 1985 television movie sequel to Courage, on VHS cassette in a video rental store back in the day. For some reason it wasn't picked up and taken home for a viewing. Perhaps my father refused to rent it out - I never received any pocket money so always had to rely on parental generosity on occasions such as these. In some ways I am now grateful the events of The Battle For Endor were unseen by my younger eyes. How heartbreaking would it have been to witness Cindel Towani, recently reunited with the parents she helped rescue from the Gorax lair in Courage, become an orphan and lose her older brother Mace (Eric Walker) in a Marauder attack on the Ewok village? Cruel, and so unnecessary, clearly bruising the happy ever after nature of the previous installment's conclusion, in my opinion. Still, I promised myself a fresh look at this fantasy sci-fi classic and so DVD disc at the ready...

Escaping the Sanyassan Marauders (who have already captured many Ewoks and are transporting them to their castle), Cindel and Wicket meet up with Teek, a tiny furry rodent-like, simian creature with a faster than light drive installed in his rear - in other words, he can move with incredible speed thanks to an accelerated metabolism. The friendly but mischievous creature leads them back to the hut he shares with Noa Briqualon (Wilford Brimley), a shipwrecked space trader. At first the old man refuses to let his new guests stay, but eventually shows a softer side. Think Heidi (another orphaned little girl created by Swiss author Johanna Spyri) and you get the idea. Besides, who could resist Cindel's porridge and muffins?

One morning the young girl hears a song, the very song her mother used to sing to her, coming from somewhere close by. Investigating, she encounters a beautiful young woman with a white horse. It is, of course, a trap - the woman transforms into Charal, a Nightsister and witch who serves as second-in-command to the Sanyassan warlord who ordered the attack on the Ewoks. Cindel is taken to the castle also as a prisoner. Once there, she learns that Terak (the warlord) wants her to activate a crystal oscillator from a wreckage, believing it will bring him great "power". His lack of knowledge regarding general technology proves him to be an ignorant savage. One wishes a Jedi Knight would rise to show him what true power looks like. Neither Cindel or Charel are able to meet his demands, and are both imprisoned with the Ewoks. Noa, Wicket, and Teek make a daring rescue by scaling the walls and infiltrating the heart of the Marauders.

Heidi and her grandfather. Sorry, Cindel (Aubree Miller) with Noa (Wilford Brimley)
The rescue storyline is comparable to its predecessor though clearly lacking in similar scale and ambition. The Marauders make a poor army and the overall direction feels clumsy. Directors Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat fail to really bring anything new to the table - at least Caravan had the Gorax, evoking thoughts of those early monster features that displayed Ray Harryhausen's work. Hard to believe that the Wheat brothers would go on to write the screenplay for Pitch Black (2000), one of my favourite movies starring Radha Mitchell. I am also a little surprised by Wilford Brimley, who I adore in Cocoon (1985) but fail to enjoy in the role of Noa, he just doesn't feel right in the part. Perhaps it has more to do with the feeling that the character isn't particularly significant, the film instead needing a much stronger Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque hero to lead. Imagine Alp-Öhi (Heidi's grandfather) with a lightsaber. In an interview with Eon Magazine, Ken Wheat said of the movie, "Lucas guided the creation of the story over the course of two four-hour sessions we had with him. He'd just watched Heidi with his daughter the weekend before these took place, 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. We'd been thinking about the adventure films we'd liked as kids, like Swiss Family Robinson and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, so we suggested having space marauders, which was fine with George - as long as they were 7 feet tall, of course! The rest of the brainstorming was done along those lines. Joe Johnston (the production designer and second unit director) and Phil Tippett (the creature supervisor) were involved in the second day's story session, and they contributed an assortment of bits and pieces".

Undoing the good of the first instalment to fit Cindel into the Heidi role is very unfortunate, as they could have easily cast a new young actress for an altogether newer role. That said, Aubree Miller is a sweetheart and it is rather nice to see her again, especially as Cindel's friendship with Wicket the Ewok continues to grow. Wicket W. Warrick has been played (in costume) by Warwick Davis in all three Stars Wars movies to feature him, but did you know that it was Darryl Henriques who voiced Wicket in the two Ewok spin-off films? The actor is best known to sc-fi fans as the Romulan Ambassador Nanclus in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). Personally I'm still wondering why Lucas had Wicket talk at all, you don't have to understand a pet dog to be its friend and life companion.

There are many Star Wars fans who loathe Ewoks and their movies, who feel Return of The Jedi (1983) would have been a much better chapter without them. So perhaps I'm in a minority for liking the residents of the Moon of Endor? I just can't help embracing fond childhood memories. The fact that Battle For Endor was not part of that nostalgia might explain my dislike for the story, it's entirely possible.

Remember Daffy, the cross-eyed Gremlin from Gremlins 2? Well Teek quite reminds me of him. There's always one goofball who steals the show, though there isn't anything particularly stupid about him. He's clearly intelligent and loyal, playful and kind. Originally intended to be a puppet, the character was eventually portrayed by Niki Botelho. Actor Brimley had refused to work with a puppet and the quick decision was made to fit someone into costume - sixteen-year old Botelho was chosen from set.

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor premiered as a television special on 24th November 1985. It saw a limited UK theatrical release in the Spring of 1986. It was later released on home video in 1990, and on DVD in 2004 as a double feature paired with its predecessor Caravan of Courage. Neither film are considered canon since Disney's reorganisation of the franchise, I believe, which is a shame. Ewoks: A Star Wars Story would go so nicely with the company's current run of spin-off material. At the very least they should be given a re-release on bluray. I am sure many would rather see old copies burn alongside the body of Anakin Skywalker on his funeral pyre. That's the fun thing about fandom - we are all different...

Alwyn Ash
Alwyn is a genius with the pen. Give him a keyboard and he's in heaven. He lives in Chester with his personal collection of books, movies and a pocket Universe.

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984) - FilmReview

Cindel and Wicket - the cutest couple in Hollywood.
Originally published on the /G-f website to celebrate Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.

I am one of the lucky ones, I fell in love with Ewoks from their first appearance in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, and owned most of the action figures - my collection needing only the Ewok village to complete an otherwise fun set. "You'll live the adventure... You'll love its heroes." The tagline for George Lucas’ 1984 spin-off made-for-TV film promised excitement and adventure, and it certainly delivered. I was ten years old, and Star Wars crazy. Honestly, I was likely crazy about a great many things being so full of wonder with that twinkle in my eye, but the space opera in a “galaxy far, far away...” was unlike anything I’d seen before, or since.

The Caravan of Courage took me further into a world I had briefly experienced through the eyes of rebel soldiers as a last stand against the Galactic Empire took hold. Now, in An Ewok Adventure, we got to explore the forest moon of Endor with two children, Mace and Cindel Towani, who are separated from their parents following a crash landing; unbeknown to them, their mom and dad (played by Fionnula Flanagan and Guy Boyd) have been taken by the Gorax, a giant of a beast that keeps them caged in its mountain lair. It is these very kids that are found by Ewoks and taken back to their village. Mace, being the protective older brother, is temporarily regarded as a threat and bound after he tries to overcome the furry warriors. Thankfully trust is gained and medicine is given to his young sister, who quickly develops a friendship with Wicket, the lively Ewok from Return of the Jedi.

After consulting Logray, the wisest Ewok, Mace and Cindel go on the very adventure promised in the film’s title. They are joined by Wicket and other Ewoks who wish to help reunite the Towani family and defeat the monstrous Gorax. What follows reminds me of Dr Who & The Daleks, the feature length movie that had Peter Cushing’s Dr Who join a group of Thals to infiltrate the Dalek city; both even share a deadly lake. Then again, same could be said about Krull. No wonder I geek out on these films!

The Towani family and Ewoks. They're all furry (very) photogenic.
Caravan of Courage was filmed on a much smaller budget than that available to the original Star Wars trilogy, and it shows. It’s safe to say that the effects haven’t aged well. That aside, it remains a beautiful piece of television history that is just as warm and cuddly as the Ewok animated series that aired the following year. Director John Korty works well with a screenplay by George Lucas and Bob Carrau, and the inserted narrative featuring the voice of Burl Ives gives the film a nice storybook quality perfect for children. Without doubt the true stars of this feature are Eric Walker as Mace, Aubree Miller as Cindel, and Warwick Davis as Wicket. Though Walker and Miller aren’t perfect child actors they do get the job done and manage to deliver touching performances nonetheless.

It is nice to finally explore more of the world’s terrain than just forest, as we get to experience a desert of acid pools and dry lakes, and the treacherous mountainous regions.

Lucas understandably had full control over each step of production, not wishing this to become a second Star wars Holiday Special, which has never been positively received by critics, Star Wars fans, or Lucas himself. Even a TV ad featuring Walker in character to promote the movie was prevented from airing because Lucas disliked it so. There is also the question of the films continuity within the franchise, it has been said that An Ewok Adventure takes place between events depicted in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but that plausibility doesn’t quite add up – as time progresses, Wicket learns to speak some English thanks to his blossoming friendship with Cindel (as we see in Ewok sequel The Battle For Endor), and yet his encounter with Princess Leia in Jedi clearly projects him as a creature without that ability. It is more than likely that the Ewok movies follow events in the original trilogy, it would also explain why there are so few Ewoks present in Caravan. No? Well, it’s always fun to speculate, and it doesn’t truly matter either way, I’m just glad to experience its light-hearted magic.

What I do find discouraging is the way in which the film has been treated in recent years regarding international release: though a double feature DVD was greenlit to include the sequel, there has been no attempt since at restoring either movie for blu-ray. Whether regarded as canon or not, it would be a shame to overlook the beauty and simplicity of Caravan of Courage – the Star Wars universe is full of wonder, and some of it can be found on the forest moon of Endor.

Alwyn Ash
Alwyn is a genius with the pen. Give him a keyboard and he's in heaven. He lives in Chester with his personal collection of books, movies and a pocket Universe.

Salvage (2009) - Filmreview

Neve McIntosh faces a new horror in Brit flick Salvage. "Fear cannot be contained"
It would be easy to believe that Salvage was a final episode of popular British soap opera Brookside, set in Liverpool. Not only do the interior sets look untouched like something out of the Mary Celeste but the exterior location, too, was used in filming this low budget horror movie.

Honestly, Brookside itself became so gritty and far fetched by the end of its 21-year run that you could almost imagine anything was possible plot-wise, including a series of horrifying killings at the hands of a mutant. Big spoiler aside, Salvage does have some things going for it besides the famous setting. Starring Neve McIntosh (The Hound of the Baskervilles, Doctor Who) as Beth and Shaun Dooley as Kieran, we arrive at the cul-de-sac as a newspaper boy overhears an argument between an Indian couple. The man, Mr Sharma, sees the boy peering through their window and chases him. The boy flees into the wood behind the close, where he is murdered by an unknown figure. We are then introduced to teenager Jodie (Linzey Cocker) who is expected to spend Christmas with her estranged mother Beth (McIntosh). Brought to the Close by her father, Jodie takes a Key from a flower pot and lets herself in. Who needs a Grinch when you have a terrible mother? The young girl, disgusted to find Beth having sex with a stranger upstairs, leaves the house to seek comfort with a friend across the way. Beth follows but is refused entry by the friend's own mother (played by Coronation Street actress Debbie Rush).

And then all hell breaks loose...

We are now firmly in Phil Redmond (Brookside creator) territory for those who remember the 20th Anniversary of Brookside and its over-the-top siege storylines featuring Terry 'Psycho' Gibson and his antics.

Except... drug dealers are replaced by an unseen killer who terrorises residents and eliminates special force team members sent in to contain the situation. The majority of the film now focuses on Beth and her one-night stand Kieran as they attempt to make sense of sudden developments. Residents are ordered by soldiers to stay in their homes. Beth, however, is more concerned for her daughter, who remains at the friend's house. If there is one positive about Salvage then it has to be Neve McIntosh's strong performance, whose character refuses to give in and wait it all out - instead she remains at the center of this tense thriller directed by Lawrence Gough.

Kieren is convinced they are victims of an al-Qaeda terrorist threat, a suspicion seemingly confirmed by an injured special ops soldier who they bring into the safety of Beth's home. Beth, though, discovers the truth after overhearing the soldier, Akede (Kevin Harvey), on his radio to a colleague. This is where the movie has the potential to deliver further but ultimately fails. The true "threat" is boasted to be the perfect killer, an "uncontrollable" monster. Could this explain why Akede's unit is failing? So, perhaps we're in Alien or Predator territory? No, not really. As the plot reaches its conclusion, so does the thrill. Beth is reunited with her daughter but is attacked by the mutant; the victim of a military experiment, it turns out. Fleeing in terror, daughter Jodie reaches the front garden of the house when the monster goes in for the kill, having followed...

Salvage marked Lawrence Gough's film début in the director's chair, he has since gone on to work on shows like Cold Blood, Hollyoaks, and Atlantis. The feature was also one of three projects chosen for the Digital Departures filmmaking initiative launched in 2007 to celebrate Liverpool's Capital of Culture status in 2008; the other two being documentary Of Time and the City (writer/director: Terence Davies) and film Kicks (director: Lindy Heymann - written by Leigh Campbell - original title: Starstruck). All three projects each secured a £250,000 budget.

McIntosh won two awards for her performance, at the International Fantasy Film Award and Fantastic Fest. It is easy to see why she accepted the part, "I was attracted to the script because Beth is the main protagonist – I’m covered in bruises from all the chasing and clambering. My last job was a film with Joe Fiennes about a Jewish family hiding from the Holocaust, so it’s very different" - Liverpool Echo.

On a personal note, I do wish there had been more screen time between Beth and Jodie, and that more of their relationship had been established. I'm sure McIntosh and Cocker would have given the piece just that extra bit of emotion in an otherwise emotionally charged drama. Thoroughly enjoyable, for fans of horror or Brookside.

Purchase Salvage via amazon.co.uk.

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) - FilmReview

"Hello, I'm going to be responsible for helping to eliminate the Jedi."
It had to happen! Following on from my review of Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones comes a look at how it all began: Midi-chlorians included!

Back in 1999 I had been excited at the news concerning brand new Star wars; George Lucas was a Hollywood God in my eyes, a man who could do no wrong: he had given my childhood an amazing gift, one that I am eternally grateful for, so no "He's ruined my childhood" comments in this article! I was 25 years-old when the eagerly awaited Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace was released, and there was so much excitement it could barely be contained in one body. Thankfully I didn't explode. But witnessing the birth of a new trilogy in the Star wars saga was almost like discovering a single rare crystal leading to a pool of treasure. My first taste of this new movie wasn't at the theatre but on VHS cassette - yes, I was yet to embrace the beauty of the DVD player! And so, crystal in hand, I sat to watch this magnificent piece of cinematic magic...

Trade dispute? Strange-looking aliens out of lip sync? Not exactly the beginning I was looking for, but still... plenty of promise... Then come the Battle droids, not exactly Stormtroopers, are they? So we are introduced to the Trade Federation. I guess the main issue with TPM is just how political it becomes, and how we witness Senator Palpatine's manipulation as a shadow threatens to engulf the Senate. We already know that it is Palpatine who ends up playing such a vital part in the "original trilogy", and that he is actually Sith Lord Darth Sidious. But it seems we must learn just how he becomes so powerful politically. And we get to meet a young Anakin Skywalker, portrayed by Jake Lloyd (who has gone on record saying that the film actually did ruin his childhood, and acting career - I've seen "Jingle All The Way", so I can honestly say George Lucas can't be completely blamed).

Of all the actors to star in TPM, Ewan McGregor is the most interesting, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, apprentice to Liam Neeson's Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Originally played by legend Sir Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan remains an intriguing character, whose eventual escape following Order 66 (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) leads him to live as a hermit on the planet Tatooine. In "Episode I" he is young and impatient, more reflective of how Luke Skywalker appeared in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back. That said, the "prequels" are less about the heroes and more about how Anakin Skywalker becomes the evil Darth Vader. Young he may well be but Anakin is already showing signs of being exceptional, even if he does ask the strangest questions: "Are you an angel?" No, she's co-star Natalie Portman aka Queen Padmé Amidala!

"Meeza fan!"
I find it fascinating how any actor can claim that a movie either destroyed their career, or nearly did so, and Portman is another reported to have made such a statement. Personally I rate her highly, and have enjoyed performances in movies such as Léon (1994), V for Vendetta (2006), and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). To step away from near disaster and actually make good is a sign of a talented actor! I like Padmé very much. And though she doesn't have the strong character of Leia Organa, her presence in TPM is a vital one, giving warmth to an otherwise lifeless world. Considering how the next two instalments connect the Queen of Naboo and a future Sith Lord romantically, it certainly would have been far more consistent for Anakin to have been represented by someone older than Lloyd, too - I find it odd how we leap from Lloyd to Hayden Christensen in the first two films.

Just imagine if, for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, we had had someone other than Mark Hamill to play a young Luke Skywalker, only for Hamill to take the reigns in TESB (The Empire Strikes Back).

Much is made of the mystery surrounding the Sith Master (Palpatine) and his apprentice (I shall come to Darth Maul in a moment), just as TPM seems obsessed with suspicion and plot: it could almost be a futuristic Guy Fawkes feature, with the Jedi Council stepping in for Parliament. If it had morphed into a sci-fi thriller then okay, I'm totally fine with that, but George Lucas' script fails to satisfy any need for true suspense or drama. Instead, everything feels convoluted and in need of strict editing. The Battle Droids make for a weak nemesis. Even the Jedi never live up to expectations - "For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times... before the Empire." If Ben Kenobi's mention of this ancient "religion" felt exciting and mysterious then going back to a time when they were still present only goes to show them as lacking in greatness. Sad but true! Only Nute Gunray, viceroy of the Trade Federation, seemed wary of them. There is also so much going on in this movie, including the Battle of Naboo, that most Jedi are off "investigating", it seems, or sat around pondering. After doing some research into Jedi mythology, I am amazed by its richness, something that is never truly realised onscreen.

Many fans have taken dislike to both the Midi-chlorians explanation regarding the Force, and the introduction of Gungan Jar Jar Binks. The latter is fine with me, a character that brings light relief. Let's face it, the original trilogy had enough light-hearted humour to entertain, such as the Ewoks, Chewbacca's Tarzan antics, and most of C-3PO's scenes. Is a native of Naboo (Jar Jar) really that big of a deal? And I certainly don't get the racial caricature allegations: he's an alien from a galaxy far far away, not a Jamaican... He certainly doesn't deserve to be described as "the most hated character in cinema". How wude!

Alistair Crighton writes an interesting article on Star Wars stereotypes for Aljazeera. On a personal note, all I see are characters whose motivations have nothing to do with the real world - it's called escapism...

So, back to the film. If TPM delivers an ace from up its sleeve then let's take a look at Sith apprentice Darth Maul, whose presence is severely lacking and needed much development. For the most part he skulks, only fully engaging in the movie twice: both times to clash lightsabers with Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). The climax sees both Qui-Gon and Maul killed, but what a waste of an opportunity to extend the latter's legacy - it could have been him instead of Christopher Lee's Count Dooku who faces off against Yoda in Attack of the Clones and is eventually executed by Anakin (at Palpatine's invitation) in Revenge of the Sith after he outlives his usefulness, marking a path for the new Galactic Empire (and Darth Vader's rise to power within). Just like Vader, Maul is portrayed by two people: Ray Park and Peter Serafinowicz (the latter for the voice). It is a crime that this Sith wasn't given more to do other than looking like a model for a toy line. Yes, in the end it's all about profit but let's make the character earn his money, shall we?

As Qui-Gonn is cremated on a funeral pyre, Yoda says, "Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice." We know the answer. But the mystery remains for the Jedi, as the Clone War approaches. Thankfully by then C-3PO will be less "naked"; Jar Jar will appear less frequently, and Anakin will have grown to fancy his "angel". Sadly, Samuel L. Jackson's look of boredom will continue. At least Mace Windu has something exciting to do in the sequel, with a purple lightsaber...

Article author: Alwyn Ash

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