It begins with the 20th Century Fox fanfare, but then, in an inexplicably inane move, the “Star Wars” theme music does not play. There isn’t even yellow, crawling text. Instead, a fade-in to a moon sheds light on a downed spacecraft, where Catarine (Fionnula Flanagan) and Jeremitt (Guy Boyd) search for their missing child, who wandered off in search of a transmitter. Meanwhile, in an Ewok village on the moon of Endor, Deej (Dan Frishman) also looks for his children, who are presumably just playing along the cliffs. Wicket (Warwick Davis), the youngest, stays behind to tend to their livestock.
As Deej soars above the forest in his hang glider, he spies a metallic object – the crashed starship. After retrieving his two sons, Deej investigates the find. When they pry little human youngster Cindel (Aubree Miller) from a wall compartment, they’re attacked by her preteen brother Mace (Eric Walker) – who is quickly subdued, strapped to a provisional stretcher (not unlike the makeshift turnspit used for Luke and Han in “Return of the Jedi”), and brought to the Ewok camp. Sensing that the two youths aren’t a threat, the furry bear-like creatures provide food and medicine. But when they run out of a special, secret tree fluid, they must venture into the medieval forest to collect more. When Mace finds his father’s life monitor strapped to a snarling beast, the group journeys to the Logray’s (Bobby Bell) tree village for a mystical vision of the parents’ location.
Reminiscent of a Winnie the Pooh tale, a calm but monotonic narrator, Burl Ives, chimes in with unnecessary comments about settings and character movements. His speech is so bland that he sounds inordinately bored. Betraying the fact that “Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure” is aimed squarely at very young audiences, the gentle but annoying disruptions add nothing except repetitious reminders as to what is happening directly onscreen. In that vein of immaturity, this made-for-TV movie succumbs to the same pitfall that “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” would many years later: relying too heavily on juvenile actors in major roles. The pacing is also incredibly slow, as this side trek – which is a subplot at best – takes 90 minutes to complete.
The Ewoks themselves are effective as cute, family-friendly subjects and as the main link to a “Star Wars” episode rather than a completely unrelated survivalist tale for kids (with a decided David and Goliath vibe). Stop-motion animation and amusing puppetry (save for wobbly spider monsters), along with familiar costumes (Mace wears a Rebel Alliance uniform of sorts, while the giant Gorax is cut from the same cloth as a Wookiee), sound effects, scene transitions, and laser bolts also pop up, though the level of action and entertainment are far from the fast-paced, utterly enthralling storylines of the theatrical chapters. Sickly sweet moral lessons (such as obeying elders’ instructions and behaving, and later, the importance of friendship, patience, and sacrifice) accompany the caravan too, preventing any real sense of danger or emotional power. But the most unforgivable aspect of this negligible exploitation of the Ewoks’ appeal to toddlers is that John Williams’ music is all but nonexistent (a few notes of Wicket’s tune from “Return of the Jedi” can be heard once in a great while). What a shame.