Jeremitt (Paul Gleason) is finalizing repairs on his downed starcruiser, which will allow him to finally return home – along with his wife Catarine and their son Mace (Eric Walker) and young daughter Cindel (Aubree Miller). They’ve all lived for some time on the moon of Endor, among the affable tribes of Ewok inhabitants. And native Wicket (Warwick Davis), the son of Deej (Daniel Frishman), has become great friends with Cindel. When evil warlord Terak (Carel Struycken) and his army of reptilian soldiers attack the Ewok camp, looking for the source of power that governs the spaceship, Jeremitt, Catarine, and Mace are killed (which is quite surprising, considering the very young target audience and the fact that they’re returning characters from 1984’s “Caravan of Courage – An Ewok Adventure”).
As Cindel and the Ewoks are captured and hauled away in prisons crafted from dinosaur-like ribcages, Wicket finds a way out, taking Cindel with him. The duo flees into the woods and ascends a mountainside, eluding the merciless marauders. On the road, they encounter a lightning-quick creature called Teek (Niki Botelho) and his master, the grumpy old man Noa (Wilford Brimley, doing his best to sound insincere and unconcerned), who help the stranded survivors against Terak’s hunters.
Picking up not long after the events of “Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure,” this follow-up is immediately darker and more action-packed. Death and destruction kick things off, reducing the human heroes down to just one. Lumbering, toothy beasts (split between stop-motion and puppets), gun-toting goons reminiscent of the denizens of Jabba’s Palace, and a wicked sorceress (Sian Phillips as Charal) all quickly turn the once family-friendly atmosphere into one of combat and loss. There’s even a nightmare sequence. And the pacing is so much faster than before.
The adventures are still child-oriented, though it helps that Wicket is now nearly fluent in English (avoiding all the high-pitched chatter that previously served as communication) and the villain is genuinely antagonizing. Terak, representing evil through his actions but devoid of any qualities to distinguish him from an average henchman, is still a vast improvement over the animalistic giant from the previous film. And the amount of damage and adversity he doles out is considerable. The educational and moral lessons are back, this time including a bit on fire safety, generosity, loneliness, and curiosity, but they’re better balanced here by sinister characters, daring rescue attempts, and severer perils.
Although this sequel deals predominantly with death, there’s no mention of the Force; in appearance and storyline, “Ewoks: The Battle for Endor” is closer to the swords-and-sorcery fantasy of “Willow” than a “Star Wars” episode. Even the setting, divided between woodland shelters and an ominous, stone castle, is entirely a medieval-styled environment, befitting a world of orcs and imps and witches instead of space opera escapades. With Terak’s jagged steel sword, Charal’s magic ring and shapeshifting ability, and smoky dungeons full of chained skeletons, the look is along the lines of Disney’s “The Black Cauldron” from earlier in the year. If it weren’t for the occasional laser blaster, this picture would more comfortably exist in the realm of “Conan the Barbarian.” There’s still no use of the main “Star Wars” theme music, but the score here is notably more enthusiastic and stirring than in “Caravan of Courage.” And the finale, involving a decently sized battle and a climactic duel, possesses a cinematic quality that thoroughly surpasses its predecessor.