Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Disney Axes Three Feature-Length Star Wars Films from Canon

In the upcoming paperback edition of Star Wars: A New Dawn there is a handy infographic that clearly outlines the new canon of Star Wars since Disney's acquisition of LucasFilm. Last year Disney had already released a brief list of canon including Star Wars episodes I-VI. As a fanbase we were prepared to see a lot disappear from the canon, largely considering the expanded universe. Pivotal characters such as Jaina Solo, Mara Jade, Jagged Fel, Kyle Katarn, and the development of Wedge Antilles have been removed from canon.

The Star Wars movies are notoriously devoid of strong female characters and people of colour. Characters like Princess Leia or Lando Calrissian were only developed and strengthened by their appearances in the novels and comic books of the expanded universe. 

This has been established by a number of articles before me, and is not the point of this piece in the slightest. In this piece I would like to address something else that was lost. In the new established canon Disney has formally stricken three feature length films from the official canon. The mitigating factor that ties these three films together (and separates them from the also removed 83 animated episodes of Droids, Ewoks, and Clone Wars the microseries) is that all three sport a writing credit from George Lucas. The previous Star Wars canon placed special significance on anything written or directed by George Lucas, calling them "G Level Canon," which was considered to be the highest level of Star Wars canon. While these films were sometimes listed as S or C-Canon, they should have been held to the G-Canon signifier from the beginning. 

These three films, in order of release, are the Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), the Caravan of Courage (1984) and the Battle for Endor (1985). 

The Holiday Special has of course been traditionally lambasted and denigrated by fans and critics alike, however early on the Holiday Special saw several positive reviews with Starlog Magazine (Millar, Natalie. "Star Wars Invades TV," Starlog #19, February 1979, p.50) calling it "one of the most ambitions television spectaculars ever attempted by an American network."

Beyond being a psychedelic mindgame leading through shorts, offputting jokes, and unintelligible sequences, the Holiday Special does have several important things going for it. Most notably, it features Boba Fett's first appearance (in a perfectly acceptable animated short) as well as the first appearance of Kashyyyk, homeworld of the Wookiees. In addition to introducing Kashyyyk, the special also introduces characters like Chewbacca's father, Mallatobuck, and his son Lumpawaroo Kashyyyk would go on to not be addressed in G-Canon until Star Wars Episode III. It, like A New Hope before it, was a fresh and ambitious approach to a previously established medium, in this case the television Christmas special. While it has not always stood the test of time as a whole, it brought a great deal to Star Wars canon, and should not be relegated to the trash heap so readily. 

Blue Milk Special

More than defending the honor of the Holiday Special, however, I would like to focus on the second two movies in my list. The holiday special brought a little bit to the playing field, however it does remain a novelty. A novelty that should not be discarded so easily, I still argue, but a novelty none-the-less. 

The two Ewok Movies (sometimes billed as "The Great Ewok Adventures") attempted to profit from the popularity of the lovable but bloodthirsty and warlike teddy bears residing on the Forest Moon of Endor. They feature returning characters like Wicket Warrick (Warwick Davis of course reprises his role) and expand on the previous used Ewok suits to add more characters and relationships within the village (Logray the medicine man, Chief Chirpa, Paploo, and many more).

The Caravan of Courage is the first of the Ewok Adventures. Like the rest of the Star Wars films it was wildly ambitious for its time. It aired as a television special on ABC and it was nominated for two Emmys, and won the Emmy for "Outstanding Special Visual Effects." It features extensive costumes and locations, employing stop motion animation as well as practical effects to pull off an incredible visual appeal for a 1984 made for TV movie. It officially took place in 3 ABY (one year before the events of the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi) which hypothetically could be the only real reason for it's removal from canon, if Disney has plans for Endor that would conflict with the Ewok movies. We will be able to learn more about this topic when the newest Star Wars novel, Aftermath, is published. This timeline had been previously officially dated, but it's evident from a scene where a ewokling plays with a toy AT-AT that there is an imperial presence on Endor, though the Ewoks do not yet have broad experience with humans. We can assume that they have not interacted with the Rebel Alliance yet. Further, it could be argued that it is because of Wicket's relationship with humans in the Caravan of Courage that he is trusting of Princess Leia early on.

The Caravan of Courage features three main characters, Cindel, a young girl who crash landed on Endor with her family, Mace, Cindel's brother, and Wicket the Ewok. This alone sets the Caravan of Courage apart from the current six canon Star Wars movies in that it features a female lead. The strength of Cindel as a character can be readily debated, but she generally shows that she can hold her own in a fight. In her first meeting with the Ewoks, in fact, although they brandish spears at Cindel she maintains eye contact, she makes a quick diplomatic decision to not fight. And when Mace "comes to her rescue" he blunders, believing that she cannot hold her own he bursts in to stop the Ewoks, but finds instead that Cindel has already befriended them. Cindel diffused the threat of the Ewoks efficiently, and was brought to the village as a friend, while Mace was brought tied down as a prisoner initially.


While Cindel is a child, she is ultimately capable of handling many of her own problems. As a very young child it's difficult to argue whether she is portrayed as a strong female character or not. Naturally when she falls gravely ill she relies on her brother and the Ewoks for help. When Mace attempts to act tough or mature however, he invariably finds himself getting into trouble. He's constantly being chased, being tricked, or otherwise risking his life and the rest of the caravans'. Cindel on the other hand stays out of trouble, she is a child, but she recognizes trouble when she sees it, and conversely friends as well. In this film Mace represents inflexible bullheadedness, while Cindel seems to stand for childhood innocence.
Significantly, this movie is also the first to portray normal people in Star Wars. The Towani family are not Jedi, they are not royalty nor dignitaries of any sort, they are not soldiers, they are not involved in the Rebellion or the accompanying wars. They are a normal potentially middle class family existing in the Star Wars universe. With the removal of the previous expanded universe, we lost all of the instances of this from the canon.


It is also the first Star Wars movie to contain sweeping panoramas of a planets ecosystem. During A New Hope we see a small handful of locations on Tatooine, and assume that the entire planet is desert. We make similar assumptions about most planets we are shown in the series. In Caravan of Courage there are broad glimpses of the terrain, the redwood forests seen in Return of the Jedi, but also meadows, clearings, deciduous forests and forests that are a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees. We also see a variety of fauna in addition to the flora. Giant monsters such as the Gorax, which kidnaps Cindel's parents, as well as Earth fauna including miniature horses, goats, and ferrets. The Earth fauna is frequently cited as setting the Ewok movies apart from the trilogy, however there are two arguments against this. The first is that in Return of the Jedi frogs can clearly be seen in a bowl in Jabba's Palace. And the second is that if it is possible to depict Redwoods and other Earth flora as alien vegetation, there is no reason that Earth's fauna cannot be borrowed as well.

In the long run, the Caravan of Courage brings a great deal to the Star Wars universe, and it is a shame to see it dismissed so readily. We see a class of people that are otherwise absent in the Star Wars movies, as well as a detailed look at the Forest Moon of Endor and its accompanying flora and fauna. The Ewoks are frequently dismissed as the "Jar Jar Binks" of the original trilogy, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Very rarely are the Ewoks given the space and story to become anything other than endearing teddy bears, but it's not hard to see their potential, even only in Return of the Jedi. The Ewoks are a hunter-gatherer war-like species, and they offer their lives to help win the Battle of Endor for the side of the Rebel Alliance, when they could not possibly have a very high stake in the outcome of the fight. Using primitive technology and ingenuity they are able to overthrow the Imperial presence on their home planet, though they are hardly simply a deus ex machina for the Rebel Alliance. It is a hard fought battle and many Ewoks are seen dead in the Return of the Jedi.


The Caravan of Courage makes the Ewoks much more sympathetic. We see them die, and we see them mourn their dead. In particular there is a scene where Deej and Shodu, Wicket's parents, embrace sadly over baby Winda's cradle. The scene is not narrated nor subtitled, but the significance is clear. Deej and Shodu are embracing in fear, Shodu is worried that she will never see her mate and her sons again, that the quest they are embarking on will take their lives. During the movie Ewoks are shown once again to be much more than cutesy comic relief, and in the long run the view of Ewoks as comic relief is a flawed one.


While the Caravan of Courage ultimately feels like a childhood coming of age story that fits comfortably in the Star Wars mythos, the Battle for Endor takes a few decidedly odd turns. This film sees most of same actors all reprise their roles from the Caravan of Courage, and begins in a peaceful time in the Ewok Village where the Towani family is preparing to leave on their newly-repaired Starcruiser. However the story quickly takes a dramatic turn leaving the Towani parents and Mace all dead when the village is attacked by Sanyassan Marauders led by a witch named Charal. Cindel and Wicket are kidnapped along with several covered wagons full of Ewok prisoners. Managing to escape through a hole in the floor of the prison wagon, Cindel and Wicket separate from the group and begin their own adventure. They flee from the Sanyassan Marauders through the forest, eventually escaping their pursuers.
There is one primarily cited flaw with this movie, the presence of magic and witchcraft used by Charal. This is easily explained away using an example from a Disney-verified canon source. The Nightsisters as portrayed in the Clone Wars animated series are practitioners of a kind of witchcraft that is set apart from the force. Dathomiri women as a whole practice a kind of witchcraft, in previously canon works it is described as related to the force, usually stating that they use powerful force illusions. This is an easy explanation for Charal's power, and in fact after the movie she was retconned into a Dathomiri Nightsister.

We are also introduced to another Endor-native in this movie, Teek, the first example of the Teek species. He is an extremely quick, spirited creature of a similar stature as the Ewoks, but a distinctly different appearance. Teek lives with an elderly castaway named Noa who essentially adopts Cindel.

The Battle for Endor is a decidedly darker addition to the Star Wars mythos, similar in style to other movies of the time, such as Willow, Dark Crystal, or Labyrinth. It is another coming of age story for Cindel, with much more danger and struggle than her previous adventure. As a child Cindel experiences loss in the greatest degree, but she survives. She finds friendship, she heals, and she continues to live despite her crucible. This makes Cindel an inspirational character, and she would have been an excellent choice as a character to be further expanded upon in the upcoming novels or comic books. Further, Cindel strengthens her character when, given the opportunity to forgive and release Charal, she refuses. She faces her attacker, her abuser in many ways, and says no, I will not give you my forgiveness. It's a significant and sadly rare decision in female characters at the time. In the previous canon Cindel was briefly mentioned as an adult in Tyrant's Test, the third book of the Blackfleet Crisis Trilogy by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. She continued to travel with Noa and became a successful journalist in her adult life. Cindel was a character with a well-drafted origin story who could easily have been utilised by Disney to become a new female hero in the new novels or comic books, and it really is Disney's loss that they have decided to abandon her so unjustly along with the two Ewok Adventures.


When all is said and done it has to be asked, what has Disney lost by abandoning these three movies from the canon? And even moreso, what could Disney have gained by keeping them? I personally think that it would be a wise decision on Disney's part to later bring these movies back from the brink of oblivion. Even if they do not wish to canonize them, they could make a substantial amount of money by offering all three on bluray. The Holiday Special has never been available for purchase, and both Ewok movies saw brief releases on VHS and an even more brief release as a two-movie bundle on DVD in 2004, which has become quite rare over the years. Digitally remastering the three movies and making them available for the first time on bluray would be a financially sound decision on Disney's part. However there is still a fervent argument for their eventual canonization, at the very least the canonization of the Caravan of Courage and the Battle for Endor. Disney has wielded their might, but what else could the proverbial sword of damocles be hanging over?

Horatio is a dorky Pokemon and Star Wars fan residing in San Francisco. In addition to their toy reviews, they run a Stargate SG-1 Tumblr and are an avid participator in NaNoWriMo.

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