Life is profoundly cheap in Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. The film’s ostensibly about little human orphan Aubree Miller’s adventure with her Ewok buddy Warwick Davis and the old man (Wilford Brimley) who takes care of them after a group of bad guys appear out of nowhere and destroy the Ewok village and pew pew away Miller’s family, who survived the previous Ewok movie. I believe that one also had Ewoks with names other than Davis’s one (who can speak English here); no names for the Ewoks anymore. Also not much Ewok action. They disappear for a large portion of the movie, when it’s apparently more fun to watch Brimley pretend to be a mean old man to newly orphaned Miller and separated from his tribe Davis.
Davis’s subplot about the missing Ewoks is kind of the important one until evil human witch Siân Phillips—who lives in bad guy Carel Struycken’s medieval castle and has never heard of spaceships before Miller tells her about them—kidnaps Miller so Miller can explain interstellar travel to Struycken. Struycken and his gang are aliens, but extremely cheap ones for a Star Wars product; apparently their species is based on some bad Ralph McQuarrie concept drawings from Empire Strikes Back.
The first act, ruining Miller’s life and making Davis’s rather inconvenient, is fairly bad. For whatever reason, directors Wheat are quite bad at the action sequence involving Struycken attacking the village. Some of it’s clearly budget—not sure who decided it was too expensive to do matte paintings of the Ewok village (or just use some Kenner playset backdrops)—but some of it’s just bad directing. Rather inglorious farewells to returning actors Eric Walker and Paul Gleason, though Gleason’s is much worse just for being in the movie longer.
The second act’s tedious and cloying, though Miller’s not anywhere near as obnoxious as she could be—initially it seems weird she and Davis treat being on the run from a murderous gang like being on a nature hike, but given how bad it gets when she and Brimley talk about their feelings… I mean, at least the nature walk has pretty scenery. It’ll eventually look just like the forests from Return of the Jedi, but then because they’re obviously using footage from a better movie—even if it weren’t the competent special effects or better film stock, Davis’s costume doesn’t have the weird eyes he gets in this one.
They go really cheap on the Ewok costumes, so it’s pretty impressive when the third act action sequences are actually not bad. They can’t save Battle for Endor (it’s a fairly tepid battle, though based on the variety of alien species, it’d be interesting to know how they all evolved), but once the Ewoks come back into the movie… it’s occasionally entertaining. Even if the Ewok costumes look like pajama sets with matching slippers.
Other bad elements include Peter Bernstein’s music—he’ll occasionally imply some John Williams but never followthrough (it’s a shock when they use actual Star Wars sound effects for thirteen seconds, around the time Brimley gets to pretend he’s Harrison Ford and then they drop it because it doesn’t play because Miller clearly hasn’t seen A New Hope–but then Bernstein turns around and misses an obvious Jaws reference, which reminds me Endor gets very slapstick with its violence at the end. But no less fatal.
Also real bad is Isidore Mankofsky’s photography but what he’s going to do with the Brothers Wheat directing. Eric Jenkins’s editing is fine. Joe Johnston’s production design is not, but how much can you blame on him unless he’s personally responsible for the truly terrible matte paintings.
Brimley isn’t any good but he keeps it together far better than anyone could expect. He earns his paycheck, most definitely. He, Miller, and Davis don’t really embarrass themselves… as opposed to almost everyone else involved.