The Ewok Adventures: actor Eric Walker talks Star Wars canon, George Lucas and more - SciFiNow

The Ewok Adventures: actor Eric Walker talks Star Wars canon, George Lucas and more

The Ewok Adventures star Eric Walker talks about Star Wars canon and working with George Lucas

Say what you like about the quality of the prequel trilogy but George Lucas has always maintained he made Star Wars for kids and it wasn’t his fault adults liked them too. Perhaps the first fully-fledged clue to this adolescent mindset turns up about halfway through Return Of The Jedi, when a tribe of fluffy creatures comes into contact with our band of rebels on the forest moon of Endor.

While critics (and some older fans) were quick to criticise the inclusion of these cutesy teddy bear-type beings, (only referred to as Ewoks in the closing credits) in addition to the plausibility of how they overwhelmed Imperial forces so easily during the somewhat slapstick style battle of Endor climax, the targeted child audience were more forgiving and embraced these characters wholeheartedly.

Enter The Ewok Adventures — Star Wars spin-off flicks, originally intended for television that catered completely to kids and featured enough planetary, stylistic and character similarities to root them, in spirit at least, within the same galaxy a long time ago… Lucas had to execute caution, however. He had previously commissioned for television the now infamously diabolical Star Wars Holiday Special which, with its rambling storyline, spaced-out direction and cringe-worthy characterisations, ended up being an utter embarrassment for him when it aired on American terrestrial television in the winter of 1978.

Thus, short of directing them entirely himself, Lucas decided to implement total creative control on the ensuing Ewok flicks. The first of the perceived trilogy, The Ewok Adventures, was originally intended as a one-hour television special, but would ultimately be expanded to feature-length running time and subsequently sold abroad theatrically as Caravan Of Courage. The storyline concerned two kids who become separated from their parents after their family’s space cruiser crash lands on Endor. With the help of a band of Ewoks, they endeavour to locate their parents, who have now been captured by the fearsome colossal creature Gorax.

Helping to significantly bridge Star Wars continuity, loveable warrior Ewok Wicket returned, with diminutive actor Warwick Davis reprising his popular Return Of The Jedi character. The search was on, however, for two actors to portray the pivotal human lead siblings Mace and Cindel Towani. “The process of getting the part was very quick,” explains Eric Walker, who would successfully audition for the part of Mace Towani, the teenage male lead. “I got a call from my agent saying that I had a same-day interview and that I needn’t worry about going in and getting the script as it was a general interview where I would be meeting the producers and talking to the director. I was also told it was for a one-hour after school special for CBS.”

The then-14-year-old actor later got the part largely thanks to his insistence on reading his own impressively prepared monologue which, having been recorded on camera, was to later catch the attention of George Lucas. “That’s what George saw. I later found out that one of the producers forgot to hit the record button when I was doing [the script] reading, however he turned it on right before I did my monologue!” reveals Walker.

A screen test followed with Aubree Miller, the four-year-old who would portray Walker’s onscreen sister Cindel, to see whether the two paired up convincingly as siblings. Interestingly, it also served as a ‘stress test’ to ensure that the infant actor wasn’t afraid of Ewoks. “It sounds silly but they brought in an Ewok in full costume and placed it on a stick to see whether she was afraid of it. Luckily she wasn’t and went right up and hugged it. It was like this great looking teddy bear! I hear some Stormtroopers are afraid of Ewoks sometimes, however!” laughs Walker.

Being a Star Wars fan himself, Walker had an inkling to what far away galaxy he was about to be getting involved with. “I’d seen Return Of The Jedi almost a dozen times the year before so I knew what Ewoks looked like and therefore I had a hunch,” he continues. “Later, when I got the part, I learned it was no longer an after school special. It became this big thing and this spin-off of Star Wars. I had to pinch myself, that’s for sure!”

Shooting took place in Roys Redwoods Preserve in Marin, Northern California, just ten minutes from Skywalker Ranch. Appropriately enough the young Eric Walker posed an uncanny resemblance to a young Luke Skywalker, exemplified in the movie’s poster. “I think that’s the look George likes in his Star Wars universe,” he considers. “When I was on the set for most of the first week people would accidentally call me Mark, then I would turn around and they’d realise, ‘wait a minute, it’s not Mark Hamill! It’s a kid that looks like him who’s younger!'”

Donning an orange X-Wing flight suit akin to the one worn by Luke Skywalker throughout the original series further solidified the likeness. “It was an X-wing pilot costume,” confirms Walker. “All they did was make small changes to it and it was much dirtier.” In addition, Star Wars-style props helped to ground the story in the same lived-in universe. This included a laser gadget that handily starts campfires and a weapon that emits that recognisable blaster sound. Further franchise correlation occurs with the Ewoks’ recognisable tree-dwelling home environment, the reinstatement of John Williams’ catchy Wicket theme and the employment of Lucas’ renowned Akira Kurosawa inspired ‘wipes’ to divide scenes, which would be a staple throughout the entire saga.

The Star Wars creator himself was a consistent presence to keep production on its toes. “He showed up about once a week during the shoot and the whole mood of the set changed and it felt like everything was going 100 miles an hour,” remembers Walker. “He was really into the making of it at that point. He also helped edit the movie and directed the reshoots too as our director [John Korty] had a prior commitment.”

In total, 65 million viewers tuned in to watch the first Ewok adventure when it premiered on American ABC television (who ultimately outbid CBS) on 25 November 1984 – 18 months after the release of Return Of The Jedi. When it was subsequently released theatrically in other countries, including UK cinemas on 3 May 1985, as Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, it did well enough for a follow up to be green lit.

Sequel Ewoks: The Battle For Endor would take a dramatically different trajectory, however, when Lucas decided to make the film for his daughter Amanda, who was of similar age to the Cindel character. “She became her hero so Lucas decided to flip the story so that it was just about the first,” Walker explains. As a result both Mace and his parents were boldly killed off just five minutes into the film’s runtime, when the Ewok village is raided by a group of brutal Marauders, led by towering prime antagonist King Terak (Carel Struycken).

Cindel became the star of the franchise

“Of course I was disappointed because when we did the original movie we were signed to do a trilogy,” laments Walker. “At first I was told I wasn’t in the [second] movie at all, that I would be dead from the beginning, then I heard they were doing rewrites and was happy that I got to even be a little part of it. I was heartbroken at the time but later, as an adult, I understood why they did it.”

The premise for The Battle For Endor was partially inspired by the 1937 Shirley Temple musical drama Heidi, where an orphaned girl goes to live with her initially grumpy mountain-dwelling hermit grandfather. Acting veteran Wilfred Brimley, who had his own protests, portrayed Noa Briqualon, the initially gruff but kindly hermit character that Cindel and Wicket discover and befriend.

“I wasn’t much of a part of the second one but I understand there was a lot of turmoil going on with Wilfred, who didn’t get along with the directors (Jim and Ken Wheat) and called them ‘the idiot brothers’ but they were very nice people to me,” reveals Walker. “Wilfred was nice to the kids and sweet to me too and he’s a very nice man so I don’t have a problem with Wilfred either.”

The film’s production designer, Joe Johnston, directed all the scenes that featured Brimley due to the actor’s refusal to work with the brothers. Johnston, of course, had worked as the highly influential art director on both The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi before later becoming a director in his own right.

With memorably stronger, now articulate antagonists (including Britain’s own Sian Phillips as raven-morphing witch-queen Charal), more fluid cinematography and an action-orientated climax that compares favourably to the Endor battle in Return Of The Jedi (and like Caravan Of Courage too, noticeably uses now sadly antiquated stop-motion effects to bring ghastly creatures to vivid life), 1985’s Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is arguably the superior of the two live-action Ewok adventures.

But there is some dispute towards whether the Ewok films are now officially part of the Star Wars universe. “At the time there was this whole thing about whether the films were canon and everyone kept fighting about it later over the internet,” explains Walker. “Some thought it was part of the expanded universe and I kept insisting it was canon. Then George Lucas decided he wanted to chime in by putting ‘Star Wars‘ on the DVD releases.”

There has been further debate with regards to the timeline of these films, with some sources citing them as set between the events of A New Hope and Return Of The Jedi, however Walker weighs in on this too. “When we were doing the Ewok movies, it was supposed to be after the Battle of Endor and 150 years following Luke Skywalker and all those events, which is the reason why Ewoks kind of understand English.”

Since 2008, Walker has taken up his passion for composing music, however he isn’t opposed to returning to that galaxy far far away. “I wouldn’t mind coming in and doing some voiceover work because I can do a lot of voices,” he reveals. “If I did one of the voices of the Stormtroopers that would be a real treat for Star Wars fans. ‘Oh, they are using that kid from the Ewok Adventures!’ It would just be another good connection and a nice throwback.”

This article first appeared in issue 132 of SciFiNow.

Star Wars – Ewok Adventures: Caravan Of Courage / The Battle For Endor is out now on DVD. Get all the latest sci-fi news with every issue of SciFiNow.