Sunday, June 02, 2013

Nostalgia Theater 100! The Franchising of Ewoks

Welcome to the big 100th installment of Nostalgia Theater! I'm as shocked as you that we've made it this far, but here's to the next 100! You ain't seen nothin' yet!

Last July I had a post looking back at the animated Star Wars spin-off Droids, with the promise of a follow-up the next week examining its sister series Ewoks. Well, when I said "next week," I actually meant, "whenever I get around to it." And with last week marking thirty years to the day that Return of the Jedi, the movie that first launched the furry little runts into our collective mindspace, was released, I figured the moment had finally arrived to look back at the franchising of Ewoks.

Everyone hates Ewoks, right? That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. But it wasn't always the case. I was just over four years old when Jedi was first released, and it never even occurred to me that I was supposed to hate them. That came later when I became a grown-up trying to justify my love of childish things. And sure, we can point an accusatory finger at George Lucas for being so cynical with his creation of highly-merchandisable teddy bear creatures, but whatever. People may have grumbled and complained, but they bought them. Hell, they still buy them. 

So anyway, in 1983, with the Star Wars saga complete (remember those days? When the Star Wars saga was actually complete?), thoughts turned to ways of keeping the brand alive even as its primary bread-and-butter was in the deep freeze. With that in mind, Lucas cast his attention to television, creating the story for The Ewok Adventure, a made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC in November of 1984, with Jedi still fresh in viewers' minds, and Ewok merchandise still lining toy aisles. Check out a promo below:

Two kids get stranded on the Ewoks' moon of Endor and have an adventure as they try to find their parents. The end. I saw this movie in '85 or '86 when they showed it in the library at my school in Saudi Arabia, and while I haven't seen it again since, I do remember hating those kids. Especially the douchebag older brother. Hated. Like, real visceral stuff. I'm guessing others had the same reaction, but with the Star Wars label attached, the movie naturally drew a sizable audience all the same, and a second Ewoks telefilm aired on ABC exactly one years later, entitled The Battle For Endor:

I don't remember much about this one, which I saw during the summer of '87, except that it was significantly darker than the first. They also killed off the annoying brother in the first ten minutes. So, that's a plus. But the TV movies weren't the only ways Lucas was creating a fiefdom for the little fur balls. In September of '85, just a few months before the second TV movie aired, the animated incarnation of Ewoks made its debut, also on ABC (given that ABC's corporate parent Disney now also owns Star Wars, the Force is apparently so strong with the Mouse that it can apply synergy retroactively):

Of course, this being Star Wars and all, there was the expected full-on marketing blitz to go right alongside the show's premiere, with toys, coloring books, a Marvel comic series, the whole tableau. However, unlike companion series Droids, which came and went after thirteen episodes, Ewoks' first season of thirteen episodes found enough of an audience with the kiddies to actually make it to a sophomore season, albeit with a dumbed-down tone (okay, more dumbed-down tone) and slightly different intro, for another 22 installments:

The final ep of the animated Ewoks aired in December of 1986, and that was essentially the end of Star Wars' first period of pop culture prominence. From there until the mid-'90s, the brand receded into memory as something that mattered a long time ago. With the impending release of Episode VII, VIII, IX, and however many more promised in the not-too-distant future, the notion that Star Wars could ever go away seems more fantastical than anything we've seen in a galaxy far, far away, but nonetheless, in 1986 that's exactly what happened. It went out not with a bang, but with a muted "Yub yub."

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