Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bringing Star Wars to the Small Screen - The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour (1985-86)

Continuing our series of articles examining the various screen incarnations of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, we turn our attention to the first animated entries in the saga, Ewoks and Droids: The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO…

Star Wars: Ewoks.
Star Wars: Droids – The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Executive Producer George Lucas.
Featuring the voice talents of Jim Henshaw, Eric Peterson, Denny Delk, James Cranna and Anthony Daniels.

Star Wars Animated Adventures Ewoks and Droids

Fifteen years before the Battle of Yavin droid duo R2-D2 and C-3PO embark on a series of adventures that sees them do battle with pirates, gangsters, and agents of the Empire. Meanwhile prior to the Battle of Endor, Wicket W. Warrick and his Ewok friends see their peaceful existence threatened by distant cousins the Duloks, along with their sworn enemy, the evil sorceress Morag.

Star Wars Droids Animated R2-D2 C-3PO
Following the ratings success of George Lucas’ first TV movie Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984), network ABC secured the rights to two animated series based on the Star Wars canon - Ewoks and Droids. With their work on the ten-minute animated portion of CBS’ infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special having impressed Lucas, Canadian company Nelvana Limited – who had recently found success as subcontractors to DiC on the popular children’s show Care Bears – were tasked with producing the cartoons on behalf of Lucasfilm.

Regular Nelvana directors Raymond Jafelice and Ken Stephenson – both of whom had extensive experience on Inspector Gadget – were brought in to oversee direction on Ewoks and Droids respectively, with Dale Schott (Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation) replacing Jafelice for the second season of Ewoks. A number of notable writers were hired to produce the scripts for Ewoks including Bob Carrau (The Ewok Adventure), Paul Dini and Michael Reaves (Batman: The Animated Series), and Linda Woolverton (Tim Burton’s upcoming live-action Alice in Wonderland), while Peter Sauder (head writer on Inspector Gadget) handled scriptwriting duties on Droids along with Lucasfilm regulars Ben Burtt and Joe Johnston, who brought much needed Star Wars pedigree to the project.

Having chosen to focus the shows on the Ewok and droid characters due to their popularity with children, the production team soon found themselves working to a number of restrictions including limited physical contact and use of weaponry, not to mention the inclusion of speeder seatbelts. This sort of moral regulation was common for the Saturday morning cartoons of the time and ABC - who rejected Paul Dini’s first story pitch concerning an Imperial pilot who crash lands on the forest moon and befriends the Ewoks as “too Star Warsy” – were clear on their target audience. Further problems occurred for the Korean animation team, who struggled with the human characters in Droids in addition to the sheer volume of cels needed for the high-quality animation.

The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour premiered on September 7th 1985 at an estimated cost of $500,000 per hour and - despite the numerous restrictions - managed to deliver a number of entertaining storylines to keep the younger viewer (and withdrawn Star Wars aficionado) engaged. The first season ran for thirteen episodes throughout the latter part of 1985 before the decision was made to axe Droids in favour of a dedicated Ewok half-hour (advertised as The All New Ewoks) that would adopt an even more child-friendly approach. Droids did make a final appearance as a special double-episode entitled The Great Heep that premiered on June 7th 1986, before the second season of Ewoks began airing later in September. However, this new shift in focus failed to engage viewers in a highly competitive, over-saturated marketplace and the show was failed to be renewed for a third season, ending after just twenty-six episodes.

While easily eclipsed by the more recent animated entries in the saga, Ewoks and Droids provided a last-gasp, desperate feast of new material for those who suffered the slow demise of Star Wars in the mid-eighties and still holds nostalgic value to this day. Droids in particular featured numerous references to the original trilogy such as an appearance by fan-favourite Boba Fett and fellow bounty hunter IG-88, while a number of prequel elements including the planet Bogden, Boonta Race, and General Grievous’ Episode III wheel bike also stand as nods to the series. Unfortunately for Star Wars completionists a full release of the entire series looks highly unlikely, and with only sporadic home video releases on VHS along with two DVD compilations under the “Star Wars Animated Adventures” banner in 2004, both Ewoks and Droids look certain to remain, for many fans, a rather obscure entry in the franchise.

Up Next…

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Bringing Star Wars to the Screen: Episode IV – A New Hope
Bringing Star Wars to the Screen: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Bringing Star Wars to the Screen: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Bringing Star Wars to the Small Screen: The Star Wars Holiday Special
Bringing Star Wars to the Small Screen: Caravan of Courage - An Ewok Adventure
Bringing Star Wars to the Small Screen: Ewoks - Battle For Endor (1985)

Gary Collinson

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