A Guide to the Star Wars Vintage Collection on Disney Plusby Todd King, contributing writer
The newly added "Star Wars Vintage Collection" on the Disney Plus streaming service—that includes Boba Fett's first appearance to lots of Ewok adventures to an alternate Clone Wars—is a set of venerable TV specials and series that haven't been seen much since their original releases. Most of these are designed for kids but can be enjoyed by the entire family, including one that's an absolute must-see. These're a bit campy and sometimes cringy, but also fun and well-told.
My generation saw these programs as part of the Star Wars universe at a time when we wanted to see just about anything related to our favorite trilogy. For us, the Ewok stuff is fairly nostalgic, while the later animated series showcased some of the best short-form storytelling of the early 2000s. If you're like me and want that hit of wistful childhood memories, then these are perfect—especially if you have some tiny Ewok fans in the house. If you've never seen (or heard of) these before, then I hope my guide here will give you an idea of what you're in for if you decide to pursue this rather deep-cut of Star Wars lore.
The What Holiday?
The earliest-released item in this Vintage Collection is the cartoon short, "The Story of the Faithful Wookiee," which was part of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special that aired on CBS November 17, 1978. If you're not familiar with the Holiday Special, then that's no surprise. It never re-aired on TV and never had a home video release. Never. In short, it was so embarassingly bad that George Lucas disavowed it. Discussing the actual show is a wild rabbit hole that I don't have time to fall into here. Many fans say it's of the "so bad it's good" breed of shows where you enjoy its abject failure and tone-deaf presentation. It really is amazingly difficult to comprehend how it exists in this galaxy. But if you get a chance, definitely watch it! Nothing can prepare you for its "entertainment" value.
Needless to say, within the middle of the Special is a short animated cartoon that many fans say is the best part of the program. While that isn't saying much, it's quite good on its own. I think it's pretty darn cool—and for the first time ever, this short has an official release (one that isn't an Easter egg hidden in the Blu-Ray release of the Complete Star Wars Saga). To me, it's just cool because it is the first glimpse of the combination of cartoon animation and Star Wars that joined two of my favorite things as a kid (and pretty much now, too). Furthermore, most of the original cast provide the voices for the their characters!
So, what's the context of this cartoon? It takes place a short time after the events of the original Star Wars (A New Hope) and includes our favorite characters of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, R2, and 3PO. Of special note is the appearance of Boba Fett—and as it turns out, this was the very first appearance of the character anywhere. The mystery of this character, and his dual-allegiances were showcased here and only added to his aura before he physically appeared in Empire Strikes Back for the first time. If you're a fan of The Mandalorian, you may see and hear a couple things borrowed from this cartoon and reintroduced in the streaming series.
At a short runtime, this one is highly recommended viewing. Just consider that the style of animation was considered good at the time but comes across now as a bit too stylized and rubbery (in my humble opinion).
Little House on the Endor Moon
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure was a made-for-TV movie in 1984, about a year after Return of the Jedi finished the original film trilogy. That film introduced us to Ewoks and this small screen film featured the popular and fierce furry bears on their forest moon of Endor. The actual story is placed before the events of Return of the Jedi and shows what is believed to be the Ewoks' first encounter with humans. The humans, a family of four, have crashed on the moon and their starcruiser is badly damaged, leaving them stranded. The mother and father are captured by a gorax, a giant monster. while the children, a little girl and a young boy, befriend the Ewoks—and together go in search for their parents to rescue them.
If you watched any made-for-TV movies in the '80s, you'll feel more that kind of vibe than you will anything that resembles Star Wars. That's not a knock on it but if you're looking for a Star Wars kind of kick you're not really going to find it here. What you will find is a cute little adventure with the trusting little girl and the reluctant older brother who have to learn to work together and trust those who are different from them. You could say it's a little paint-by-numbers for a kids TV special but when I was a kid, I quite liked it. I liked the Ewoks, and it was a treat to see them again—especially Wicket, who befriended Princess Leia in the movie. Unfortunately as an adult it's just a bit too saccrine and cliché. The Ewoks look kinda cheap (their mouths barely move and their eyes are weird and often crossed) and so are the effects; you can see the strings on the giant spider, for goodness sake! But again, it's a sweet story that's even narrated by Burl Ives!
The prequel to the original battle of Endor
This is the follow-up to Caravan of Courage and was released a year later in 1985. It continues the story of Cindel, the girl from Caravan of Courage, and her further adventures with Wicket and the Ewoks. It also stars Wilford Brimley (looking like a proto-Gandalf) who is as lovable here as he is in just about every role he ever did. Battle for Endor is generally considered better than Caravan with more action and a more intense story. There's still plenty of cuteness to go around but we get the added over-the-top villains this time, and there's more at stake for our heroes. I remember this one less than I do its predecessor so I'm looking forward to diving in to see what nostalgic triggers get switched on in my memory. Note: The Mandalorian draws from this movie also and brings back blurrgs, the two-legged beasts of burden that Din Djarin must learn to ride.
Saturday Morning Star Wars
Oh to be a kid in the '70s and '80s and wake up on Saturday mornings to a feast of cartoons on every channel! There was so many animated shows; it gave us a reason to get out of bed early! To revisit those mornings, with sugary cereal bowls in front of us, is a trip into our childhood world. Almost everything that was popular in those days was made into some kind of Saturday morning cartoon—from comic book heroes in Superfriends, to video games like Pac-Man, to classics like Flintstones, and even to some slightly edgier fare like Dungeons and Dragons and Thundarr the Barbarian. The vast landscape of stories and characters shaped us Gen-Xers into the ones creating all kinds of awesome entertainment in these same genres today. Somewhere within that buffet of unbridled animated joy was Ewoks. What? More Ewoks?
The Ewoks cartoon, like most cartoons on the Saturday morning rounds, was a half-hour program that ran for two seasons (a typical run at the time). Alongside Ewoks was another Star Wars cartoon called Droids, which, together made an entire hour of weekend Star Wars content. Droids is not yet available on Disney+ but it is said it will come to the service eventually. Ewoks contains many of the same furry characters we saw in Return of the Jedi and in the TV movies mentioned above. There's Wicket, of course, but also Teebo, Logray, Chief Chirpa (most of whom had Kenner action figures) and some new characters, too, like Malani and Asha. Each episode usually featured the Ewoks facing problems with the Duloks, an antagonistic species of inhabitants on Endor.
Like most cartoons of its day, the show usually had a catchy theme song at the beginning and a moral lesson at the end of each episode—but don't let those common elements keep you from peeking into this show. The animation was darn good, with bright colors and expressive characters. The voice work was top-notch, too. Of all the programs in this Vintage Collection, I'm most nostalgic for Ewoks, and you may just find me streaming this on Saturday mornings for a while, cereal bowl and all.
The original bridge between 2 and 3
There's already The Clone Wars on Disney+. What's this, you ask? Well, you're in for a treat with this one! This one I would consider to be the main event of the Vintage Collection and is not to be missed! You don't need further explanation. Stop reading, give yourself just a couple hours, and watch all of this!
Okay, if you're still reading and need a little more to go on, Clone Wars was originally a series of short, often very short, cartoon episodes. These began on Cartoon Network as a series of three-minute pieces broadcast every three days beginning in November 2003. Those first 10 episodes were followed by an additional 10 short episodes in March and April 2004. That much makes up what you see as "Volume 1" on Disney+. A third season consisted of five longer episodes (about 15 minutes each) released in March 2005, only a couple months before the theatrical release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. This third season is combined as "Volume 2" on Disney+. All-together both volumes run about a feature-length two hours.
I mention all the episode history because when you watch it you'll notice some strange pacing that doesn't seem like a continuous story. When combined, Volume 1 does seem a little scattered and abrupt, but it's also quick with action and doesn't overstay its welcome. Volume 2 seems more steady and that was done on purpose, with its longer-length episodes and overarching story. Regardless of all this, I beg you to watch them.
The animation was produced by Genndy Tartakovsky, who created the animated series Samurai Jack—and the influence of that series is definitely felt in Clone Wars, with both of them utilizing minimal dialogue and abundant visual storytelling. The characters are stylized and simple, and look amazing. There was a couple sets of action figures as well that captured the aesthetic of the program with fantastic detail. Although this series was overtaken by the 3D/CGI animated series The Clone Wars, which went on to be very popular among fans, this original 2D series showed Lucasfilm that there was indeed great interest in animated Star Wars programming.
In this series you'll find some wonderful ideas and characters that eventually returned into the canon series later. This was meant as the original story to bridge Attack of the Clones to Revenge of the Sith, which follows the adventures of the Jedi as they're leading battles against droid armies and Separatists across the galaxy. In particular, we see more adventures with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker that had no time in the primary saga films to show their growing friendship as well as hints of Anakin's fall to the dark side. On top of that, we see the first appearance of some beloved characters like Sith-wannabe Asaaj Ventress, the dark assasin. We find C-3PO first getting his gold plating. Most notable is the first appearance of General Grievous, who comes with a bit more of a sinister take on his character than what we'd see later. In fact, this series is the first to explain his creepy cough.
I can't say enough good things about Clone Wars, so here's what I recommend most: watch this before the next time you watch Revenge of the Sith. You'll find it leads directly into the beginning of that one just like Rogue One leads into A New Hope. I hope you take that advice and enjoy it. Let's hope we see some more special stuff become "vintage."