Without a doubt, in today’s fast paced, digital world, DVD has become the preferred standard for viewing films or television shows conveniently in your own home. But it hasn’t always been this way. It almost seems hard to believe but less than a decade ago, VHS was the top dog and the majority of us were saddled down with bulky tape collections. The release of the campy and oh so fun Droids and Ewoks cartoons on DVD in November 2004 inspired us to prepare a Special Feature outlining the previous, domestic home video incarnations of the Droids and Ewoks and some of the wonderful promotional items that were used to help sell them. They may not be the most glamorous collectibles around the Star Wars galaxy but tracking down these tapes can be a rather challenging yet affordable way to round out a Droids and Ewoks collection.
Created by LucasFilm and the Canadian animation company Nelvana, the Droids and Ewoks Adventure Hour originally aired in 1985 on ABC. Unlike the animated Clone Wars cartoons of today, these shows, which followed the adventures of C-3P0 and R2-D2 and the Ewoks respectively, were created to appeal to the younger Saturday morning cartoon viewer of the 1980s – but that certainly didn’t stop older Star Wars fans from enjoying them!
Unfortunately, an unfeasible developmental schedule (where planets changed each show and the main characters found themselves with new masters every four episodes) and an overall dwindling interest in Star Wars resulted in the Droids series being cancelled after only one, 13-episode season and a special entitled “The Great Heep”. The Ewoks faired a little better in animated form but not by much. After the first 13-episode season, the show was totally revamped and when it returned to the airwaves in 1986 it was geared towards a more preschool audience. No longer did the show consist of one, 23-minute episode. Instead, all but one of the 22 new episodes were shortened so a handful of stories could be told in a half hour block. The second season of Ewoks only lasted for half of the 1986 season before it was cancelled.
Luckily, this was not the last time we’d see our lovable pals from the Droids and Ewoks Adventure Hour. By the mid 1980s a new fangled idea known as home video (a la the video cassette recorder) was fast becoming a household staple across Canada and the United States and in 1990, J2 Communications released their Star Wars Trilogy Animated Collection. There were six different videos released by J2 in 1990, three for Droids and three for the Ewoks.
Of the six J2 releases, there are two distinct types. The first versions consist of only one tape from each series - Droids: The Lost Prince (episode #5) and Ewoks: The Tree of Light (episode #6). These tapes come in a white box (with appropriate Droids and Ewoks graphics) and each contains the 23-minute episode titled on the box.
The other versions of the J2 releases are “Special Double Length Editions”. These volumes have a different colour scheme (blue for Droids and yellow for Ewoks) making them easily distinguishable from the single volume J2 tapes. There are two volumes for both the Droids and the Ewoks and each tape contains two episodes. Droids Volume 1 features the first two episodes from the series “The White Witch” and “Escape Into Terror” while Droids Volume 2 strangely skips a beat and contains the fifth and sixth episodes – “The Lost Prince” and “The New King”. The episode order on the Ewoks tapes is similarly skewed. Volume 1 features the first episode – “The Cries of the Trees” but then skips to episode #6 “The Tree of Light” and Volume 2 features the second episode “The Haunted Village” and the twelfth episode “Blue Harvest”.
All six of the J2 tapes begin with a Star Wars Animated Classics trailer promoting the “Special Double Length Edition” volumes. This is all well and good for those particular tapes but it becomes somewhat confusing on the single volume tapes where the white box covers are shown but differing content is advertised. All of the J2 tapes, save Ewoks Volume 1, can be somewhat hard to find but fortunately, there isn’t a high demand for them so patient collectors can often find them for around $5 on eBay.
In Canada, the “Special Double Length Edition” tapes were distributed by Calgary, Alberta based Junior Home Video and while the content is the same, there are some noticeable variations to the boxes and tape labels. These Canadian tapes are much harder to find than their American counterparts but don’t command any premiums in price.
As many of you know, the late 1980s and the early 1990s are considered the “dark times” in Star Wars fandom. The J2 tapes were some of the few Star Wars items released domestically during these years and it wasn’t until Star Wars experienced a good ol’ fashioned revival in the latter part of the early 90s that it began to creep back to the forefront of popular culture. Riding the rising wave of re-interest in the overall Star Wars property, the Sci Fi network began re-running the Droids and Ewoks cartoons in 1994. Perhaps it was the ensuing interest from these broadcasts that led LucasFilm and 20th Century Fox to release these shows one last time on VHS on February 11th, 1997.
This time, only two volumes were released under the “Animated Classics” banner, one for Ewoks and one for Droids. Packaged in a white clamshell case, each tape contains four episodes from each series that have unfortunately been heavily edited into a “full-length feature” (a bone of contention for many fans). The Droids tape, “The Pirates and the Prince”, contains episodes 5 – 8; the entire Jan Tosh story-arc and the Ewoks tape, “The Haunted Village”, is all over the map and features episodes 2, 1, 3, and 9 in that order. While this may seem a touch on the convoluted side, there is a method to the madness as these are the only four episodes in which Logray’s arch nemesis Morag the Tulga Witch appears. Both of these “Animated Classics” volumes are very easy to find and can be found for very low prices on eBay.
Thanks to the “Original One Last Time” VHS release of the Original Trilogy on August 25th, 1995, the Star Wars marketing machine was back in full swing and the Droids and Ewoks Animated Classics received a major promotional push which featured a myriad of great advertising materials. The initial shipments of the videotapes were sent to many stores in a display bin that featured a very attractive Star Wars Animated Classics header. Additionally, several stores also received a merchandising kit complete with shelf danglers, shelf talkers, countertop displays, mobiles and buttons. Naturally, these items have become collectibles themselves and all save the bin and header, can be found fairly easily.
This, of course, brings us to November 23, 2004 when the Droids and Ewoks cartoons were released, with very little fanfare, on DVD. Once again, these classic shows have been re-edited into “full-length features” and to top it off only eight of the thirteen episodes from each series were put on the DVDs. Needless to say, this has disappointed many fans who were looking forward to owning the entire series, uncut, on DVD. While we here at Rebelscum do not condone the creation or purchase of bootlegged material, until LucasFilm decides to release these shows in their raw form, the only way fans can own a complete set of unaltered episodes is by purchasing bootlegged DVDs or VHS tapes.
At this point I’m sure you’re wondering how someone could have yammered on for so long about the VHS tapes of a Star Wars cartoon series but believe me, we’ve only struck the tip of the iceberg! The Droids and Ewoks were released on video in many other countries around the world and these tapes will be the focus of a future update to this feature.
Even though the Droids and Ewoks cartoons have a limited fan base they are most certainly an important part of the Star Wars universe. These tales, while written for younger audiences, were some of the first Expanded Universe stories ever told and are only enhanced by Nelvana’s rich animation. The Droids and Ewoks animated adventures should be viewed at least once by every Star Wars fan and thanks to the miracle of magnetic tape (VHS) and DVD, kids of all ages can sit back and enjoy them at any time, in the comfort of their homes. If you’re interested in learning more about the Droids and Ewoks cartoons themselves, be sure to read my article, “A State of Nelvana” in Star Wars Insider #73.