EWOKS and DROIDS
Miki Herman’s long-time association with Lucasfilm has led her to become an integral part of several Lucasfilm productions. Among them are: Star Wars-Episode IV: A New Hope, The Star Wars Holiday Special, Star Wars-Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars-Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the TV documentary specials The Making of Star Wars, SP FX: The Empire Strikes Back, Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi and From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga. In 1985, Miki became the Executive Producer of the animated Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour TV series and the animated Droids TV special The Great Heep.
Miki, how did you get your start with Lucasfilm?
I started as a temp at the Star Wars office while the company was in England shooting principle photography. When they returned, I became a production assistant for the second unit and post-production. We shot VistaVision plates of Banthas and Jawas in Death Valley, California and some additional shots of Cantina creatures. I helped coordinate the final optical composite shots from the ILM special effects studio to the editing room and the editors’ notes to the sound mix. After the film was released, I was involved in the documentary The Making of Star Wars as a liaison between the production company and Lucasfilm. I was the “robots’ roadie” for other, ancillary projects. Before joining Lucasfilm, my experience was in making low budget features, animation, educational shorts and industrial films.
What was your involvement with the Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978?
I liaisoned between Lucasfilm and the TV production company. They wrote the variety show segments and George Lucas wrote the story for the cartoon. Star Wars conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie designed Chewbacca’s family and the Wookiee planet [Kashyyyk – pronounced as /Kash-e-ick/ pre-Prequelology, where it was said as “Kashsheek”]. The Special featured Chewbacca’s wife Malla [Mallatobuck]; their son, Lumpy [Lumpawarrump] and the grandfather, Itchy [Attichitcuk]. I researched U.S. creature makers and found Stan Winston [later of Aliens, Jurassic Park and Congo fame] to make make the costumes. Chewbacca was made for the first Star Wars movie in England by Stuart Freeborn [who would later craft Yoda and Jabba the Hutt].
After The Star Wars Holiday Special, you worked on the production of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark…
After coordinating the special effects on The Empire Strikes Back, it was enjoyable to manage the filming of VistaVision location plates for the Raiders second unit (which included actors, extras, 1930s period locations, props, costumes and cars) and also working with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Later, for the TV specials that followed, I was Associate producer of SP FX: The Empire Strikes Back, Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi and From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga.
Your association with the Ewoks began with Return of the Jedi.
On Jedi, I scouted and managed locations for the forest moon of Endor – the home of the Ewoks. We prepped the area and built the [Imperial] bunker set.
Was it difficult to find a location to film the Endor battle in Return of the Jedi?
I visited almost every redwood forest between Santa Cruz, California and British Columbia., Canada in order to find a location where we could build a set and stage a battle. We ended up filming the majority of the battle in Smith River, California, on a lumber company’s property. It was already marked for clear-cutting destruction and they gave us permission to do special effects explosions on pre-selected trees.
Were you involved with the casting of the Ewok actors for Return of the Jedi?
We had special Ewok casting people who had earlier cast Under the Rainbow (a 1981 film starring Billy Barty, Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher that was about the little people working in The Wizard of Oz in 1939). I went to England with the Ewok stunt actors, where the special effects make-up artist Stuart Freeborn and the wardrobe crew fitted them for special stunt costumes. The Ewok actors used comic relief to overcome the boredom of sitting around the set in their hot, bulky costumes.
How did the animated Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour series come about?
After the Star Wars trilogy was completed, it was a way to keep the theme and characters alive (as well as cultivate a new audience).
Was it difficult to find the right writers for the series?
When you’re looking for writers, you talk to a lot of people. I found Paul Dini through a producer friend who was a science-fiction/comic book expert. Bob Carrau was The Ewok Adventure TV movie writer. A funny coincidence was that, unbeknownst to me, Bob and Paul had known each other in grade school. Peter Sauder, who wrote the majority of Droids episodes was a staff writer at Nelvana [the animation studio in Toronto, Canada that produced the animated Segment of The Star Wars Holiday Special and later, Ewoks and Droids]. Lucasfilm sound effects designer Ben Burtt [the Droids Special The Great Heep and the 4-episode “Adventures of Mungo Baobab” story-arc] and ILM special effects artist Joe Johnston [the coda episode of the “Mon-Julpa story-arc, “Coby and the Starhunters”] also wrote a few Droids episodes.
Ewoks and Droids weren’t typical Saturday morning cartoons.
Yes, that’s right. George Lucas wanted a show for all ages, just like the Star Wars films. Our goal was to have a higher quality of animation than the usual Saturday morning standards. George also felt that it was important to address the everyday family aspect of the characters, even though there were magical, fantasy qualities present.
In addition to the series, there was also a Droids special called The Great Heep.
It was an hour-long special [that actually aired in 1986, after the rest of the 1985 series, but chronologically takes place in-between episode #9, “Coby and the Starhunters” (last of the 5-episode middle story-arc “Mon-Julpa” and episode #10, “Tail of the Roon Comets” and serves as the introductory adventure for the third and final Droids story-arc, “The Adventures of Mungo Baobab”], so we had time to develop the characters and expand the story. Ben Burtt wrote some funny, classic action sequences with droids R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Miki, now that you are an independent producer, what kind of projects are you interested in developing?
I’m interested in movies for film and TV. Comedies, love stories, historical swashbucklers and the future of virtual reality. I’ve been developing these kinds of projects and look forward to seeing their fruition. I’ve been involved in developing some interactive walk-through space theme parks and science-fiction movies for the U.S. and Japan.
Are you still interested in producing animation?
I haven’t actively pursued it, but I wouldn’t mind if the right project came along. I’m fascinated by computer animation, which has come a long way since we did the series. It’s very expensive, however and the cost has to come down before we can use it in longform. [And it eventually did, as witnessed in such TV series as Babylon 5 and Reboot].
Writer, Story Editor & Associate Producer
EWOKS (1985) and THE ALL-NEW EWOKS (1986)
As an established writer and story editor for animation, Paul Dini has written episodes of The Adventures of Flash Gordon and Mighty Mouse for Filmation, Scooby-Doo and Pound Puppies for Hanna-Barbera, Dungeons & Dragons and G.I. Joe for Marvel Productions, provided additional dialogue for Amblin’s Family Dog and he was story editor of the new adventures of Bob Clampett’s Beany & Cecil for DIC. His scripts for live-action television include the “Talk Nice to Me” and “One Wolf’s Story” episodes of the Syndicated anthology TV series Monsters. Paul wrote for and was co-story editor of the hit Emmy award-winning animated series Tiny Toon Adventures and co-writer of the 1992 feature-length Tiny Toons special video release How I Spent My Vacation. He is currently a writer and co-story editor of the runaway hit Batman: The Animated Series on FOX and writer of the upcoming animated feature film Batman: The Animated Movie – Mask of the Phantasm and the live-action feature film Double Dragon. For the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour, Paul was Associate Producer, Series Story Editor and writer for the animated Ewoks (1985) and the alternate/revamped version The All-New Ewoks in 1986.
Paul, how did you first begin writing for animation?
Animation was something that I had always been interested in. I loved cartoons and I drew some comics for my college newspaper. So I was looking for a way to combine that with writing. I had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles for a short time (while I was finishing up college) and work for Filmation Studios. They were doing Mighty Mouse, Fat Albert and The Adventures of Flash Gordon. That was little more than ten years ago [circa 1979]. So when I went out there, I worked on pretty much everything that they were doing at the time. Then came the usual “slow time” and I went back to Boston to finish up some school work there and some other business. Then I came back to Los Angeles pretty much for good in around 1982 and freelanced for a while. I did a lot of work for Hanna-Barbera and Filmation (where I worked on the development for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe), then I went to work at Ruby-Spears.
From there, I sent some of my work up to Lucasfilm. I heard that they were looking to do adaptations of Star Wars characters in animation, so I sent them a couple of scripts (including a Dungeons & Dragons episode). They liked my material and that got me the nod. I went up to Lucasfilm and I was paired up with another, really terrific writer named Flint Dille (who is working with Steven Spielberg on various different projects on An America Tail II [released as An American Tail: Fievel Goes West]. So I went up to Lucasfilm to develop Ewoks and Droids as a Saturday morning show. At first first, they were agreeable that I could do the work out of Los Angeles, but then they started saying, “Why don’t you up here and be associate producer also”. I kind of wanted to get out of L.A. anyway, so that was fine by me. My family was originally from the [San Francisco] Bay Area and I was looking forward to working at Lucasfilm. It was always sort of a dream of mine while I was in college, because I had heard so much about Lucasfilm and Skywalker Ranch being built and what a great environment it was to work in. So I was really chomping at the bit to go!
So I moved up there and became associate producer and story editor on Ewoks and Droids and I did the development for Ewoks (based on lengthy meeting s with George Lucas). And that kind of got the ball rolling. It was fun working with the Nelvana directors and animators, We would go over our ideas together. It was fun seeing them visualized! It was a very “hands-on” experience, because there was a lot of communication between the various animation departments (which is something that does not always happen in basic Saturday morning cartoons. It was actually discouraged at some studios, where the writers sit in little rooms and they wrote it while the artists just drew the stuff). Working with the artists and director at Nelvana was a very nice change. And that’s really the way that animation should be done!
For the first  season of Ewoks, Bob Carrau and I wrote all of the episodes ourselves. I wrote for the Ewoks for two years and hung around Lucasfilm for another year and a half and worked on various other projects and developments.
The character designs for the animated Ewoks in the series were different from their live-action appearances in Return of the Jedi and the two Ewok movies (The Ewok Adventure: The Caravan of Courage in 1984 and Ewoks: The battle for Endor in 1985, which aired during the 1985 season of Ewoks and Droids).
That was to give them a greater range – it’s very hard to identify the individual Ewoks in the movies. Wicket was short and he was the littlest of the group. If he sticks in your mind, it’s because of that reason. If they had given them a little more personality, or varied the design even more, they would have stood out more as individuals. They were treated mostly as a tribe and your attention was on the tribe, rather than on the individual characters. So when it came to do the cartoon series, rather than emphasize them as just a whole tribe, it was decided that we would concentrate on the younger members of the tribe (like the fledgling warriors and leaders among the younger Ewoks). To do this, we really had to go in and redesign the characters. We had to make them more identifiable to the audience, in terms of visuals and voices as well. So that’s why Wicket, Teebo, Kneesaa, Latara and the others all kind of evolved into their animated forms. You have to know who you’re looking at – it’s one thing to have a little furry guy running around in a costume and say that this is Princess Kneesaa, but it doesn’t look like a little primitive princess. It could be Teebo, Paploo, Weechee or any of the guys. (Laughter)
Do you have any personal favorites among the characters or the episodes that you thought worked especially well for the series?
There were two seasons of Ewoks (the first season from the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour and the second All-New Ewoks version) and they were so very different from each other…
Focusing on the first season (1985) of Ewoks…
Oh, I liked the Asha story a lot [“Asha” was the season finale episode of the 1985 series]. I liked giving Princess Kneesaa an older sister. I liked fleshing out Kneesaa’s family and the idea of a red-furred girl Ewok that was a noble savage was a lot of fun too. I liked the first story that we did with the Phlogs (“Rampage of the Phlogs”) for a number of reasons. Little Malani [Wicket’s friend Teebo’s little sister] (who had a crush on Wicket) had her feelings hurt and the sub-plot was that Wicket has to kind of make good with her. That same story also had the Phlogs (which were funny characters) and the Duloks [distant cousins of the Ewoks, that had evolved into more Grinch-like beings], which I liked a lot.
The Duloks came from an Ewok storybook [The Adventures of Teebo: A Tale of Magic and Suspense] by Joe Johnston [who would also write the Droids episode “Coby and the Starhunters”]. All the Duloks were basically killed off at the end of the book, so we had to go back in and create new Duloks for the animated series. And that was a lot of fun to do. I like those characters a lot; King Gorneesh, his wife, Urgah and the Dulok Shaman [his name, Umwak, was revealed in “Wicket’s Wagon”]. I thought that they were a really funny trio of characters. I liked putting them up against the Ewoks.
In the second season (The All-New Ewoks) [in 1986], I kind of liked the one with the Empire in it (“Battle for the Sunstar”), where the evil Dr. Raygar came to Endor. Since this was a part of Star Wars, you have to show the Empire from time to time. I thought that Latara got to be a very funny character in the second season. She became a focus of comedy.
After The All-New Ewoks ended, we were still in consideration with the networks for a number of new projects for animation and live-action. They were looking for anything that was going to sell. One of them was became Maniac Mansion.
How long would it take to complete an episode of Ewoks or Droids?
Well, we had a long lead-time with the first season of the series. The episodes that we started writing in 1984, came back to us in the middle of 1985. We had a long lead-time with the show because George Lucas announced that he was putting Star Wars characters up as an animation property for the networks for Saturday morning. It was a foregone conclusion that the show would get on the air. So once the project was announced, we just started writing stories. It wasn’t like the usual process that you have to go through (and we did go through this at Lucasfilm on other, non-Star Wars-related ideas that we wanted to put into development and were ultimately passed on) where you really wait ’til the last minute to start working on a show, unless you’ve got something really hot and pre-sold. Like when CBS really wanted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They wanted it and they were able to put it on.
With Ewoks and Droids, it was announced in ’84 that this would happen, the networks were bidding on it (and they all wanted it). So we had a nice, long lead-time to do those episodes. This isn’t usually the case with most Saturday morning shows. Most networks make their buys in March of the year that show is going to be on. You often have to have even more time to do the production and be able to do it right. So that’s why everybody usually scrambles to get the episodes done. A lot of the time, some shows get on the air without retakes and lots of mistakes end up being left in. They can can look hurried and rushed. That was the luxury that we had with Tiny Toons, where we knew that we were going to get the show on and that was all there was to it. That’s why we started serious production on Tiny Toons in February or March of 1989. That was when the producers were hired and work began. I came on in April, so we were writing the series for a year and a half (while finishing up various production elements) before the first season began to air in 1990.
On average, we would have about five to six months when we’d write an episode and then we’d see it back again. We had a comfortable eight months lead-time for Ewoks and Droids. I wrote the first Ewok script during the Summer of ’84 and then we saw the film back around Christmas time, later that same year. We spliced together some clips of Ewoks – as sort of a work in progress – and ran it in front of a screening of The Ewok Adventure [the first Ewok TV movie that was also released theatrically overseas].
You’ve also written for live-action television.
Yeah, I’ve written a couple of episodes of a live-action series called Monsters. I wrote one that was about a family of werewolves [“One Wolf’s Family”] and another one that’s more of a psychological horror story about a guy who is tormented by a mysterious woman who keeps calling him up and leaves haunting messages [“Talk Nice to Me”]. So, I write cartoons during the day, for kids and at night, I write all this really weird, bizarre stuff. (Laughter)
Is it more difficult to write for animation or live-action?
Well, let’s see… I’ve done both and it’s… you know, it depends on the kind of story that you’re trying to tell. For me, in terms of what I’ve had on the air and what I’m hoping to get produced, I just look upon it as various ways of telling a story. You have to much more visual in animation than you are in live-action as a rule. The animation writer is, to a degree, directing the episode. You have to describe who the characters are, what they look like and their reactions to certain things (whereas in a live-action script, you don’t have to write, “The character had a really big reaction and his eyes pop out!”).
You have to give the director and the actors of live-action more range to create the role. In animation, you have to pretty much block things out for the artists who are going to eventually draw this stuff. The animation writer has to kind of visualize the story first, so that the artists know exactly what they’re drawing and then the director can come in and change everything! (Laughter)
The Ewoks’ Soul Trees were first talked about in Joe Johnston’s 1984 Ewok Storybook The Adventures of Teebo: A Tale of Magic and Suspense and they were seen in the first season of Ewoks (“The Cries of the Trees” and “Wicket’s Wagon”). Could you describe what the Soul Trees represent to the Ewoks?
Well, I wrote a very long description for the Ewoks “bible” on the Soul Trees. When an Ewok is born, he (or she) was given a little tree to sort of bond with. You got this tree on your birthday and that became your tree to take care of when you were old enough. This was sort of like being Christened or baptized in a way. When you were old enough, you went with your parents to the Soul Tree Forest and you helped them plant your little tree and water it. So that was now your tree and you cared for it so that you would always have this little piece of the forest that is your own.
It was when an Ewok died, that they believed a part of their soul went into the their Soul Tree. Their hoods were wrapped around their tree when they die. If you were an Ewok warrior that had died, your hood, spear and bow would be taken and sort of preserved on your Soul Tree – in memory of who’s Soul Tree it is.
The Ewoks have a sort of spiritual bond with their trees – all having to do with The Force and its various manifestations throughout the universe.
Paul, would you like to see the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour continue with new episodes?
You know, I really liked those characters a lot! I really liked Wicket, the Warrick family, Kneesaa, Chief Chirpa, Logray and all of those other characters. I would like to see their adventures continue.
Thinking about the first season of Ewoks, I thought of them as The Tribe, with Wicket as sort of the “everyman” of the group. There could be a story about Chirpa and the Ewok Elders that Wicket could be a part of, or there could be a story about Latara and Kneesaa that Wicket could take part in.
We could do really good stories with Deej [Wicket’s father], Shodu [Wicket’s mother] and Wicket’s older brothers [eldest Weechee and middle brother Willy (Widdle) – they also have a baby sister, Winda, possibly named after George Lucas’ youngest sister Wendy]. The idea of being the little brother; having to deal with these two, older, kind of “meaner” brothers was very appealing to me. It was a lot of fun to do those shows and I really enjoyed them. I loved working at Lucasfilm, it was a great experience! George Lucas was particularly challenging to work with – he was always encouraging you to come up with really terrific ideas and he supported you when you wanted to put them in.
If it came down to working with those characters again, I’d have to say that’d be just fine! That’d be lots of fun!
EWOKS and THE ALL-NEW EWOKS
Writer Bob Carrau’s credits include The Ewok Adventure: The Caravan of Courage, animated episodes of Ewoks, Tiny Toon Adventures, Alvin and the Chipmunks, ABC’s The Wizard of Oz, The All-New Ewoks, Dink the Little Dinosaur, FOX’s Peter Pan and the Pirates and he has co-developed other series for television including the live-action family comedy Maniac Mansion and the animated ABC series The Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa. Carrau has also written a fun hardcover Star Wars book called Monsters and Aliens from George Lucas.
Bob, how did you come to write for the Ewoks?
Originally, I worked for George Lucas as an assistant. At first my job was very loose. One day, I might work a lot as a projectionist or something and the next day, there may not have been much to do. Now and then, the question of what I wanted to do was discussed. I had to think about that for a while. And I thought that something that I might be able to do was to write scripts. So I was given the opportunity to sort of teach myself how to write scripts in my free time. It took about a year, but I wrote a movie script. George then told me about some projects that were going to be happening soon: The Ewok Adventure movie and the cartoon series. He basically said that he needed to see some of my writing in the next month or so. If it was good enough, he’d consider doing some projects with me. He liked my script and then he and I began to write the first Ewok movie.
I always liked reading George’s screenplays. I really liked the pacing of his stories and they were always just so… visual! When you see someone who actually writes really great stuff, but but you also see their intermediate steps (that may not be as polished)… it gives you hope in a way.
The first draft of a screenplay is never really what ends up on screen.
Right. And when you haven’t written scripts for very long, you’re not very sure of that. I think that George is a really good film writer. I know that he hates it, but I wish he’d write some more!
How did The Ewok Adventure evolve into the movie that it became?
It took less than a year to produce The Ewok Adventure (also known as The Caravan of Courage). Originally, it was just going to be a one-hour special, but it eventually grew into a two-hour movie. It was interesting to me to see the process of how to expand on something once the network [ABC] gets involved. It was really interesting to work with the director [John Korty], the producer [Thomas G. Smith] and George Lucas, because I had never done anything like that before! I was a little out of my element. It was really a great experience for someone just starting out to be working with these people. It was really hard to get something that was about simple issues (like family relationships) and that was also really sort of tender on TV back then. People were expecting Star Wars on TV – which was what we never intended to do. We were much more interested in telling a story that was a more exciting and contemporary version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
During the production of The Ewok Adventure, we worked on the development for the animated series. When Miki Herman (the executive producer of the series) hired Paul Dini, she said to me, “Bob, I’ve hired this story editor that knows you”. I was really freaked out! Paul and I had known each other when we were kids. I hadn’t seen him in probably ten years! It was really kind of odd! We had to get to know each other again.
What sort of research did the writers do while the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour was in development?
For the first season, we were really trying to write modern fairy tales. We looked through Bruno Bettelheim’s book, The Uses of Enchantment and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero of a Thousand Faces [both of which served as inspirations for George Lucas while creating Star Wars]. We also read a lot of fairy tales. The trick was always to figure out how to make the stories something different – something your own. In the first season of Ewoks, we were really into the idea that primitive tribes are more in touch with the planet and they treat it as a magical place. What was really great for me about Ewoks, was that you could walk around in nature (like when you were camping or something) and you would come across a pine cone that looked really neat. What was great, because you could go back to the writing table and write a story about it! At our story meetings, you could say, “Okay, there’s this magic pine cone and…!” And everyone would say, “Yeah, let’s do that!” That sort of acceptance of the natural world is wonderful! That’s why I really liked about the series. There were other shows that have funny animals and magic places, but they don’t have a real strong reverence for the natural world. I always thought that Ewoks had that kind of respect for their environment.
What other aspects of the series stood out as your favorites?
I always really liked Latara as a character. I also liked the two Jinda stories a lot [“The Traveling Jindas” and “The Curse of the Jindas”]. “To Save Deej” was neat because it was so much like a fairy tale. “The Tree of Light” was great because it had the classic structure of a quest. The first Jinda story was actually hard for me to write. The kind of stories that I like are the ones that have a poignant danger that is brought on by the characters themselves. We didn’t want to make the Jindas evil, but they were sort of responsible for getting Latara into trouble. So I came up with the idea that they always get lost. It was great because they weren’t really bad, they just didn’t have any responsibility. One thing that George wanted to do was to have trilogies of stories. For example: the Gupin was in “To Save Deej” and he would later appear in “The Land of the Gupins”. It was the same thing with the Jindas. There were two stories, but we couldn’t think of a third one. I think that we found it difficult to do sometimes.
One thing that I really liked about the first year was that we tried to use a lot of Ewok language. Ben Burtt designed the original Ewokese for Return of the Jedi. For The Ewok Adventure, a linguist from Berkeley was hired to create a whole language for us to use. A lot of Ewok words that we used (like “Goopa” and “Lurdo”) in the first season were ones that she had made up. It was funny because, at the end of the year, I got to know what all of the words meant! The scope of the first season was great. The ideas that we were working with, bringing in the odd characters and keeping the idea of the Star Wars movies was really right on. What was fun about the second year (The All-New Ewoks) was the idea of focusing on the four main characters. The trick for me was to always try and take a lot of fairy tale elements and put them into these comical characters. For me, it was really interesting to work with two different kinds of producers during the two years of the series.
What projects have you worked on since the animated Ewoks ended?
For about two or three years, I worked with Cliff Ruby and Elana Lesser, Judy Nelson, Paul Dini and Kirk Henderson and we developed TV shows for Lucasfilm (Mainac Mansion was one of them). It was really great that we were allowed to develop animation and other TV shows by ourselves for awhile. It was rather liberating! Now, I do lots of freelance writing. I’ve written for several cartoon shows [including Alvin and the Chipmunks, Dink the Little Dinosaur, Peter Pan and the Pirates and ABC’s animated Wizard of Oz series]. I wrote a stage play, but it hasn’t been produced. I did some more work for Lucasfilm, but mainly for ILM’s commercial division. I’ve also done scripts for Tiny Toon Adventures. I’m still working on some live-action and animated TV shows and movie scripts.
Bob, would you like to see the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour return to television?
Yeah, because I think that they’re really great characters! The premise of these “primitive” creatures that are spiritually advanced and live in a world of magic is still a really good idea!