The Clone Wars
Just a few days
from now in a toy store far, far too close, Star Wars
will have kids dancing in the aisles. Come on, it's not
like it ever actually went away, but perhaps a religion-inspiring
franchise can get insecure with all those superheroes competing
for the hearts and minds of children.
Thus we get
the animated (and by the way, far less expensive to produce)
installment, The Clone Wars. Set between the live-action
Episodes 2 and 3 but after the previous animated series
of the same name, perhaps the most surprising thing about
this movie is that it's not half-bad.
Of course, that
qualifies it as half-good. For a narrative cobbled together
from three episodes of the impending animated series, The
Clone Wars actually stands up pretty well. If you ignore
what you know from the other films, you might even find
yourself caught up in the threats to Anakin Skywalker (here
voiced by Matt Lanter), a roguishly scarred dark-clad Jedi
clear stance as a cocky hot-shot loner (supported by a troop
of clones, though), Anakin finds himself saddled with a
paduwan, which is Jedi jargon for intern. Meant to reflect
his Anakin's own impetuousness and give girls a character
to emulate, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) veers from hero-worship
to overconfidence at the drop of a plot convenience.
that in the live-action films, there's no way that Obi-Wan
Kenobi would have deemed Anakin fit to have a paduwan. Here,
it's a wacky conspiracy between Obi-Wan and Yoda to teach
Anakin a sense of responsibility - and allows Yoda to say
something wise about Anakin's character that shows Yoda
has both keen insight and an unerring ability to do exactly
the wrong thing about it.)
They find themselves
caught up in a rescue mission that makes the bulk of the
film's plot. Count Dooku (Christopher Lee - yes, Christopher
Lee ) has engineered the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt's
son, a slimy little larva Ahsoka dubs Stinky. If the Jedi
can rescue him, Jabba will side with the Republic and make
it easier on transportation in the outer worlds. If Dooku
can frame the Jedi, however, then Jabba sides with the Rebellion…and
really, isn't it kind of weird that the allegiances of 1,
2 and 3 are the exact opposite of 4, 5 and 6?
Kids won't know,
though. Nor will they remember that actually both sides
of this war are being orchestrated by Palpatine (Ian Abercrombie).
Again, overlooking that most of the people we're rooting
for here will be killed or turned evil in Revenge of
the Sith, things get fairly exciting - eventually.
title is The Clone Wars, the first fifteen minutes
or so get taken up by a pretty pointless series of battles.
The screenwriters clearly didn't veer too far from George
Lucas' blueprint, as this was a problem in the other films,
too. It's also not well-plotted here, with Anakin and Ahsoka
pulling off a supposedly clever battle tactic that would
have occurred with or without their efforts.
level isn't too high. In addition to the nickname Stinky,
which calls to mind the Star Wars Holiday Special
naming Chewbacca's children Itchy and Lumpy, Ahsoka calls
Anakin "Skyguy" and he calls her "Snips."
and Obi-Wan can sense when the Sith assassin Ventris is
on the same planet as they are, but miss when Dooku stands
less than thirty feet away, practically begging the Dark
Side to sidle up to Obi-Wan and bite him on the butt.
And lord, why
must Dooku's army of droids be so woefully, utterly stupid?
Who would design a line of soldierbots with processing power
that makes Jar-Jar Binks look like a tactical genius?
Lest this get
too dismissive, the art direction on this show needs to
be praised. Though in terms of animation, the production
has problems working with light sources, it's because what
they're shooting for is making this series look like moving
production paintings. The angularity of the characters,
though also echoing the earlier animated effort, come straight
out of Ralph McQuarrie's original concepts for the franchise.
elsewhere, too. Since the troopers all have the same Fett
face, they express their individuality in hair style, and
apparently don't get too creeped out when at ease and just
staring at themselves all the time. We meet Jabba's Coruscant-based
uncle, Ziro the Hutt (Corey Burton), who dresses in purple
and gets a voice like Truman Capote.
one of the great voice performances in the film. The animated
Anakin runs rings around the live-action one as far as charisma
and nuance goes, so credit has to go to Lanter. Playing
all the clones, Dee Bradley Baker manages to use the same
voice to create reasonably different characters.
Lee at least sounds like he enjoys voicing Dooku, and you
just know that Samuel L. Jackson smiles off-screen every
time he gets to play Mace Windu. Say what you will, the
man is secretly one of us. And when C-3PO finally appears,
hearing Anthony Daniels' voice is strangely reassuring.
It often doesn't
make much sense, but taken on its own, The Clone Wars
satisfies a lot more cleanly than 1, 2 and 3. But you might
consider that a problem as it contradicts so much of what
we geeks think of as lore.
though? It's not for us, and as such is hard to recommend
as a theatrical film, when we know it's coming soon enough
to the Cartoon Network. Still, there's a long history of
both Star Wars and animated toy tie-ins milking us,
and The Clone Wars is at least entertaining enough
for you to not immediately notice.