Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie poster


After writ­ing and direct­ing three pre­quels between 1999–2005, it’s easy to for­get that Star Wars god­fa­ther George Lucas opted out of direct­ing Episodes IV: The Empire Strikes Back and V: Return of the Jedi back in the 1980s. Now Lucas appears once again to be ced­ing con­trol over his most famous baby. He’s back to shep­herd­ing along splin­ter projects like The Clone Wars from the more aloof role of Exec­u­tive Producer.

For any­one else con­fused, as I cer­tainly was, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a feature-film sequel to the 2003–2005 Car­toon Net­work tele­vi­sion series “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” in turn fol­lowed by a sec­ond series with the same name as the movie. Got that? There are much big­ger dif­fer­ences than swap­ping a colon for a defin­i­tive arti­cle, start­ing with the visual look itself. The best thing about the orig­i­nal series was its bold, strik­ing visual style, real­ized in a hand-drawn line-art look sim­i­lar to Gen­ndy Tartakovsky’s pre­vi­ous show Samu­rai Jack. From what lit­tle I under­stand of the process, CGI ani­ma­tion cre­ated in 3D can still be ren­dered in a flat 2D style, giv­ing it the look of tra­di­tional hand-drawn cell ani­ma­tion. So the char­ac­ters in the orig­i­nal at least appeared hand-drawn even though they prob­a­bly weren’t.

Ashley Eckstein and Matt Lanter in Star Wars: The Clone WarsAnakin trains a young propellerhead

How­ever, the fea­ture film sequel looks like direc­tor Dave Filoni opted to skip that step and ren­der the char­ac­ters with full 3D shad­ing. The result resem­bles a rough ani­matic or a throw­away videogame cut scene. Filoni gets kudos for not aim­ing for pho­to­re­al­ism, which becomes very creepy when approach­ing the uncanny val­ley — the point where ani­mated char­ac­ters look almost, but not quite, like real humans. Look with fear upon the night­mar­ish zom­bie hor­ror­shows Final Fan­tasy: The Spir­its Within, The Polar Express, and Beowulf (the lat­ter being a huge step for­ward, but still not quite there yet). But The Clone Wars’ par­tic­u­lar brand of styl­iza­tion just seems cheap to me; I would have pre­ferred the cool-looking 2D char­ac­ters as they appeared in the TV series.

The Clone Wars is canon within the Star Wars uni­verse, but no one (prob­a­bly not even Lucas him­self) would ever con­sider it as pri­mary as its six older sib­lings. One advan­tage to being rel­e­gated to the sec­ond tier is a free­dom to vio­late ven­er­a­ble Star Wars tra­di­tions. The clas­sic open­ing crawl is gone, replaced with a Cit­i­zen Kane-style news­reel catch­ing the audi­ence up with the key facts needed to make sense of what’s going on in between all the ‘splo­sions. That par­tic­u­lar change is a shame, but brace your­self for some heresy when I admit I find another change rather wel­come: Kevin Kiner’s very non-John Williams-esque score. As much as Williams’ music was the sound­track of my child­hood (my entire gen­er­a­tion can sing the Star Wars, Jaws, and Indi­ana Jones themes a cap­pella, on cue), I had long since tired of him. The point at which I lost it was the wall-to-wall blan­ket of redun­dant music that threat­ened to drown out the already almost over­whelm­ing Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan.

The Clone Wars series and movie are both set chrono­log­i­cally between the events of Episodes II: Attack of the Clones and III: Revenge of the Sith, a razor-thin slice of time in which noth­ing of import really hap­pened in Star Wars con­ti­nu­ity. The movies already showed us how the war began and ended, so The Clone Wars movie and series are basi­cally war sto­ries. This is actu­ally a good thing in light of how the pre­quel tril­ogy often became bogged down in tedious polit­i­cal pro­ce­dure involv­ing inter­plan­e­tary trade routes. The series was by its nature a string of vignettes, but the fea­ture film still feels like an episodic tour through a num­ber of spec­tac­u­lar bat­tles. A par­tic­u­larly grip­ping and excit­ing bat­tle takes place on a ver­ti­cal cliff face, “shot” with a hand-held “cam­era.” Lucas was sure to con­ceive of his two armies as droids and masked clones, allow­ing for car­nage and huge body counts with­out a drop of blood (not to men­tion the eco­nom­i­cal reuse of cos­tumes, and now, dig­i­tal mod­els). I remain puz­zled, how­ever, how clones and droids can have names, ranks, and vary­ing skill sets. This Dork Reporter grew up with the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, and still has trou­ble accept­ing stormtroop­ers being on the side of the good guys.

Tom Kane in Star Wars: The Clone WarsYoda’s look­ing more “kit­ten” than “tur­tle” today

The TV series focused mostly on the bat­tles, but the movie squeezes a frag­ment of a plot in between the action set pieces. Anakin Sky­walker is incon­ve­niently charged with train­ing Ahsoka Tano (Ash­ley Eck­stein), an annoy­ing teen “padawan learner” (a Luca­sism for “appren­tice” that still sounds very much like a George W. Bush mala­prop­ism). I still find it dif­fi­cult to accept that the Anakin we see here and in Episode III is so close to the tip­ping point to absolute cor­rup­tion that he will soon betray the Rebels and become the embod­i­ment of evil, Darth Vader. At this point, he still seems a merely moody and impetu­ous kid horny for the girl­friend he left behind on Naboo. Being respon­si­ble for the spunky, good­hearted Ahsoka cer­tainly does lit­tle to help him attain the state of emo­tional detach­ment Lucas equates with goodness.

Even though there’s no doubt a great deal of very expen­sive tech­nol­ogy behind this kind of ani­ma­tion, it’s still cheaper than mount­ing a live-action pro­duc­tion. Ani­ma­tion, where any­thing is pos­si­ble, is also the best way for the Star Wars fran­chise to expand the sto­ries of its exist­ing char­ac­ters, when the orig­i­nal actors have aged, become too expen­sive, dis­in­ter­ested, or passed away. So why focus only on the pre­quel char­ac­ters? Why not tell more tales star­ring the trin­ity that every­body really loves: Luke, Leia, and Han? Is Lucas afraid that mess­ing with the canon­i­cal heroes gen­er­a­tions of fans have taken to heart is to risk fatally wound­ing their deep emo­tional con­nec­tion to the mythos? Or to be cyn­i­cal, he may always uti­lize the var­i­ous masked char­ac­ters (Chew­bacca, Boba Fett, Jabba the Hut, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2) in any­thing at any time with­out clear­ing actors’ like­nesses. That said, some of the orig­i­nal cast do lend their voices to The Clone Wars, includ­ing Samuel L. Jack­son, Anthony Daniels, and Christo­pher Lee. James Arnold Tay­lor does an excel­lent impres­sion of Ewan McGregor’s excel­lent (in turn) impres­sion of Alec Guinness.

One last thing: it wouldn’t be Star Wars with­out at least one offen­sively char­ac­ter­ized alien. Jabba’s uncle Ziro the Hutt (Corey Bur­ton) is inex­plic­a­bly voiced as an old South­ern queen.

Offi­cial movie site:

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