May the 4th: The Clone Wars

Episode II.V

THE CLONE WARS

A galaxy divided! Striking swiftly after the Battle of Geonosis, Count Dooku’s droid army has seized control of the major hyperspace lanes, separating the Republic from the majority of its clone army.

With few clones available, the Jedi generals cannot gain a foothold on the Outer Rim as more and more planets choose to join Dooku’s Separatists. While the Jedi are occupied fighting a war, no one is left to keep the peace. Chaos and crime spread, and the innocent become victims in a lawless galaxy.

Crime lord Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped by a rival band of pirates. Desperate to save his son, Jabba puts out a call for help—a call the Jedi are cautious to answer…

Shortly after Attack of the Clones finally showed audiences the truth behind the mysterious Clone Wars referenced in A New Hope, Lucasfilm had tapped animator Genndy Tartakovsky (of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack fame) to create a series of short animated adventures to bridge the gap between the beginning of the war in Clones and the end of the war in the upcoming Revenge of the Sith. The result was Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a traditionally animated “micro-series” that ran on Cartoon Network intermittently between 2003 and 2005. It was a very positively received series, and was mainly famous for introducing Asajj Ventress and granting fans an early look at General Grievous.

After Revenge of the Sith premiered, George Lucas wanted to continue telling these interim stories, but he was intrigued by the idea of using computer animation. He hired a whole new crew, led by Dave Filoni (most famous for his work on Avatar: The Last Airbender), though the character designs were purposely inspired by Tartakovsky’s. Lucas was also much more involved with every step of production in order to lend a more authentic Star Wars mythology to the proceedings.

The story goes that Lucas was looking in at the show’s first three-episode story arc in addition to a short prequel pilot, and was so impressed by the work that he ordered the episodes edited together into a feature-length film and released theatrically. Thus The Clone Wars came to theatres in 2008.

Of course, with Lucas’ reputation tarnished by baseless accusations of corruption by the I-III hater crowd, there was somewhat of a collective eye-roll that there would be a theatrically-released Star Wars cartoon at all, even amongst some of Lucas’ supporters. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me at the time.

I’ve spoken before about my worn state of mind when this film came out. I was on the tail end of a dark period for Star Wars in my life, where I always liked the entire Saga but had no arguments against the haters, so I preferred to not even go there. I was on Star Wars burnout, so my first thought when I heard of this thing was something along the line of “Really? Just let it rest for a while.”

It took me showing the Saga to the woman who would become my wife, whom I had just started dating, to really re-invigorate my Star Wars fandom. But I was still intending to skip Clone Wars until she won two tickets to a sneak preview from a local radio station. So I thought, what the hell, keep an open mind.

And while the film wasn’t the greatest I’ve ever seen in my life, it was certainly an entertaining time and arguably the best Star Wars spin-off I’ve seen. Well, that last one is more for the series as a whole, which had improved in the years since this film was released. However, this set the standard.

First of all, even without the iconic crawl, the film goes an interesting route by giving a sensationalist opening narration that A) would have been the text of a crawl in the first place, and B) is extremely evocative of the kind of classic serials that Star Wars was a love-letter to in the first place. Secondly, the writing and characterizations, especially for supporting characters, is top-notch.

The story of this movie specifically is interesting. For one, I would figure that the Hutts would stay out of galactic affairs as a whole. Also, Jabba reproducing is not exactly an image that I want to think too much about for a variety of reasons. At first, I was a little weirded out by the characterization of Jabba’s uncle Ziro, thinking to myself “What child will get a reference to Truman Capote?” But then I remembered that my favorite Animaniacs cartoon as a child was a whole- plot-reference to Apocalypse Now, and that all the best kids shows pull this kind of thing all the time.

Speaking of kids, this film famously introduced Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, Ahsoka Tano, into the Star Wars universe. On my first viewing, I immediately recognized that Ahsoka was Robin, the Boy Wonder. She was the audience surrogate, the self-insert character for the kids, and her sassing of the Chosen One in this film was right in line with this. While her characterization did become much better as the series went on, there’s really nothing wrong with how she started out. It was the beginning of a natural progression.

The animation hasn’t aged quite as well, though that’s more in comparison to how much better the animation became as the series went on. Aside from that (and the fact that having Anakin and Dooku meet up so often kind of takes some of the punch away from the duel in Revenge of the Sith), I can’t see anything really objectively wrong with the piece – everything is at least adequate, if not very well-done. However, there are a number of things that kind of bugged me on a personal level, and they’re all issues that continued into the series proper.

First and foremost, it’s the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, and I know I’m a broken record on this. I’m sorry, as good an actor as Matt Lanter is, he sounds nothing like Anakin Skywalker because he’s not even trying to sound like Hayden Christensen. At least the other replacement voices, even if they don’t quite get it, at least sound like they’re trying (and, luckily, they were even able to get Christopher Lee and Samuel L.Jackson to reprise their roles for this film where they did not in the series). Matt Lanter doesn’t sound like Anakin Skywalker, he sounds like a generic twenty- something. And I harp on this only because it strikes me as an internal indictment of Hayden’s performance, which is one of the most criminally underrated performances in modern cinema. Like it or not, Hayden’s Anakin had a very consistent cadence and quality which melded Vader’s monotone with Luke’s petulant naiveté, and too few understand that.

Also, the B1 Battle Droids have fully evolved into the Keystone Cops, devoid now of any danger they were given in The Phantom Menace. And honestly, as good as the animation is, I find the character designs as they appear here just very ugly.

Again, though, these are my personal nitpicks and they do not reflect the objective quality of the film or the series it spawned. And it’ a testament to everything that’s right with The Clone Wars that I still love it and sincerely, wholeheartedly recommend it to any and all Star Wars fans in spite of the sometimes major personal issues I take with it.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars film and the series that followed kept Star Wars in the eye of the general public, but just like before, it would only be a matter of time before this generation’s satirists had their hands at parodying the Saga. Except this generation’s satirists grew up with IV-VI, so how does parody and satire look through the lens of nostalgia? The answer comes in next week’s supersized review…

For more of Adam’s articles click here.

Adam lives with his wife in Providence, Rhode Island USA (a wife who was gracious enough to allow “Across the Stars” as their wedding processional). Adam plays World of Warcraft, writes and manages the self-indulgent blog “Nilbog’s Storybook Land”, and attempts (often in vain) to complete his novel. He secretly hopes that the production of the new Star Wars films will lead to open auditions.