A scene from the new animated film 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars,' which opens Aug. 15, 2008.
Credit: Lucasfilm, Ltd.
There are two questions one should ask about this movie. In reverse order, the second is simply whether ?Star Wars: The Clone Wars? is worth seeing. The first is whether this film should exist at all.
Focusing on the latter question, no less than George Lucas himself brings out a valid point as to why he did the film. The ?first? three ?Star Wars? films [Episodes I-III] never really address the full scope and depth of what the Clone Wars so important in Star Wars mythology - were all about. The films were mostly about the eventual transformation of Anakin Skykwalker into Darth Vader. In the vein of the Dark Horse comic book stories and various novels, there are a ton of other stories that could set around this period. Do them well enough, and they can even be canon.
Seems to be a solid enough argument. So that leaves the question about the movie itself. Guess what? It?s not that bad.
The introduction of the new character, Skywalker?s new 14-year-old padawan Asohka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein nee Drane), should tell old school Star Wars fans two things. First, this movie (which leads into the upcoming Cartoon Network animated television series) may not quite be what you?re hoping for. It seems to be aiming for your younger sibs and/or your kids. The second, and a key reason why this whole project is animated to begin with, is she seems to represent the return of something sorely missing since the original three films. That missing element was fun.
And let?s be plain. ?The Phantom Menace,? ?Attack of the Clones,? and ?Revenge of the Sith? were a lot of things, but none of them was fun. They were ponderous affairs that suffered from their own self-importance. Sure, the creation and downfall of a hero is not the stuff of slapstick humor, but dark points are best highlighted when put up against light. Ask Tim Burton (or Seth Green and the ?Robot Chicken? crew). ?Star Wars Episodes I, II, III? were overall gloomy affairs. One thing one can?t help noticing is this new animated film gets a shot of adrenalin when the character of Asohka is introduced.
As any fan of science fiction can guess, this ?youngling? is extremely talented, a bit headstrong, and prone to act before thinking. Sound familiar? Initial impressions are Asohka is a less damaged reflection of her new teacher and master, one Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter, Brody on ?Heroes?). This leads to scenes where they repeatedly butt heads before they start mowing down Droids like nobody?s business. All the while General Obi-Wan (animation vet James Arnold Taylor) and Yoda (Tom Kane, whose voice credits include Tony Stark/Iron Man and Kim Possible?s Lord Monkey Fist) look on and shake their heads...at least until they also start cleaving through seas of Separatist Droids.
The film?s plot itself isn?t that bad. Someone has kidnapped Jabba The Hutt?s kid, and whoever gets the little slug back is going to have some serious strategic advantages in the ongoing war between the Republic and the Separatists. Of course, the kidnapping isn?t everything it initially appears to be. Darth Sidious and Douku throw in some nice plot twists into the mix, making sure that Anakin and Asohka are hopping from one planet to the next without giving the audience that much time to think. Overall, this makes this Star Wars film a much better viewing experience than the ones the story is set between.
This leads us to where the biggest objections from Star Wars fanatics will probably come. The animation process that LucasFilm employs does take some getting adjusted to. Apparently inspired by maquettes based on the Genndy Tartakovsky micro-series (which ran on Cartoon Network, and is now out on DVD), it speaks volumes about what can happen when you translate a formerly 2-D animation process into 3-D CGI. Tartakovsky?s admittedly highly-bright but extremely flat style is reminiscent of Byzantine icon art. That didn?t mean the Byzantines did statues using the same technique.
Frankly, while the eyes and mouths are exceedingly expressive in this film, the rest of the faces feel odd to say the least. Obi-Wan looks like he shaves with a wood chipper instead of a razor. The ridges in Yoda?s head look like canyons. Every character?s cheeks are so sunken one has to wonder if they are all starving to death.
Yet while the character designs leave something to be desired, to be fair director Dave Filoni and company have their action sequencing/timing and background designs spot on. The desert scenes ... and there seems to be a lot of desert planets out there in the universe ... may not quite reach the depths of Sir David Lean, but are impressive none the less. The insides of various structures feel properly alien yet functional. Finally, when the various Sith, Jedi, Droids, and Clones go at each other, they do so with incredible smoothness and speed.
So if you?re looking for some solid action, that?s one thing this film will give you in spades. Just don?t look too closely at the characters themselves, and you?ll do fine.
In fact, this leads to one final impression. Yes, this film has its problems when seen on the big screen. At the same time, however, one gets the impression it?s going to look a ton better when it moves to TV. What seems either to be a mistake or just plain weird when on a screen 40 feet tall will look a heck of a lot better on a 50-inch flat screen.
If Lucas, Filoni, and crew keep the humor and action up to the level of this movie, then guess what? ?Star Wars: The Clone Wars? should have no problem being accepted into Star Wars lore. As it stands, the fun that made the original three films is back. Here?s to hoping it sticks around for 26 televised episodes or hopefully more.
?Star Wars: The Clone Wars? is rated PG and opens in theaters nationwide today. Running time: 98 minutes.
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