Film Review: 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars'

Film Review: 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars'
A scene from the new animated film 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars,' which opens Aug. 15, 2008. (Image credit: Lucasfilm, Ltd.)

There are two questions oneshould 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 latterquestion, no less than GeorgeLucas himself brings out a valid point as to why he did the film. The?first? three ?Star Wars?films [Episodes I-III] neverreally address the full scope and depth of what the Clone Wars — so importantin Star Wars mythology - were all about. The films were mostly about theeventual transformation of Anakin Skykwalker into Darth Vader. In the vein ofthe Dark Horse comic book stories and various novels, there are a ton of otherstories that could set around this period. Do them well enough, and they caneven be canon.

Seems to be a solid enoughargument. So that leaves the question about the movie itself. Guess what? It?snot that bad.

The introductionof 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 twothings. First, this movie (which leads into the upcoming Cartoon Networkanimated television series) may not quite be what you?re hoping for. It seemsto be aiming for your younger sibs and/or your kids. The second, and a keyreason why this whole project is animated to begin with, is she seems torepresent the return of something sorely missing since the original threefilms. That missing element was fun.

And let?s be plain. ?The Phantom Menace,? ?Attack of theClones,? and ?Revenge of the Sith? werea 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, butdark points are best highlighted when put up against light. Ask Tim Burton (orSeth Green and the ?RobotChicken? 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 ofadrenalin when the characterof Asohka is introduced.

As any fan of sciencefiction can guess, this ?youngling? is extremely talented, a bit headstrong,and prone to act before thinking. Sound familiar? Initial impressions areAsohka is a less damaged reflection of her new teacher and master, one AnakinSkywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter, Brody on ?Heroes?).This leads to scenes where they repeatedly butt heads before they start mowingdown Droids like nobody?s business. All the while General Obi-Wan (animationvet James Arnold Taylor) and Yoda (Tom Kane, whose voice credits include TonyStark/Iron Man and Kim Possible?s Lord Monkey Fist) look on and shake least until they also start cleaving through seas of SeparatistDroids.

The film?s plot itselfisn?t that bad. Someone has kidnapped Jabba The Hutt?s kid, and whoever getsthe little slug back is going to have some serious strategic advantages in theongoing war between the Republic and the Separatists. Of course, the kidnappingisn?t everything it initially appears to be. Darth Sidious and Douku throw insome nice plot twists into the mix, making sure that Anakin and Asohka arehopping from one planet to the next without giving the audience that much timeto think. Overall, this makes thisStar Wars film a much better viewing experience than the ones the story is setbetween.

This leads us to where thebiggest objections from Star Wars fanatics will probably come. The animationprocess that LucasFilm employs does take some getting adjusted to. Apparentlyinspired by maquettes based on the Genndy Tartakovsky micro-series (which ranon Cartoon Network, and is now out on DVD), it speaks volumes about what canhappen when you translate a formerly 2-D animation process into 3-D CGI. Tartakovsky?sadmittedly highly-bright but extremely flat style is reminiscent of Byzantineicon art. That didn?t mean the Byzantines did statues using the same technique.

Frankly, while the eyes andmouths are exceedingly expressive in this film, the rest of the faces feel oddto say the least. Obi-Wan looks like he shaves with a wood chipper instead of arazor. The ridges in Yoda?s head look like canyons. Every character?s cheeksare so sunken one has to wonder if they are all starving to death.

Yet while the characterdesigns leave something to be desired, to be fair director Dave Filoni andcompany have their action sequencing/timing and background designs spot on. Thedesert scenes ... and there seems to be a lot of desert planets out there inthe universe ... may not quite reach the depths of Sir David Lean, but areimpressive none the less. The insides of various structures feel properly alienyet functional. Finally, when the various Sith, Jedi, Droids, and Clones go ateach other, they do so with incredible smoothness and speed.

So if you?re looking forsome solid action, that?s one thing this film will give you in spades. Justdon?t look too closely at the characters themselves, and you?ll do fine.

In fact, this leads to onefinal 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 tonbetter when it moves to TV. What seems either to be a mistake or just plainweird when on a screen 40 feet tall will look a heck of a lot better on a50-inch flat screen.

If Lucas, Filoni, and crewkeep 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 funthat made the original three films is back. Here?s to hoping it sticks aroundfor 26 televised episodes or hopefully more.

?Star Wars: The CloneWars? is rated PG and opens in theaters nationwide today. Running time: 98minutes.


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