Thursday, September 4, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
is a Saturday morning cartoon. I don't mean that as a statement of its quality - we'll get to that in a second - but just to establish that that's LITERALLY what it is. The actual origin of the film is that they were working on the first few episodes of the upcoming Clone Wars Saturday morning cartoon, George Lucas saw it and was impressed, and said "Hey! Let's edit the first three episodes together and release it in theaters!", and hell if they didn't do just that. As such, it's hard to measure it to the same barometer of quality as the six other films, and it's even harder to get emotionally invested. I won't say it's worst Star Wars movie of all time, because the Star Wars Holiday Special is a unique sort of awful usually reserved for genocides, but it's certainly the worst theatrically released Star Wars.

Strangely, I have no nerd rage over this development. Yes, it's making the franchise look increasingly irrelevant, juvenile, and frankly like a zombie that doesn't understand no one wants to see its rotted corpse shambling about. But I've long since accepted that to be a Star Wars nerd - and of course I am; A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back are still and might just always be in my top five films of all time, and Return of the Jedi would probably make my top thirty - you have to simply accept the fact you're admiring the most beautiful passages of an otherwise flawed anthology. It doesn't render your favorite parts irrelevant or any less wonderful, and as long as you can adjust to this selective admiration you'll be fine.

This applies fifty times over to the Expanded Universe - sure, The Phantom Menace may have been a disappointment back in '99, but the Expanded Universe has been a deeply flawed and imperfect thing since product #1, the novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye back in 1978, an utterly generic sci-fi story that reads like the novelization of a Star Trek TV episode in which Luke and Leia make out and Luke lightsaber battles and defeats Darth Vader. Dozens of piss-poor novels, comic books, video games, Ewok films, and so on have followed, and although a handful of good works have floated to the top of the bloodied waters (particularly video games), it's far easier to just block it all out and view the six-movie saga as the story, with everything else - The Clone Wars included - as being strictly optional.

So it's difficult for me to really judge this with the same ferocity I would a major live-action Star Wars film. It's childish and there's a lot of stuff that spits in the face of canon - the absurd idea that Yoda would give newly-Knighted Anakin a padawan to train in the middle of a war, Jabba the Hutt's cooperation with the Jedi and his gay uncle, having Anakin and Dooku have a second duel between their Episode II and Episode III meetings, and the further neutering of the Jedi into utter lameness, not to mention that I have no idea why they have some generic new score instead of reusing John Williams' music - but it wasn't written, voice acted, or animated until the last minute for anything other than nine year olds in their pajamas, so it's kind of like kicking a three-legged puppy. Since it never really strives for anything beyond competence, I'll just review them on the basis of competency:

• The animation is bright and colorful. I never had any problem telling what anything was supposed to be. The ships are well-rendered and resemble the ships from the films, and the character's faces are well-animated enough to express emotions.

• The actors deliver their lines and there is never any stammering or the sound of breathing into the mics. The recordists were obviously teched on the equipment before recording the voice tracks. When a line is delivered in an emotionally heightened situation, the actor occasionally emotes while delivering the line. James Arnold Taylor does a fair impersonation of Ewan McGregor.

• The action scenes were not completely boring. They present the good guys doing poorly and the bad guys winning until the final turn, in accordance with narrative tradition for achieving tension. Very small children may find themselves briefly concerned for the well-being of the heroes.

• It took me all the way until the end of the first act to predict the rest of the movie scene-for-scene.

• The basic idea of further exploring the relationship of Anakin and Obi-Wan during the Clone Wars between Episode II and Episode III is interesting.

• Star Wars fans may be excited by to return to locations such as Tatooine and Coruscant.

• The musical score underscores the action and is well-composed enough that I was able to identify whether it was trying to impart excitement, fear, sadness, or comedy at any given moment.

• R2-D2 makes the same sounds he does in the films.

That's about all I have to say. Congrats, George Lucas, you have reduced the revolutionary epic intergalactic saga of Star Wars to a competent Saturday morning cartoon.

1 Star out of 5

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