The Clone Wars Danviewed (minor spoilers)

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I think most people were surprised that I did not outright hate THE CLONE WARS, given my frustration with Lucasfilm product lately. Thing is, while I did not particularly enjoy CLONE WARS, I didn’t really mind it either – at least not any more than I mind projects like “Droids” or “The Ewok Adventure.” CLONE WARS is superior to both of these products, but my point is that you need to watch CLONE WARS with a little perspective — this is not a movie aimed at adult audiences, nor is it meant to hold its own beside the original films (as was the case with Indiana Jones IV, which did anger me).

CLONE WARS is an elaborate saturday-morning cartoon, aimed at kids who buy cereal and action figures. As an ADULT who enjoys cereal and action figures, I am of course someone who can try to enjoy this as well, but clearly Lucasfilm has targeted kids, as a way of launching their new cartoon series, with this glorified commercial.

THE CLONE WARS is bombastic and spectacular in many ways – most especially the dynamic action. Like the films it is based on, it does not spend much time on character development or subtlety. It does manage to be the only star wars film in decades with a discernible plot, however. The agents of the Separatist Army are, with the aid of the Sith, attempting to frame the Republic’s heroes for the death of Jabba the Hutt’s son — in order to deny the Republic use of the Hutt’s precious trade routes (why are trade routes always involved) and ensure it for themselves. As a subplot, the brash and impulsive Anakin Skywalker has been assigned a plucky padawan, who promptly gives him a taste of his own medicine. This is Ashoka Tano, the new star of the star wars, a multi-cultural and empowered female (I’m shocked she’s not also a rock star) who has been created to hook young girls into the franchise.

While the movie does take place “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” gone is the opening title crawl, in favor of a DIALOGUE-BASED crawl, accompanied by some images, that set the scene for the new film. A really strange decision. Are they afraid kids can’t read? Was this a last-second output from the Lucasfilm editing bay? Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. The voice of the narrator (who also plays the Moff of a star destroyer) is as cartoony as you can get, like a parody newsreel voice out of an Animaniacs cartoon.

The dialogue is flat, especially by the core characters – Mace Windu (voiced by Jackson) is easily the most boring and monotone of all the Jedi. Obi-Wan Kenobi gives every line the exact same, non-plussed yet smug reading. Yoda sounds very little like Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker is given a young, wry sense of humor that seems unfitting for his established character. Everyone, with the exception of the throaty Christopher Lee (as Dooku) sounds as if they are isolated in recording booths, making no attempt whatsoever to connect with the other actors or own the material. Truly, the best actor in the movie is Jabba the Hutt, who sounds EXACTLY like the original Jabba and is fun to watch. The lack of subtitles for Jabba’s dialogue was also a welcome and uncharacteristic show of restraint on the part of the creators.

Unrestrained was much of the comedy, which was full of slapstick and goofy dialogue, mostly by battle-droids who are comically incompetent and have become the stooges of the Separatist Army. Fodder not only for blaster cannons but apparently also for comic relief. You know, this of course drove me to distraction, but the kids in the audience (and Hugh Sterbakov) seemed to be eating it up with a spoon, so who am I to judge. I don’t feel comedy should not have a place in the star wars universe – “Empire Strikes Back” has a lot of humor in it. Obviously it’s been established that droids in this universe have personalities (like C3PO) but since the battle droids are early models, created as automatons who could not think independently, they needed to be replaced by clones — right? Right? Well, no. Apparently the official canon from lucasfilm is that the battle droids were shut down by Emperor Palpatine at the end of Episode III and replaced with clones because they were too wacky and annoying to be allowed to survive. Good call, Palpatine. One wonders if you shouldn’t be the one in power, after all.

Speaking of canon, I know a lot of fanboys are going to try and reconcile the events of this series with the books and comics that have come out during the last few years. Well, get ready to pull your hair out – because for the most part, Lucasfilm doesn’t give a crap what they’ve said before, this ministry of information is gonna rewrite the history books. I hear a new category of canon has been created, specifically for TV shows to cover both this cartoon and the eventual live-action television series. Both shows will run roughshod over any existing lore. Not something I personally worry over too much, but there ya have it.

The characters from the films are not very interesting to watch, though the Anakin-Asoka relationship (while gratingly written) at least provides some small degree of character conflict. People who have not seen previous star wars movies will be completely lost as to what is going on, if such human beings even exist. More interesting are the new characters, like Assajj Ventress, the Sith dominatrix first introduced in Gendy Tartakovsky’s far superior and less meddled-with CLONE WARS micro series on Cartoon Network. We also meet Zero the Hutt, Jabba’s uncle who has a nightclub on Coruscant – who talks rather deliberately like Truman Capote. A very annoying and insulting characterization at first, which shockingly grew on me over time. Also fun to see were aliens and settings that tied in with the original trilogy, such as IG droids, Nikto and familiar locales like Jabba’s Palace. I think my favorite sequences took place away from the clone war battle field and in the coruscant underbelly, and in the Tattooine deserts. Essentially, it makes me realize that an entirely NEW show based on the original movies would have been far more fun to watch, than seeing Obi, Ani and the other core characters.

Director Dave Filoni does his best to impress us with dynamic action scenes, and largely succeeds – I give the guy a lot of credit, knowing that he was operating under the very dark shadow of Emperor Lucas himself. It will be interesting to see how this series develops once Uncle George has moved on to other projects (like the inevitable MUTT WILLIAMS cartoon or perhaps a Tuskeegee Airmen ride at Disney) and Filoni is able to bring his own flair to Star Wars, hopefully jump-starting it in a new direction, as Tartakofsky had begun doing with his micro-series.

All in all, Clone Wars delivers to it’s target audience – it’s loud, bombastic fun with a few chuckles. A few too many for this angry fan boy, but again – it’s a matter of perspective. Or as some would say, “A certain point of view.”

For a harsher, funnier review of Clone Wars by someone who hasn’t already had his spirit broken by George lucas, check out this link to AICN: