Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) / Animation-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for violence, brief language and momentary smoking
Running time: 98 min
Cast (voices): Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane, Nika Futterman, Ian Abercrombie, Corey Burton, Catherine Taber, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee
Director: Dave Filoni
Screenplay: Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Scott Murphy
A well made but largely redundant entry in the Star Wars theatrical release list, revisiting territory already covered recently in the prequels, albeit a different wrinkle in the saga. Clone Wars is a short and slick piece, with quality special effects, sound effects, and a familiarity that Star Wars fans, at least those who haven't lost interest after Episodes 1-3, should be moderately engaged by. While the production values are respectable, and the film itself isn't completely devoid of interest, the inherent staleness in going back to the Clone Wars, which was not only dealt somewhat with in the Lucas prequels, but in a 2D animated television show on the Cartoon Network, makes this very much a non-event for anyone but the most hardcore of fanatics.
The timeline of The Clone Wars is sometime between the events of Episode 2, Attack of the Clones, and Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith. If you haven't seen either film, you're most likely going to be a little lost, as the film does very little to explain the conflict between the clone army and Jedis of the Republic and their nemesis, the droid army led by separatist Count Dooku (voiced by Christopher Lee, The Golden Compass). Of course, if you've seen the live action films, you know there are other elements in play in regard to the reasons behind the Clone Wars, which this film eludes to without the big reveals. We find Anakin Skywalker (Lanter, "Commander in Chief") taking on a Padawan, Ahsoka Tano (Eckstein, "That's So Raven"), a youngling student learning the ways of the Jedi in the middle of one of the biggest of battles in the history of the Republic. Along with master Jedi Obi-wan Kenobi (Taylor, TMNT), Anakin and Ahsoka take on a mission for diplomatic purposes to rescue the son of Jabba the Hut (Kevin Michael Richardson, Doctor Strange), who has been recently kidnapped. No surprise that Dooku may be behind it all.
Those disenfranchised Star Wars fans who have found the prequels wanting can afford to miss this fourth theatrical entry. The dialogue, which many critics have cited as a weakness in the series, is no better despite different writers. The cutesy moments are also here, meant, presumably, to keep the younger viewers in the audience amused. The droid armies are full of the same bumbling foot soldiers, who are mystifyingly given semi-ironic personalities for what should have been a class of warriors. The tone of the film trends towards young teens, and I gather this is the demographic that will find the material fine. Many Star Wars fans are critical of the newer films because they are still shooting for the kid demographic, despite the legion of older viewers who comprise the bulk of the audience. I'm not against this at all, as I feel that the original Star Wars films have generally been made for all ages, but I do find the increasing amounts of slapstick and buffoonery to be a constant source of irritation. When they cater to 12-year-olds, I'm more than accepting, but when they aim squarely at entertaining only three-year-olds, I just can't get on board. Also, if you've detested the CGI characters in the more recent films, save yourself the headache. The film is wholly CGI, which means every character is in that mode.
The voice work is competent, considering most of the roles are given to voice actors not part of the regular series (Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Daniels and Christopher Lee are the exceptions). The characters are less nuanced than the live-action films, particularly that of Anakin Skywalker, who is shown as rather good and heroic throughout, instead of the impulsive and morally conflicted version we've been accustomed to. The new major character in the film is Ahsoka Tano, who does exhibit those typical tween tendencies you'd expect in an animated film, but at least she isn't as overbearing in her perpetually hip dialogue and rebellious attitude (though she does annoy when she insists on calling Anakin "Sky Guy"). That I actually came to care about the character, and enjoyed the interplay between her and Anakin, is a point in the film's favor. Not too much, though, as the baby Hut (dubbed "Stinky" by his saviors) gets more than his share of "cute kid" moments to erode any good favor the film garners in characterizations.
Judging the film on its own terms, it is a solidly produced sci-fi/action effort, with voice acting that resembles the live-action actors from the main series close enough to fit. There is a stylized, cartoonish way the human actors are represented, though the non-humans aren't too far off from the films, mostly because they are CG in both. They have an amine-inspired tinge that the 2D animated series also carried. Despite the well-defined models, there is a herky-jerky aspect to the way the characters move (an intentional "Thunderbirds" homage perhaps), particularly when walking that reminds us we're watching a cartoon. The battle scenes are composed with a good amount of build up and military tactics rather than the usual free-for-all melees we're used to seeing in juvenile fare. They do go on a bit long for my taste, but it is called "The Clone Wars" after all, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the emphasis. It looks and feels more like an extended video game cut scene than a fully-realized film, and perhaps it would have been better received by older fans if it were used as between-game level razzle-dazzle.
While I'm scoring the film as "worthwhile" for fans of all of the Star Wars films, speaking as a fan myself, I'm somewhat disappointed that Lucas and crew continue to mine from the same cavern of ideas when it comes to new material in their universe. I would rather see a "Knights of the Old Republic" film than another rehash of events that we already are well aware of the characters and outcome. Even more appealing would be to revisit the original Star Wars characters from episodes 4-6 with some "in between the episode" adventures. Alas, we're heading back to the second-tier characters again and again (Indeed, Lucas has now ventured into his fourth foray into the Clone Wars with another animated TV series in 2008, to which this movie serves as an introduction). Coming out less that 3 years from the end of the prequel trilogy and 2D animated cartoon upon which the film draws inspiration, this feels like just another "clone" pushed out to squeeze every last dollar out of the same ideas before they are (hopefully) finally left to rest.
©2008 Vince Leo