REVIEW: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Summary: In between Star Wars Episode II and Episode III, three years of war between the Clone Army of the Republic and the Droid Army of the Separatists were skipped over in the movies. The first attempt to document these battles was the traditionally animated “Clone Wars” micro-series of 25 mini episodes. I thought these were good, but sometimes a bit over the top. The first two mini-seasons had little plot, and the third mini-season’s plot was weird until it lead directly into the opening battle of Episode III.

The Clone Wars (note the “the”) takes place between seasons two and three of the micro-series, after Anakin is knighted but before the events leading up to the Battle of Coruscant that starts Episode III. Basically the pilot for the upcoming TV show (also titled “The Clone Wars”), the movie seems to consist of the first three half-hour episodes of the TV show expanded and edited together to make a 90 minute movie.

Jabba the Hutt, intergalactic crime lord, is upset that his son has been kidnapped. The Republic, eager to make peace with Jabba to get free passage through Hutt space, send Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Skywalker’s new apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, to retrieve Jabba’s son. However, not all is as it seems, because the Sith are behind the kidnapping, and hope to manipulate things to their advantage.

Thoughts: It’s hard to figure out how best to judge this movie. Do I review it as I would any other movie? Do I review it as a die-hard Star Wars fan? Or do I review it keeping in mind who the movie was designed for, that is, 8 year old me? I think I’ll try giving all three perspectives, just to cover all of my bases.

General Review: Honestly, I found the movie to be exactly what was advertised: the pilot for what amounts to a Saturday morning cartoon. Most reviewers seem to think this is supposed to be Episode II.5, a legitimate piece of film making meant to be taken seriously as a contender for Academy Awards. They don’t seem to understand that Lucas watched the first few episodes of the TV series and said to Warner Brothers “Hey, we could release this to theaters.”

As a theatrical release it left many things to be desired. Mostly, pacing. Much like the prequels, some shots seemed to linger too long, some scenes seemed pointless, and others just seemed to drag on and on. In fact, about an hour into the movie I found myself wondering how much was left. And during a 90 minute movie, that’s a terrible sign. Anakin and his padawan had nicknames that they called everything, which got annoying after a while. However, I didn’t find the padawan as annoying as I expected. The same with the Hutt baby. Heck, the baby was adorable!

The voice acting was excellent. James Arnold Taylor, who does the voice of Obi-Wan, does an incredible Ewan McGregor impression, and if I didn’t know better I would have sworn it was him. Matt Lanter does a better Anakin than Hayden Christensen, which doesn’t seem too hard. Tom Kane is always an excellent Yoda, while Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) reprised their roles, as underused as they might have been in the movie. Christopher Lee made a surprising (to me) return as Count Dooku, who actually played more of a part in this movie than either Episode II or III.

The facial animation was alright for a TV show. Without a movie budget or time, it was expected, but I’m not sure it was ready for a theater, almost like it was rushed. The movement of bodies and ships was great. The battles, even if they did last too long at times, were fun to see. Helmeted clones and battle droids, without faces, worked the best, I thought.

Star Wars Fan Review: Looking at the movie from the viewpoint of the whole Star Wars universe was interesting. I found myself tying things into other parts of the universe, and was actually surprised to hear at least one of them explained on screen. A little more explaining could have saved some other critics’ complaints, because in the books Hutts are described as being hermaphroditic or able to choose their sex at will. This would explain why Jabba’s “uncle” Ziro was so effeminate. It also could have been explained by simply making Ziro an “aunt” and avoiding the confusion altogether.

Other things explained in the other movies are ignored in this movie, as is usual for Expanded Universe content (things not happening in any of the numbered movies). Asajj Ventress shows up again from the “Clone Wars” micro-series, who is a Sith Assassin. But as Yoda mentions on screen in Episode I and is explained in great detail in several books, there isn’t supposed to be more than two Sith at a time, one who has the power and other to crave it. But during the Clone Wars, there is Sidious and Dooku, with Dooku having a kind-of apprentice in Ventress and another in General Grievous (who thankfully isn’t squeezed into this movie). Maybe because Sidious was about to control the galaxy again he felt that having more than two Sith was a good idea. Or maybe because neither Grievous or Ventress have “Darth” titles they are not truly “Sith“, but they might as well be.

Comparing it to the other Star Wars movies shows that it has much in common with the prequels. Even though Lucas didn’t direct it, I could see shots and scenes where his fingerprint was visible. Of course, the thin plot and the questionable dialog really tied it into the prequels. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you don’t hate the prequels. The problem is that most people, especially most Star Wars fans, do.

Another comparison is the lack of an opening crawl. There is an opening narration instead, which is great for kids who can’t read well, but the announcer voice is a bit over the top, sounding like a political ad from Starship Troopers, almost like they want you to join the Army of the Republic against the eeeeeeeeeeeevil Separatists.

The soundtrack was also lacking. I can understand them not being about to convince John Williams to work on it, but besides the obvious Star Wars themes, it sounded nothing like the numbered movies. Maybe they meant to do that, but it was weird to see those images without the classically composed score.

Kid Review: I asked a couple of the kids in my theater who had just come from McDonald’s bearing Star Wars Happy Meal toys what they thought, but they were too embarrassed and only said “I didn’t think anything.” They weren’t talking to each other or laughing, or even racing their toys around like they were before the movie. I didn’t take that as a good sign.

Thinking of the movie as a kid would is difficult. Would I have forgiven some of the faults that adults seem to harp on? Would I have been even more excited about a TV series after seeing the movie? The thing is that I don’t know. I think if it dragged on at times for me as an adult, I’m sure younger people were bored out of their minds. Even when it picked up again towards the end, would it have regained my interest? Could kids follow the convoluted plot as Dooku’s plan was revealed?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure that it hit all of the marks with its intended audience as it would have hoped to. I don’t know what processed Lucas to released this to theaters (wait, money), when he could have released it on DVD just as easily and avoided all of this critical failure. It didn’t need to be released to theaters to generate interest in the series. If anything, all of this negative attention is really bad for the future of the series.

But the negative attention mostly comes from people who would never watch Cartoon Network anyway. Will I give the series a shot? Sure. Am I it’s intended audience? No. I think the shorter run times of the episodes will help the series fare better than the movie, but I doubt the plot will get any better, especially since we know how it all ends.

Overall: An average string of episodes from a children’s television show, released to theaters.


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