Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/15/08 00:15:40

"I have a bad feeling about this..."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

The theater was packed for the preview screening of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” A DJ from one of the local radio stations stepped up: “Who here loves Star Wars?” Big cheers. “Who here loves animated Star Wars?” A slight smattering of unenthusiastic applause, then embarrassed silence. Indeed, the anticipation for “The Clone Wars” has been quite low, and the apathetic reaction of the crowd - lots of sighing, seat shifting, watch checking - proved why. The boredom was palpable.

The movie originated as the humble pilot episode to the upcoming computer-animated “Clone Wars” series that will begin airing this fall on Cartoon Network. Acting on an impulse of “hey, why not?”, Lucasfilm decided to launch the series in multiplexes instead of on basic cable. Why not, indeed, except for the fact that this intro movie is hardly big screen material, a far, far cry from the live-action “Star Wars” flicks.

There has already been one “Clone Wars” cartoon, a series of short mini-episodes rendered in traditional 2D cel animation which ran both online and on Cartoon Network to help promote the release of “Revenge of the Sith.” Now comes this new CG upgrade, full of blocky, video game-esque animation; like its predecessor, this aims to fill in all the story gaps between “Attack of the Clones” and “Sith.” It’s the first of two proposed “Star Wars” TV series George Lucas has planned (the other will be live-action), and if this movie is any indication, it’ll be strictly for the kids.

Of course, “Star Wars” has always been for the kids, but at least the movies had a universal appeal. “The Clone Wars,” like the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons and the two made-for-TV Ewoks movies that ran in the mid-1980s, has no intentions of attracting older fans. Which is a shame, because Cartoon Network has long been home to programs that work for kids and parents both.

But about those Ewoks movies. Some of you will remember, either with fondness or mortification, those post-“Return of the Jedi” spin-offs, produced in a halfhearted effort to keep the franchise warm in the initial years following the original trilogy. It was nice to see a handful of familiar characters in an expansion of the “Star Wars” universe (and I admit to still liking “The Ewok Adventure”), but even as kids, we knew: this doesn’t really count. It’s “Star Wars” Level B, one big step removed from the real story. Watching “The Clone Wars” is a lot like watching those Ewoks movies: we’re happy to get more “Star Wars,” yet dismayed that this is the best they could provide.

Here’s the story, and remember, while George Lucas didn’t pen the screenplay, he did conceive of the plot: Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) are leading a clone army against a platoon of battle droids. Into this fray comes Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein), a teenage valley girl Jedi who’s been assigned as Anakin’s apprentice. They fight the droids for a while, then fly off to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s baby son, who’s been kidnapped by the evil Ventress (Nika Futterman). Anakin and Ahsoka go rescue the baby. And that’s pretty much it.

The bulk of the movie is one long chase - a chase to get the baby, then a chase to escape. Barring the disappointingly dull opening sequence, there’s no actual Clone Wars to be found here. (As was noted by my eight-year-old daughter, who cried out “That’s it?” at film’s end. She added: “Weren’t they going to have the Clone Wars?”) Granted, we knew the war was simply going to be the framework for the story, and granted, you can’t really call your film “Star Wars: The Prolonged Rescue of Jabba the Hutt’s Baby” and expect audiences to show up, but still. For a theatrical release, “The Clone Wars” has a story that’s too inconsequential. Even the Ewok movies had a slightly epic feel; this one is little more than some 22-minute mid-season filler episode that’s been stretched out to feature length.

There were two or three times when I was certain the movie was wrapping itself up, because, frankly, how much more could they pull from this story? I’m guessing the original plan was to construct a tale that could be broken into three or four rerun-ready episodes, and when the decision was made to go theatrical, somebody forgot to smooth over the edges. “The Clone Wars” is a clumsy string of mini-adventures - how else to explain why the Padmé subplot doesn’t show up until the final half hour? A more cohesive movie would’ve laid the groundwork early. Here, this vital story thread (in which Padmé uncovers a key link in the kidnapping conspiracy) pops up too late, like a joke teller who mentions right before the punchline that he forgot to tell you, whoops, the grasshopper was actually a horse, and oh, yeah, he was wearing a hat, which is important.

Then again, extending Padmé’s subplot would only mean more screen time for one of the most insane, inexplicable, out-of-left-field characters to ever appear in the “Star Wars” universe: Ziro the Hutt. Covered in tattoos, dressed in feathers, and speaking with a voice inspired directly by Truman Capote, Ziro isn’t just Jabba’s uncle. He’s his big fat southern belle flaming queen uncle, all ready for Space Mardi Gras. No kidding.

He’s definitely the dumbest element in this movie, which says something, since the movie is also packed with Comic Relief Droids that trip and stumble and say stupid things for laughs (long story short: remember the “roger-roger” droids from “Phantom Menace”? That’s them, only lots more); and a baby Hutt that burps and farts and actually gets called “punky muffin”; and Ahsoka herself, a character carefully engineered to appeal to young viewers, so much so that she’s essentially Hannah Montana in Space.

And she’s front and center here, in a story that boils down to: “Teenage Jedi Takes Care of Jabba’s Baby.” Oh, and she keeps calling R2-D2 “Artooey” and Anakin “Sky-boy.” Because despite all its decent action sequences (director Dave Filoni has a good eye for visual thrills) and the potential for grim threat (Jabba and Dooku almost provide the proper level of menace), “The Clone Wars” is really nothing more than a Disney Channel take on the “Star Wars” franchise. It’s all bad jokes and modern-kid “attitude.”

Makes you wish for those Ewok movies, doesn’t it?

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