Warner Bros. // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // November 11th, 2008
"A galaxy divided! Striking swiftly after the Battle of Geonosis, Count Dooku's droid army has seized control of the major hyperspace lanes, separating the Republic from the majority of its clone army. With few clones available, the Jedi generals cannot gain a foothold in the Outer Rim as more and more planets choose to join Dooku's Separatists..."
When Star Wars: The Clone Wars was announced as a movie and television series, fan reaction was mixed. Some looked to 2003's stylish Star Wars: Clone Wars miniseries as proof that George Lucas was still capable of telling interesting stories. Others remembered the disappointing prequels, and shuddered to think what another theatrical misfire might do to their remaining love for the series.
The movie hit screens this past August to scathing reviews. Many critics lambasted Lucas's team for stripping Star Wars of its darker elements to satisfy tweens. The introduction of new kid-friendly characters, including a sassy Jedi-in-training and Jabba the Hutt's mewling infant son, left a bad taste in the mouths of longtime fans who viewed the film as Lucas finally severing ties with those who had been with his series since the beginning.
Now, with the Clone Wars television series well into its first season, it's time to reexamine Star Wars: The Clone Wars on DVD -- a task which might not be so difficult had Lucas been honest with fans from the beginning about what the movie is, and who it's really for.
The conflict that began in Star Wars: Episode II is in full swing as Star Wars: The Clone Wars begins. The evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, Gremlins 2: The New Batch) and his Separatists are wreaking havoc across the galaxy, while the Republic clone army, led by Jedi knights including Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter, Heroes) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor, Drawn Together), are trying to contain the threat. But when intergalactic gangster Jabba the Hutt's infant son in kidnapped by space pirates, Anakin and Obi-Wan are called in to retrieve the chubby lil' MacGuffin in hopes the gesture will be rewarded by a Hutt treaty guaranteeing safe travel through Jabba territory. The task is made more difficult for Anakin by the surprise assignment of a guff-giving young Padawan named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein, That's So Raven), with whom he sets off on the rescue mission, pursued by the mysterious dark Jedi Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman, Avatar: The Last Airbender), who may have had more to do with the kidnapping than it appears.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars was not made for adults -- a fact many fans realized only after they'd shelled out for the movie ticket. Like the infamous Mr. Binks and the toys he inspired, Clone Wars represents George Lucas's strategy to market his series to youngsters. Lucas realized long ago that we old-timers are a cranky lot who won't be around forever. If he wants to continue to make money from his intergalactic cash cow, he needs to bring in a new audience: our kids. Kids don't care about Campbellian archetypes or references to Wagner's Ring Cycle, and they certainly don't care about movies made 25 years before they were born. They like sassy female protagonists, hunky teen heartthrobs, and high school musicals. Clone Wars is Lucas's attempt to give kids what they want (minus, so far, the musicals), with the knowledge that nostalgic parents are going to buy it for them.
Had Lucas admitted up front that Clone Wars was made for kids it might have saved him from some of the outcry, but even as kids' movies go, Clone Wars falls flat, especially compared to the summer's biggest animated family release, Wall-E. Stiff animation and paper-thin plots are the kinds of things you expect to see on television, not in a modern theatrical release. Why would George Lucas let something that looks like a TV show onto the big screen? Because, whatever its creators want you to believe, Clone Wars isn't a feature film. It's an extended pilot episode for the animated series. If you can forget the high expectations that come with the release of "a Star Wars Film," and just watch it the same way '80s kids did the G.I. Joe and DuckTales multi-part TV "movies," Clone Wars is a lot more fun.
Of course, that "fun" depends on how seriously you take Star Wars. Clone Wars doesn't take it very seriously at all. There's a lot of smirking and mid-battle quipping. Ahsoka calls Anakin "Sky Guy." There are precious few deaths, pratfalls aplenty, and battle droids played for comic relief. Even the bad guys are less menacing. One of the biggest complaints people had about the movie is the large role the Hutts play in the story. In Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt was a lecherous slug-thing who ate frogs, killed dancers, and was ultimately choked to death by his scantily clad slave girl. In Clone Wars, he has an infant son he calls "Punky Muffin" and a fey uncle named Ziro who sounds like Truman Capote. Vile, yes. Gangster, no.
The good news is that the Hutts take up far less screen time than the vitriol heaped on them would suggest, and once you start looking at this as a kids' movie, their inclusion makes more sense. When I watched Return of the Jedi as a kid, my favorite part was the Jabba stuff. He appears in Clone Wars for the same reason Chewbacca's family starred in the infamous Holiday Special, and why I dressed up as a Gamorrean Guard for Halloween in 1983: kids dig weird-looking aliens.
I'm actually kind of surprised viewers singled out Jabba and son as their reason for hating Clone Wars. Ahsoka Tano is way more annoying, and she's in almost all of the film. No matter what producer Catherine Winder says in the extras, Ahsoka has a lot more in common with the bratty tween protagonists that appeal to young viewers than she does with Star Wars mythology. You can't just retroactively inject a main character between the second and third films in a six-film series and expect old-timers to like it. Then again, she wasn't added for the old-timers. She was added for the kids, and they can have her.
So what about the parents whose children beg them to watch Clone Wars? Is there anything in the movie for them? There is if they've got a widescreen TV and surround sound system. The story may be slight, but the set-pieces are awesome. The movie is punctuated by massive action sequences, including a full-on droid versus clone battle, lightsaber throwdowns with the dual-wielding Ventress (perhaps the best character who never appeared in the films), spaceship dogfights, and a killer climactic showdown between Anakin and Count Dooku. Lucas has always been at the top of the audio game, and Clone Wars keeps his streak alive.
Likewise, even in standard def, Clone Wars is awfully nice to look at. The digital transfer means nothing has been lost in the transition to small screen. The image is sharp, and the colors are rich, with deep darks and bright lights. The only disappointment is the character animation. Personally, I think the chiseled designs worked much better in flat animation than they do in 3-D. The biggest problem, though, is that everyone moves awkwardly. Anakin looks like an extra from Thunderbirds. I half-thought the credits were going to include the assurance that "no cross-eyed action figures were harmed during the making of this film." I didn't expect Lucasfilm Animation to best Pixar, but they couldn't even match DreamWorks -- yet another reason this works better on TV than in the theater.
If watching Clone Wars doesn't convince you that this "movie" is really just an extended television episode, dig into this set's second disc of extras. The longest bonus feature, "The Clone Wars: The Untold Story," is basically a half-hour commercial for the TV series. George Lucas, along with director Dave Filoni and others, previews the first season, discussing the themes, characters, and lessons in each story. It's great if you want to see snippets of episodes that haven't aired yet -- including the upcoming Jar-Jar-gets-mistaken-for-a-Jedi storyline -- but not so great if you want to know anything at all about the movie you just bought.
The other main featurettes are "A New Score," about composer Kevin Kiner's updated soundtrack, six making-of webisodes, and "The Voices of Star Wars: The Clone Wars," which focuses on the movie and TV series voice actors -- a talented crew who are aural dead-ringers for the prequel actors.
The movie-specific features are limited to a gallery of postage-stamp-sized concept and production art stills, four deleted scenes, a solid audio commentary with the director, producer, writer, and editor, and a redeemable code for an on-the-go digital copy of the film. That's it. If you're a fan of the TV series, you might enjoy the extras. If you only care about the movie, a measly four deleted scenes probably isn't enough reason to spring for the two-disc edition -- no matter how cool the excised Rancor pit scene is.
Deciding to buy the two-disc version of Clone Wars is even trickier considering how darn expensive it is. With an MSRP pushing $35, you're going to really have to want those webisodes to pull out your wallet, and the single-disc version isn't much cheaper. In fact, the best deal (if you have the set-up to watch it) is the Blu-ray release, which is only a dollar or two more than the two-disc set, and adds both video content to the commentary, and a hologram memory game. If a Blu-ray push was the marketing plan all along, mission accomplished. I guess gouging everyone else is just a side benefit. Seriously, how many more Wampa-skin rugs does George Lucas need?
Diehard fans have every reason to hate Clone Wars. It's basically "fan fiction" written by people who work for the biggest Star Wars fan of all: George Lucas. I'm guessing offended geeks are already planning on doing what I'd recommend to them, which is to pretend this movie never existed and go on with next week's Star Wars marathon as planned.
Still, Clone Wars has a place in the Star Wars mega-verse. Its real value, in both movie and TV form, is as a basic-level intro for children who wouldn't otherwise care about the proper films. If you love Star Wars and can't get your kids interested in it any other way, sit down with them on a Friday night and watch the Cartoon Network show, or rent the Clone Wars DVD (I can't recommend you buy it at full price). Maybe it will be the gateway drug that gets them to put away their cellular telephones and hula hoops long enough to experience those sci-fi classics. The danger, of course, is that they'll keep asking you why Princess Leia isn't a Jedi like Ahsoka, and what happened to "Stinky" the Hutt. But who said parenting was easy?
Good for Padawans, but more training does it require.
Review content copyright © 2008 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Audio Commentary
* "The Clone Wars: The Untold Stories"
* "The Voices of the Clone Wars"
* "A New Score"
* Gallery of Concept and Production Art
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy
* Official Site