Judge Dan Mancini hopes the old man got that tractor beam out of commission.
Our reviews of Star Wars The Clone Wars: The Complete Season Four (published November 1st, 2012), Star Wars: The Clone Wars: 2-Disc Special Edition (published November 11th, 2008), and Star Wars: The Clone Wars: A Galaxy Divided (published April 3rd, 2009) are also available.
A long time ago in a…oh, you know the drill.
Nothing whips movie geeks into frothy hyperbole like a Star Wars flick. With the prequel trilogy growing smaller and smaller in our pop culture rearview mirror, I thought (and hoped) the rhetoric of raped childhoods and crushed dreams (over a film franchise involving Wookiees and muppets and trash can-shaped robots, no less) was behind us. Then came Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The animated feature (and marketing ploy designed to launch a television series by the same name) met with hand-wringing eulogies for the Star Wars franchise by a variety of movie geeks, both professional and amateur. Film reviews, blog posts, and message board threads declaring Star Wars officially dead sprouted from the fetid shit pile of moms' basements all over North America. Geeks were pissed that George Lucas had the gall to abuse them with a half-assed animated epic and, damn it, the world would have to listen to them vent their spleens…again.
Facts of the Case
Instead of the traditional opening crawl, Star Wars: The Clone Wars kicks off with a poorly-executed newsreel style voice-over (director Dave Filoni should've scoped out Verhoeven's Starship Troopers to see how it's done right) set to Kevin Kiner's syncopated and drum-heavy reinterpretation of John Williams' main theme. The evil Darths Sidious and Dooku have kidnapped Jabba the Hutt's son Rotta in order to frame the Jedi Order and create an alliance between the Separatists and the Hutt crime syndicate. Yoda decides to set two of his best Jedi on the task of rescuing Rotta: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin "Sky Guy" Skywalker, who are presently kicking battle droid butt on the planet Christophsis. Before dispatching the battle-hardened duo on their new mission, he assigns Anakin a Padawan learner, 14-year-old Ahsoka "Snips" Tano. But Skywalker has little patience for his smart-alecky young apprentice (it's ironic, see?).
While Obi-Wan rockets off to Tatooine to reassure Jabba that his son will be rescued, Anakin, Ahsoka, and R2-D2 head to a monastery on the planet Teth where Rotta is being held by the Dark Jedi Asajj Ventress. Meanwhile, when Padme learns of Anakin's dangerous mission from Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, she and C-3P0 pay a visit to Ziro the Hutt—Jabba's lisping and be-feathered uncle who lives in what appears to be Coruscant's red-light district—in order to gain largesse from the Hutts on behalf of her husband. Unfortunately, the former Queen of Naboo and her fussy protocol droid end up in hot water when it turns out that Ziro is on the Sith payroll.
So, is Star Wars: The Clone Wars as bad as fans and critics say? Yes and no. As a Star Wars feature film, it's so atrocious that it makes The Phantom Menace look like The Empire Strikes Back. The storyline is patently absurd; Ahsoka is occasionally endearing but frequently annoying (her special Jedi talent appears to be giving everyone she meets a lame nickname); and Ziro the Hutt does for gay rights what Jar Jar Binks did for racial relations. But the movie's biggest problem is that it was released as a theatrical feature at all, inviting it to be judged by the standard set by the six live-action films (or three live-action films, if you're among the people who believe a childhood can be raped by a prequel).
As a 98-minute pilot for an animated television series for children (as opposed to embittered middle-aged SQL developers/costumed conventioneers and the like), Star Wars: The Clone Wars is really not that bad. The show's scope is massive and its action spectacular. Battalions of armored clones and Separatist droids clash with one another against stunning alien backdrops. Our heroes zip from one exotic locale to the next, engaging frequently in kinetic fights and other acts of derring-do. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is fast-paced fun for any audience member young enough (let's say 12 and under) not to be bothered by the likes of Ziro the Hutt. This will come as a shock to the "Han Shot First" die-hards but, given a choice between Skywalkers, the vast majority of the current generation of rugrats will take Anakin over Luke any day of the week. Those pint-sized fans are bound to like what they find in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The rest of us should quit whining about George Lucas's crimes against humanity and get back to our lives—or get lives and then get down to the business of living them.
More than a few critics have complained that the movie's animation is shoddy. It's not. In fact, it's absolutely spectacular—for television animation. Sure, it looks cheap compared to a Pixar production, but that's because it is cheap compared to a Pixar production: Star Wars: The Clone Wars was made in Singapore for around $8 million. But compared to just about any other animated television series (2D or 3D), it looks incredible. Droids, clone troopers, starships, and alien worlds appear to be built on the same CGI models created for the prequel trilogy, only dumbed down to look less photorealistic and more animated. I didn't see the movie in a theater, but I imagine these elements played fine on the big screen—detail, texture, and color are all excellent. Critics' gripes were most likely about the animation of the human and humanoid characters. This is where the movie truly looks like a television production. The characters' faces are rubbery and stiff; they're about as articulate as the marionettes from Thunderbirds. That's acceptable (even expected) for TV animation, but not for a theatrical feature.
As one would expect, the digital-to-digital dump of the animation to Blu-ray results in a beautiful 1080p image. Detail is as sharp as the source allows. Colors are bold and fully saturated. There are no annoying digital artifacts. I'm guessing that Star Wars: The Clone Wars looks better on Blu-ray than it did in theaters. Audio is presented in a robust Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix with great dynamic range. Dialogue and effects are crystal clear. Surrounds are used creatively. Music and low-frequency effects have plenty of punch.
In addition to the fine audio and video on display, the disc is stacked with extras. A video commentary labeled "Creative Conversation" on the extras menu makes full use of Blu-ray's picture-in-picture capabilities. Director David Filoni, editor Jason Tucker, and producer Catherine Winder provide a video commentary. The track is fully subtitled, so that the commentary video window can open and close, allowing the feature to occupy the entire screen when appropriate. Other windows display behind-the-scenes footage and even a scene from A New Hope.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars—The Untold Stories (24:53) is essentially an extended promotional reel for the television series. George Lucas, Dave Filoni, and Catherine Winder provide background on the series as we watch scenes from a variety of episodes. Frankly, most of what we see looks a lot better than the feature film.
The Voices of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (10:00) provides an introduction to the voice cast as well as footage of them recording their lines.
A New Score (10:45) discusses Kevin Kiner's score and shows scenes of the recording session. Kiner's reinterpretation of John Williams' Main Title theme has received a lot of negative attention, but elsewhere he does a fine job of providing new music that is respectful of Williams' style.
A still image gallery presents an impressive array of concept and production art. There are also four deleted scenes, six webisodes, three trailers, and a remote control-based game that is essentially a hologram version of Memory.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars should never have played in theaters. It's not a fun-for-all-ages Star Wars adventure. At best, it's a mediocre kickoff to an animated television kids' series that shows promise.
The Force is not strong with this one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Video Commentary
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