Saturday, August 16, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

I feel a bit out of place reviewing Star Wars: The Clone Wars, because it isn’t a movie in the traditional sense. The film actually serves as the first installment of an animated television series that will air on Cartoon Network later this year. It should not have been released in theatres, because everything about it is suited for the television medium. As a niche tale intended mostly for children and serious Star Wars fans, it’s also completely immune from criticism. It is, therefore, as a hardcore Star Wars fan, rather than a film critic, that I proceed.

The story unfolds during the Clone Wars, the terrible three-year struggle that eventually leads to the creation of the Galactic Empire. This story takes place between Episodes II and III, and it still boggles my mind that George Lucas omitted most of this war from the prequel trilogy. The central focus of this installment is the dynamic between Anakin Skywalker and his new Padawan Learner, Ahsoka Tano. As Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin transition from a teacher/student relationship into a genuine friendship, Anakin learns what it means to be an effective mentor.

Because Time Warner owns Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers served as the distributor for Clone Wars, rather than Twentieth Century Fox. Seeing the Warner Brothers logo at the film’s opening jarred me immediately, and several other differences within the opening five minutes made it clear that this is a television show, not a true Star Wars feature. The story has multiple arcs, as though four 22-minute episodes were loosely strung together. Everything about this series will feel more at home once it arrives on Cartoon Network.

The visual style used here appeals to me, though I’m sure it won’t please everyone. The animation doesn’t compare to the beauty of Pixar’s films, but again, this film isn’t really a theatrical effort, and the animation quality of Clone Wars easily surpasses television’s typical standards. Some elements, like environments and battles, are incredibly realistic, while characters’ faces are intentionally stylized. I’m glad they didn’t attempt the level of realism employed by Robert Zemekis in Beowulf (2007) or The Polar Express (2004). The cartoonish faces in Clone Wars just feel right.

Feisty teenager Ahsoka Tano is a fun new addition to the Star Wars universe, bringing some serious spunk to the table and proving difficult enough to earn Anakin’s respect. Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan are the central characters, while familiar faces like Padme Amidala and Yoda only make fleeting appearances (they will probably be featured more in the television series). The only unfortunate new character is Jabba the Hutt’s uncle, aptly named Ziro the Hutt; he’s a zero, all right. By my estimates, he makes Jar Jar Binks look Oscar-worthy.

I return to my belief that Star Wars: The Clone Wars should never have premiered in theatres. It pales in comparison to the six feature films and won’t hold the interest of most viewers, but then again, it’s not intended for most viewers. If you don’t have young kids and you’re not a serious Star Wars fan, then maybe don’t bother. It doesn’t work too well as a feature film, but compared to most other shows currently airing on Cartoon Network, it’s quite impressive. It ultimately won me over, and I’ll be tuning-in to watch the television series once it airs this Fall.

Click here to view the trailer

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking.

The brief language and momentary smoking are nothing to worry about, but the violence is occasionally intense. Alongside the usual battle droid carnage, many human soldiers fall in the line of duty, and some of the battles are a tad fierce. Still, it’s about on par with the battles in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I think PG is fair, and we can probably expect similar content from the upcoming show.

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