Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Director : Dave Filoni
Screenplay : Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Scott Murphy
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2008
While it isn’t nearly as bad as being stuck on a planet full of wookies and lame C-grade guest stars for Life Day, the new animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars should take its place as one of the worst offshoots of George Lucas’s seemingly never-ending empire in a galaxy far, far away. And, while it may lack the exquisite torture value of The Star Wars Holiday Special, that singular television disaster from 1978, The Clone Wars is in some ways worse because, outside of Jabba the Hutt’s queen-ish uncle, it lacks that debacle’s uniquely bizarre quality and is instead little more than cheesy and, worst of all, tedious.
Intended as an introduction to a television series that will be premiering this fall, The Clone Wars is a fully computer-animated film that takes place between Episode II--Attack of the Clones and Episode III--Revenge of the Sith. Unfortunately, it does not really fill in any blanks, expand on any characters, or otherwise serve a narrative or thematic purpose. Rather, it simply spins a forgettable stand-alone adventure featuring wooden-looking computer-animated stand-ins for the characters we’ve come to know through Lucas’s oft-maligned, but generally underappreciated prequels. Watching The Clone Wars should make critics and viewers who complained of stiff acting, stilted dialogue, and long-winded plotting in the live-action movies realize just how overblown their complaints were.
The story centers around Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), otherwise known as “He Who Will Become Darth Vader,” and his new apprentice, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), a teen girl with a relentlessly sarcastic attitude and disregard for authority. When the story opens, Anakin and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) are battling an army of droids on a distant planet as part of the general war between the Republic and the Separatists. They are called away to search for the kidnapped son of the notorious gangster Jabba the Hutt, with whom they need to strike an alliance for the war effort. Jabba’s son, who turns out to be a squibby little slug who cries a lot, has been taken by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and his evil henchwoman Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) as part of an overall plan to double-cross the Jedi and get Jabba on their side.
Complex as it sounds on paper, the plot is actually a rather thin device to string together a series of seemingly never-ending and largely interchangeable battle sequences that are long on sound and fury and extremely short on emotional investment. Perhaps it is because the characters look like CGI marionette puppets with less expression than the real marionette puppets in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America: World Police (2004), but The Clone Wars is an emotional vacuum, sucking out anything resembling life and leaving us with a mechanical wind-up movie that goes on and on. Screenwriters Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, and Scott Murphy try to inject some life largely by being cute, which involves much droid-related slapstick comedy and everyone getting snide pet names (Anakin is called “Sky Guy” by Ahsoka, he calls her “Snipps,” and they both call Jabba’s slug-son “Stinky”). And, if that weren’t grating enough, they have managed to make Ahsoka one of the most singularly irritating characters in recent memory; intended to be spunky and independent, she comes across as merely grating, and her constant bickering with Anakin, who has little resemblance to the increasingly darkened character we saw at the end of Episode II, is borderline insufferable.
Those who have tried to defend The Clone Wars as anything other than an artistically bankrupt attempt to grab a little more cash out of the fading Star Wars juggernaut have generally taken one of two avenues, arguing that it shouldn’t be criticized so harshly because it’s a lead-in to a TV series and therefore will reflect the less aesthetically ambitious dimensions of the smaller screen or that it’s aimed squarely at kids, so of course it’s going to be cheesy. The latter argument crashes on the shoals of the previous Star Wars films, the best of which appealed equally to children and adults, proving that you don’t have to drive the over-10 crowd out of the room to appeal to kids. And, as far as the former argument goes, if this film is any indication of the quality of the forthcoming television series, it will be blessedly short-lived.
Copyright © 2008 James Kendrick
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