A film review by Craig J. Koban

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS jj

2008, PG, 98 mins.

With the voices of:
Anakin: Matt Manter / Padme: Catherine Taber / Obi-Wan Kenobi: James Arnold Taylor / Count Dooku: Christopher Lee / Mace Windu: Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by Dave Filoni / Written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Scott Murphy.

Warner Bros. Pictures' Star Wars: The Clone Wars

I’ve got a very bad feeling about this… 

At least that’s what I was telling myself upon viewing the first two minutes of the new STAR WARS feature film - animated, mind you - entitled THE CLONE WARS.  This movie certainly has the façade of a typical STAR WARS cinematic adventure, but it just…feels wrong.  Consider the opening frames:  Instead of being greeted by the LUCASFILM logo followed by the glorious 20th Century Fox marquee amidst John Williams’ now legendary musical fanfare, we get something far less awe inspiring that certainly did not give me goose bumps – the Warner Brothers logo that cuts to a sea of stars. 

Not good so far. 

What comes next is even more disappointing.  Usually by this point we are shown the now immortal text “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” which we are greeted with, but what does not come next is the adventure serial style title cards crawl with Williams’ robust and enveloping STAR WARS theme vigorously trumpeting in the background.  Alas, what's in their place is a puny looking CLONE WARS logo, a very half-hearted and meager echo of Williams’ theme, and a voice over narration (that sounds a lot like a bad 1940’s newsreel reporter) that comments on the events leading up to the events in the film. 

Nope.  Not very good at all. 

Now, anyone that has known me for…oh…I dunno…about ten minutes...understands me to be a very unapologetic STAR WARS supporter.  George Lucas’ landmark space opera is and most likely will forever be my favorite film series of the silver screen.  Lucas himself - a man that simultaneously has been lauded as the series' pioneering creator alongside being vilified as a money grubbing and soulless film capitalist that destroyed it - utterly altered the landscape of popular entertainment with the films.  STAR WARS is an essential part of North American pop film mythology and the way it influenced the medium is second to none.  Lucas - whether you admire or hate him – is a pioneering visionary: not many filmmakers have displayed such unbridled creativity and untapped imagination.  Perhaps most important to mention is just how much the STAR WARS films inspired a sense of endless awe and wide-eyed wonder in their sights.  These films were meant to be actively experienced, not just simply passively viewed. They were the ultimate out-of-body works for how they transported viewers.  Very few films have that sort of transcending power. 

However, all of these previously mentioned accolades fail to apply to THE CLONE WARS.  The thought of a new film in my favorite film galaxy should have inspired delight and anticipation in me, but it instead elicited deep regret.  The film suffers from two nearly paralyzing faults: (a) It failed to keep my attention span throughout its running time, stirring up boredom with its mundane developments and (b) the film is merely not very good looking at all, a very surprising fault that I thought I would never find myself stating in STAR WARS review. 

All of the previous live-action STAR WARS movies were incredibly state-of-the-art for their respective times, and Lucas (especially with the first film back in 1977) fundamentally changed how films were constructed with his original visual effects.  If anything, Lucas’ understanding of film technology to tell stories is his strongest and most revered trait.  Yet, how he thought that this all-CG animated feature was anywhere near on par with recent advances in the art form is a huge lapse in judgment on his part.  THE CLONE WARS, on a superficial level, is only marginally decent enough for broadcast on TV and not beyond that. 

Of course, this film was originally supposed to be shown on the small screen.  THE CLONE WARS WAS intended to be the launching point for a CG animated series for television, but Lucas was apparently so enamored with the quality of the animation that he felt that a big screen treatment was a necessity.  Yet, after seeing the final product, I find this rationale very hard to truthfully accept.  It’s so impossible to believe that Lucas honestly thought that THE CLONE WARS was anywhere near the companion piece to far greater works of CG animation (by direct comparisons, this year’s WALL-E is almost indescribably superior).  The only real motivation that can be believed is that this new STAR WARS feature is an easy cash grab for a greedy film 'Emperor' that surely does not need one at this point in his near 40-year career.  

I just have no idea what Lucas (who served as Executive Producer) and director Dave Filoni (TV’s AVATAR) were thinking.  Instead of looking robust, lush, and fetching, THE CLONE WARS is mournfully underwhelming as a visual experience.  Backgrounds and environments look good, but character modeling is borderline abysmal at times.  There is no feeling or sense of personality in any of the characters' faces, who all look less emotive than the marionette puppets of TEAM AMERICA.  Characters appear like they suffer from severe Botox injections and seem molded out of wood.  This is depressing because animation should have freed up this universe, but the shoddy CGI here – oddly enough – hinders it completely.  By comparison, look at the previous TV cartoon series, 2003’s wonderful THE CLONE WARS, helmed by the multi-talented Genndy Tartakovsky, who displayed a real evocative taste with the very simplistic 2D animation he utilized.  Tartakovsy’s take on Lucas’ world showed how using an old school approach can be infinitely better than misusing new methods, as Filoni’s film showcases. 

Okay, so this STAR WARS film is the worst looking of the bunch.  As for the story?  Not much better.  At least the STAR WARS prequel trilogy had stories that fans demanded to be told, but THE CLONE WARS seems peculiarly more like a forgettable addendum to the films.  The story focuses on a time period between the events of 2002’s EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES and 2005’s EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, so…in essence…the battles of the Clone Wars and incidents during it ultimately leads us to the events of the third episode that highlights the downfall of Anakin Skywalker.  THE CLONE WARS is very heavy on action, which is its only real saving grace, but the plot is not on par with the grand soap opera elements of the other films.  The film’s script concerns – get a load of this – the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt’s infant son and how this could overturn the shift of powerful trade routes for either the antagonists or protagonists during the Galaxy wide conflict.  Perhaps most damning is that the story includes what has to be the single worst executed character in all of STAR WARS cannon (yes, even worse than Jar Jar):  Ziro the Hutt, the uncle of Jabba the Hutt, that speaks English, whose voice sounds like Nathan Lane with a New Orleans accent, and appears to be…either a homosexual or a transvestite…at least as far as Hutts go. 

The basic plot is essentially a close line for the action, but even it gets bogged down in a lot of needless sidetracks and convolution.  There is a plot afoot by the evil Sith Lord Count Dooku (voiced by Christopher Lee of the prequel films, in decent form here) to capture Jabba’s cute little son and then frame the Jedis and the Republic for his death.  This would be bad for the Jedi, seeing as they are trying to negotiate a treaty with Jabba to move their fleet through very troubling routes.  Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (not voiced by Ewan McGregor, but instead by James Arnold Taylor, who does an amazing job of mimicry here) teams up with his most skilled apprentice, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (voiced by a very bland Matt Lanter) and they take it upon themselves to find and return the baby Hutt back to Jabba to clear their names.  

Thrown in for no real reason is a chatty and annoying teenage Jedi padawan (or apprentice) named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), that has the dubious honor of being placed under Anakin’s tutelage by grand Jedi Master Yoda (Tom Kane, doing a reasonably good approximation of Frank Oz’s unique vocal trappings).  Of course, dreaded droid armies impede the heroes at every turn, not to mention a fiercely determined female Sith apprentice named Asajj Ventress (voiced with a cold seductiveness by Nika Futterman).  Throw in some truly meandering subplots – like a very hastily cobbled together one involving Padme Amidala (Catherine Taybor) and that wretchedly conceived Ziro the Hutt - and…well…are you as bored reading this as I am typing it? 

The screenplay (attributed to Henry Gilroy, Stephen Melching, and Scott Murphy) is, as far as credits go, what the obsessively nitpicky and ostracizing STAR WARS fan base has be wanting since THE PHANTOM MENACE came out: someone other than Lucas writing the script.  Their collective prayers have been answered, but the results are far worse than even the flannel shirted one could have conjured up.  THE CLONE WARS's plot is sloppy and all over the place.  The action will keep young viewers in check, but the complexity of events will leave them fidgeting in their seats.  More problematic is the lack of even a passable John Williams-clone helming the musical score (Kevin Kiner  replicates a few beats here and there, but his overall score feels like it belongs in any other movie but STAR WARS).  I do think that a pre-twelve-year-old audience will be moderately involved in the film’s video game action sequences, but for older (and more discerning) STAR WARS fans, THE CLONE WARS is loud, hectic, narratively confusing, and ultimately all flash without any excitement or intrigue.  

I guess that to most STAR WARS completists, seeing THE CLONE WARS is almost a sort of religious necessity.  To both WARS-aholics and Lucas supporters (which I certainly am), I find it very difficult to categorize this film as anything beyond a minor, intermittently exciting and fun, but largely forgettable film experience, and one that in no way is polished enough to be worthy of big screen treatment.  Very young tykes will probably appreciate what they see here, but for real die-hard aficionados of Lucas’ galaxy, THE CLONE WARS, more than any other of the WARS films, is cheaply disposable and a very lackluster addition to the most popular and cherished film series of all-time. 

There is a definite disturbance in the Force…but it ain’t the Sith…it’s just this movie. 

 

CrAiGeR's other

REVIEWS:

STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE  jjj

STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH  jjjj

STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE jjjj

STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK   jjjj

STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI  jjjj

And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of the STAR WARS films:

1. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) jjjj

2. A NEW HOPE (1977) jjjj

3. REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005) jjjj

4. RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) jjjj

5. ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) jjj1/2

6. THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) jjj

7. THE CLONE WARS (2008)  jj

 

 

 

 

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