Star Wars – The Clone Wars (2008)

This computer-animated entry in the STAR WARS franchise is every bit as synthetic as the trailers implied, but in its own way THE CLONE WARS is quite an achievement: it almost perfectly synthesizes everything that has been wrong with the films since… oh, well – RETURN OF THE JEDI. You get the unnecessarily convoluted storytelling, the painfully bad dialogue, the mechanically rendered action sequences, the pandering to geeky fans, and best of all – the mythic pretentiousness contrasting with the juvenile approach to characterization. The chief distinction is that, being animated, CLONE WARS feels indemnified against accusations of childishness; in fact, it proudly embraces the sub-adolescent aspects of the series. After all, only the darkest, most irredeemable Sith Lord would complain that a cartoon was targeted at the “younglings.” In an odd way, it may even be a savvy career move on the part of George Lucas: with one swift stroke, he has driven the prequel trilogy out of the running for “Worst Star Wars Film Ever” and hit such a career low-point that any subsequent work is bound to appear like a major comeback.

In the grand sweep of the STAR WARS saga, CLONE WARS takes place between Episodes 2 and 3, and the MacGuffin fueling the plot is – get this – the Jedi’s hope of establishing a treaty with Jabba the Hutt regarding trade routes. Exciting stuff, no? Maybe not on par with defeating the Death Star before it destroyed another entire planet, but still, you can just feel the tension locking your vertebrae into a steel-stiff vertical column. Anyway, apparently concerned that the younglings in the audience would not fully appreciate this sophisticated storyline, most of the film actually focuses on Anakin Skywalker mentoring a Paduan Learner named Ahsoka. He and Ahsoka have one of those cute, bickering relationships where we know their oft expressed dislike of each other will soon melt into mutual respect, if not, in this case, love – because, after all, Anakin still has the hots for Princess Amidala, even if she is kept mostly off-screen and well away from him, apparently to avoid grossing out the younglings in the audience who hate that mushy romantic stuff. If the absence of a flaw can be rated as a virtue, then CLONE WARS scores one over ATTACK OF THE CLONES in this regard.


One also cannot underestimate the absence of Jar-Jar Binks, although the vacuum is filled too well by Anakin and Ahsoka, who annoy not only each other but also the audience. CLONE WARS seems to confirm the suspicion that the defining characteristic of a young Jedi is a smug sense of self-superiority, coupled with dose of self-righteous over-confidence. Luke first gave us a glimpse of this during his confrontation with Jabba the Hutt in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Anakin certainly has it in spades; Qui-Gon showed signs of it, and even the younger Obi-Wan is not without an occassional flashes. Ahsoka is merely the latest example of this, although in her case it takes the form of juvenile bragging. Throughout the course of the movie, neither she nor Anakin shows any signs of the qualities one supposedly associates with the Order of the Jedi; they could just as easily be buddies in a bad cop movie.

While Anakin and Ahsoka are competing to see who is the worst Jar-Jar substitute, the Jedi are once again proving what a useless – and incredibly naive – institution they are, falling for some pretty obvious subterfuge that should have been obvious to even to anyone without the advantage of “Jedi Mind Tricks.” About the only thing that keeps them in the game is that their opponents – at least the rank and file robot armies – are almost equally stupid.

In one of the more dismal sequences, Obi-Wan Kenobi tricks a rival general by pretending to surrender while Anakin and Ahsoka sneak behind enemy lines to destroy a generator powering a force shield. Ignoring for a moment that this kind of deceit should be beneath a Jedi (attacking someone while negotiating a peace settlement is the kind of activity normally reserved for the villains), the enemy general conveniently overlooks the fact that Obi-Wan’s forces have not ceased firing. (Did Count Dooku really promote this guy to a position of authority – guess he did not break from the Jedi before some of their stupidity set in.)

Anyway, just when you start to believe that there will be nothing at all worth seeing in the film, Anakin and Ahsoka are assigned to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s son (so the Jedi can earn Jabba’s good will and get that peace treaty, don’tcha know). No doubt you have heard the old saying, “They’re cute when they’re little,” and it certainly applies in this case. Although a chip off the old block, the little Hut is so perfectly adorable that its almost funny.

Baby Jabba is just about the only character rendered by the computer animators in a halfway decent manner. The rest are mechanical and/or ugly (although this works in favor of the sinister female assassin Asaij Ventress). Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Anthony Daniels are on hand to lend their voices to the characters they played in the previous films, but the rest of the voice cast does a credible job of replacing for the live-action counterparts. For some reason, Jabba uncle, Ziro the Hutt, sounds like a cartoon version of Truman Capote (voiced by Corey Burton), but that is kind of funny.

The battle footage colorful and filled with action, but it is seldom exciting. The one exception is Obi-Wan’s light saber duel with Ventress, although it is a bit too derivative to rank as a standout. Technically, the effects footage is little different from the prequel trilogy (which also relied on CGI); however, since this is officially an animated film, there was no need to even pretend to make the graphics look realistic.

Kevin Kiner’s score incorporates some reorchestrated themes from John Williams’ music for the live-action films, but it also has a few nice touches of its own, bringing a little badly needed life to the lethargic proceedings.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS is a null experience. Nothing can happen that will change the course of future events, because the storyline has to segue into Episode III of the live-action films. Consequently, nothing is resolved. The Jedi get their treaty with Jabba, but that will not prevent them from being slaughtered. There is another skirmish between Dooku and Anakin, but we know they cannot kill each other until REVENGE OF THE SITH. Anakin successfully trains Ahsoka, but that will not interfere with his love for Amidala, nor will it prevent his turn to the Dark Side of the Force.

In the end, this is a film only a Lucasoid could love – if you need every single moment in the STAR WARS timeline filled in, whether or not the events affect the inevitable outcome, here is your chance. The rest of us can only look back with nostalgic regret to a time approximately thirty years ago, when you went to a STAR WARS film not out of blind loyalty but in eager anticipation of actually being entertained.

 TRIVIA

Is it just me, or does the name “Ahsoka” seem to be derived from the racist cliche of how a Japanese person is supposed to speak (”Ah, so…”)?

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (2008). Directed by Dave Filoni. Written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Scott Murphy, based upon a story and characters by George Lucas. Voices Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane, Nika Futterman, Ian Abercrombie, Corey Burton, Catherine Taber, Matthew Wood, Keven Michael Richardson, David Accord, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee.

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About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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