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“I fought with your father in the Clone Wars”

October 7th, 2008
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After much debate, I decided to skip the animated Star Wars Clone Wars movie that was released to theaters in late August.  It is almost unimaginable to me that I wouldn’t rush out to see a new Star Wars ANYTHING on the big screen.  But as I read bad review after bad review, claiming that the Clone Wars movie was chock-full of all the worst aspects of the prequels — stupid, juvenile jokes, wooden characters, etc. — that, in short, it was a movie clearly made for KIDS and not adults, I decided to pass.  Why go see something that it was certain I’d hate?  

When the Clone Wars TV series began this past week, I again had a decision to make.  Should I tune in?  (You see, the Clone Wars movie was the first three episodes of this new show edited together.  It was really just a splashy launch for the new, half-hour weekly animated show.)  But this time, the decision was much easier.  These shows were on TV — it was free, after all, and if they stunk I could always turn them off.  

So I checked out the first two episodes, which Cartoon Network aired back-to-back.  Things started off strong with the first episode, “Ambush.”  Yoda and a group of clone troopers head to the planet Toyndaria (the species to which Watto of Episode I belongs) to negotiate for permission to construct a Republic military base.  Of course, Count Dooku and the separatists are interested in the planet as well, and Yoda and three clone troopers quickly find themselves on the run from a horde of Battle Droids.  This was a solid episode — very fast-paced, with a ton of great Yoda-vs-droid action, and surprisingly good characterization for Yoda, Dooku, and the clones and Toyndarians.  With almost no human characters to be found, this episode also showcased what the computer animation does best — droids, ships, and actions.  (As became apparent in the second episode, the animation of humans is rather weaker, displaying a lot of the same problems seen back in the first Toy Story movie — the humans wind up looking rubbery and weird.)

The second episode, “Rising Malevolence,” reintroduces us to many of our familiar characters — Anakin Skywalker is the focus, but we also see R2D2, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and others.  Anakin and his padawan apprentice Ahsoka (a young girl apparently introduced in the Clone War movie — and how young Anakin has a padawan of his own is a mystery to me) investigate a new ultimate weapon that Dooku and General Grievous are testing.  We also spend time with Jedi Knight Plo Koon (a character seen but not given much to do in the prequels), who has his task force destroyed by this weapon, and spends much of the episode trapped in an escape pod with a few clone troopers, trying to evade the battle droids who are looking to finish them off.  As opposed to the self-contained “Ambush,” this episode leaves quite a bit unresolved.  On the one hand, that’s sort of cool, as I like the idea of long-running storylines in this show.  However, it also makes this second episode feel much less complete, and therefore less enjoyable, than the first one.

“Rising Malevolence” also exposes a number of weaknesses that I hope won’t become characteristic of the show, but that I fear will.  First of all, I find both Anakin and Ahsoka to be rather annoying.  Not Jar-Jar level unwatchable, but annoying nonetheless.  I find Ahsoka to be completely unnecessary — she’s the “kid sidekick” of which George Lucas seems to be fond, but she doesn’t contribute anything to the plot.  Indeed, I think she subtracts from what I wish was a greater focus on Anakin.  But then again, since the Anakin character seen here is just as stiff and boring as his counterpart in the live-action films, maybe that wouldn’t be any better.  I was also struck by the similarity between the Jedi Master trapped with three clone troopers stories seen in both episodes, and I hope the remainder of the series isn’t as formulaic.  (For much of “Rising Malevolence,” I was wondering if the three clone troopers weren’t supposed to be the same three clones as were with Yoda in “Ambush,” which doesn’t say much for the character-development on display, or for the animation.)

Bottom line?  Not a home run, but not a strike-out either.  I’ll definitely stay tuned for a few more episodes at least.  If the series winds up being more like “Ambush,” then we might have something of interest here.  I just hope the show is able to follow in the footsteps of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars shorts that came out a few years ago.  Also set between Episodes II and III, these traditionally-animated shorts were wonderful, giving us so much great stuff that I wish we’d seen in the prequels — enormous action, such as a massive siege of Coruscant (the show depicted just how Chancellor Palpatine got captured, a situation we found him in at the opening of Episode III), as well as some wonderful exploration of the powers and traditions of the Jedi (we saw the world that produces the crystals used to make light sabers, we saw the ceremony in which Anakin became a full Jedi Knight, we saw Anakin go through his own test of the cave, as Luke did in The Empire Strikes Back, and lots more).  

When I was a kid and first heard Obi-Wan Kenobi talk about the Clone Wars in the original Star Wars, I had great dreams about that galactic conflict.  Here’s hoping this series is able to tap into all of our imaginations the way Star Wars used to, as opposed to settling for lowest common denominator, made-for-kids dreck.  There’s still something quite incredible about seeing Yoda flick on his lightsaber and leap into battle (even though wars not make one great).  Let’s see more of that, please, George!

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