Saturday, August 16, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (Dave Filoni, 2008)

Arriving in the dog days of the summer movie season and with considerably less hype than usual for a new STAR WARS film, the computer-animated STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS wears its lowered expectations like armor to protect against the swords of jilted fanboys who feel like each new chapter in George Lucas' saga delivers further indignities to their childhood memories.

No wonder. Fans built up impossible standards during the long wait between RETURN OF THE JEDI and EPISODES I through III, and Lucas was susceptible to his worst impulses for writing stiff dialogue and directing stilted performances. Removed from the hothouse of their original release dates, perhaps the prequels can now be viewed on their own terms as flawed but entertaining movies incapable of ever living up to the versions of the original trilogy that exist moreso in the minds of a generation than on celluloid.

Or maybe not. Diminished expectations notwithstanding, at best STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS is unlikely to convince the disappointed faithful that the space opera is back on course. THE CLONE WARS elicits some pangs of nostalgia with its grand battles, alien landscapes, and beloved characters but yields little more than fuzzy thoughts of what used to be.

At worst it could reinforce fanbase beliefs that Lucas is motivated by an easy cash grab. The film functions as a feature-length teaser for the upcoming Cartoon Network series, and the introduction of the feisty female character Ahsoka comes off as a way of selling more ancillary products to girls. Lucas also continues to juvenilize the franchise, a move that has singlehandedly dropped him from the graces of his most ardent supporters.

Set between ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH, THE CLONE WARS follows Anakin Skywalker and his young protégé Ahsoka as they search for Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son. Why bother looking for a baby slug during the middle of a war? Jabba controls key trade routes through which armies can be moved. Winning his favor could be a determining factor in the fight's outcome, but doing so is far trickier than the Jedi realize. The duplicitous Count Dooku has orchestrated blame for the abduction and rescue to fall on the Jedi, thus paving the way for his separatist forces and Jabba to sign a treaty regarding those important shipping lanes.

Dave Filoni handles directorial duties, and three screenwriters are listed for THE CLONE WARS. Still, who else but Lucas, who gets producer and story credits, could be responsible for the familiar problems that mar this latest STAR WARS film? The ins and outs of intergalactic politics are as uninteresting and confusing as ever. Why Lucas insists on devoting so much time to these matters is especially baffling for a film even more kid-centric than the others.

The unwieldy dialogue becomes like the cacophonous honks associated with Charlie Brown's teacher. Most of the prequel performers have been replaced for the voiceover work, likely a budget-conscious move that neither adds nor detracts, but what in the world is going on with the voice of Jabba's uncle Ziro the Hutt? He sounds like The Lady Chablis.

Since the CGI-heavy prequels were practically cartoons anyway, the switch to full computer-animation for THE CLONE WARS should seem like a natural evolution for STAR WARS. The big miscalculation, though, is the plasticky design of flesh and blood characters. With faces like inexpressive rubber masks and immovable hair like that found on action figures, the characters have an unappealing look that puts them a few steps backwards technology-wise.

The plentiful battle scenes impress with their visual and aural assault and couldn't be pulled off better than being rendered in zeroes and ones. The gunships capable of vertical climbs up cliffs make cool additions to the Republic's armada. Although repetitive, the emphasis on action compensates for the film's deficiencies to a point.

THE CLONE WARS reveals that all the copying in the universe can reproduce a semblance of past greatness. It's the original inspiration that can't be duplicated. THE CLONE WARS isn't a bad movie but a faded version of what preceded.

Grade: C


  1. Anonymous2:35 AM

    O come on. Just say it. It IS a bad movie. I haven't even seen it and I can tell just from the previews. If paying 10 bucks at the multiplex for animation that looks dated in comparison to the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto isn't your idea of a failure, what is?

    And while you're right that the originals are viewed through a certain haze of childhood (or adolescent) memory, the prequels don't improve over time. The first one in particularly remains entirely unwatchable due, first, to its utter lack of dramatic necessity and, second, to the execrable non-acting of its child lead. The originals were a simple mythic tale eloquently told (mostly). The first two prequels can't find a reason to exist except the cash they can bring in to ILM. The third prequel, at least, draws on some of the genuine storytelling and thematic energies of the original trilogy, but it too is deeply marred by Lucas' severe limitations as a director of human beings.

  2. Anonymous9:13 PM

    It’s been out a while but I don’t intend on seeing this. To me it seems like their focusing less on the movie and more on marketing it in a certain way. Not only does it fit in with the Cartoon Network niche and all that jazz, but I think they’re trying to hard to capitalize on the urban vinyl style, hence the action figure look. Some of the toys for the film look more like designer toys than the run-of-the-mill Hasbro crap. Ya know, even promo spots for Cartoon Network were made by a toy designer. It’s all one massive marketing circle. If they wanted to keep it cartoony, at least keep it 2d like the 2003 series, not that it was any better. Or wait till the CGI gets better…the stiffness is kind of distracting. Maybe they should’ve stressed over the film more than the memorabilia or age groups, then all would be right with the world.

    Just my two cents.

  3. Anonymous6:23 PM

    good one