September 10th, 2008

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (2008) **

Well Lucas the Hutt has already gotten enough of my money over the past 30 years, so I thought I’d throw another $7 his way this week by checking out Star Wars:  The Clone Wars.  If you already don’t know by now, old George has a new CGI animated show coming on Cartoon Network this fall, so to whet our appetites he’s showing the pilot only in theaters in another attempt to sell more Legos. 

 

The story is basically Episode II ½ with Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi battling the Droid Army of the Separatist leader Count Dooku, who has kidnapped Jabba the Hutt’s son and blamed it on the Jedis.  To further complicate matters, Master Yoda saddles Ani with a precocious Youngling named Ahsoka Tano to babysit and hopefully help bring in the Hannah Montana demographic. 

 

I’m a Star Wars completist so it was more or less my civil duty to check this flick out.  I’d watched the traditional animated Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network and enjoyed it, so I figured I’d like this about the same.  I was wrong.  First off the CGI animation kinda irritated me.  I mean why the heck did they animate the humans in such an oddly stylized way (inspired no doubt by the old Thunderbirds TV show) and everything else (ships, creatures, landscapes, etc.) to be practically photorealistic?  It’s baffling to say the least, especially when the humans are so dammed expressionless.  If the character design was more congruent to the look of the rest of the universe, I might not have balked.  While the characters leave a lot to be desired, the CGI for everything else is pretty dang good, so I’m willing to give it a pass. 

 

Uneven animation aside, another problem I had with the film was that it really didn’t FEEL like a Star Wars movie.  It doesn’t start out in the traditional Star Wars manner, which is a little jarring.  (Cartoon Network is owned by Warner Brothers, so there’s no familiar 20th Century Fox “DUM DUM!  DUM DUM!  D-D-D-DUM DUM!” fanfare.)  We do get the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” spiel but there’s no opening crawl, just an over-enthusiastic announcer setting up the premise.  I know it’s probably only the Star Wars fanboy in me bitching; it’s just that it starts things off on the wrong foot and the movie never recovers from it.  Maybe that’s my problem; I keep referring to this as a “movie” when really it’s just a glorified television pilot.  It’ll probably play better on the small screen, but if you put your little TV pilot onto 3,000 screens nationwide, it counts as a “movie” to me and it has to be judged accordingly. 

 

The biggest gripe I had with the flick though was the character of Ahsoka.  This chick makes Jar Jar look like Boba Fett.  She was thoroughly annoying and seemed less like a three dimensional character and more like a ploy to get girls to buy some Legos.  Every time she called Anakin “Sky Guy”, I cringed.  (And she calls him that A LOT.)  Cringing is not something you expect to do during a Star Wars flick, particularly when you’re a rabid fan like me.  What’s worse is that she’s Anakin’s padawan, but that doesn’t make any sense because Anakin can’t have a padawan learner because he’s a padawan himself, and only Jedi Masters can have padawans!  ½ * off for sloppy screenwriting and not following along with Lucas’ established universe rules. 

 

So uhh… what is there to like?  Well, for starters, the action is almost non-stop.  Like the previous TV series, there are plenty scenes of Clone Troopers shooting the shit out of Droids and a handful of fairly decent Jedi battles, some featuring the female Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress (yet another gal to bring in the girl power audience) who looks like a Sinead O’Connor version of Darth Maul.  And even though many of the original talent from the prequels wouldn’t touch this thing with a ten foot lightsaber, I did get a kick out of hearing Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee voicing their characters again. 

 

Bottom Line:  The Clone Wars is more or less Star Wars without the humans.  Or the mythology.  Or the heart.  If the original films were missing these three vital ingredients, all that would be left would be the eye candy.  There’s oodles of that to go around in this flick, but ultimately The Force is just not with it.