Star Wars: The Clone Wars Review

The Star Wars universe is a vast one. The six live-action films would be all that most people would know of George Lucas’ most famous creation, but they are a drop in the ocean, compared with the complexities of the ever expanding saga. The dozens of books and comics plus numerous video games have broadened the scope beyond Luke, Leia, Han and co. to millenia either side of their cinematic adventures.
Along with next month’s awesome The Force Unleashed console game, Clone Wars is the latest to add details to the events between the two film trilogies.
Directed by Dave Filoni (episodes of TV toon, Avatar) and written by three virtual newcomers, the film certainly has Lucas’ imprint in it, namely family friendly action and light hearted humour.

From the first few seconds however, it’s obvious that this isn’t a typical Star Wars film. The traditional theme music has been slightly altered and the text crawl is lacking, replaced by a narrator explaining the set-up. Also, despite Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Anthony Daniles (C-3PO) and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) reprising their roles, the rest of the prequel’s cast is absent. Not that it matters.

Clone Wars is essentially the pilot of an upcoming half hour animated TV series. When George Lucas saw these first few episodes, he decided it looked too beautiful for the small screen, and deserved a cinematic release in their own right. Lucas is right. This is a great looking film. Today’s CGI effects are well suited to the expanding Star Wars mythology with the multitude of alien races, planets and vehicles, and the numerous space battles are grand, though not comparable to the excellent opening scenes in Episode III.

It’s with the scenes of humans (and humanoids) interacting that the CGI look may be a let down to some, expecting a Pixar level of sheen. The characters’ visuals are simple, as are the textures when examined closely. Don’t expect hyper-realism here, as the look of the film is based on the two series of cartoons that ran on the Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2005. The film is a continuation of that series, set in the time period between Episode II and Episode III. In other words, Anakin is not yet Darth Vader, his lover, Padme is still alive, and Luke and Leia are yet to be born.

The plot involves primarily lots of fighting (either with swift light sabre moves, or swift space craft moves) and the race to capture Jabba the Hut’s son, Rotta, otherwise known as Stinky. Anakin Skywalker receives a surprising padawan, ie, apprentice in the form of “youngling” Ahsoka Tano. This is a novel concept and the friction and eventual respect between the two Jedis is the highlight of the film. From their crafty defeat of Dooku’s force’s shield generator, to the protection and delivery of Rotta, the new duo’s initial friction gives way to respect as they fight an assortment of droids, drones and a dual-sabre wielder, in the form of Asajj Ventress, Dooku’s new partner in crime. Of course, Dooku’s and Jabba’s alliance is nothing of the sort, as the Jedis must prove their innocence in the greater fight for the vital trade routes for the ongoing war. When Anakin and his new student arrive on Tatooine, Anakin’s home planet (and scene of his Tusken Raiders massacre in Episode II) only then do we see a hint of his darkness that is central to the whole Star Wars saga. General Obi-Wan Kenobi flies to Jabba’s palace to assure him of his peaceful attentions and runs in to Ventress and Senator Amidala takes another route in assuring peace – meeting Jabba’s greedy uncle, Ziro the Hutt in Coruscant and gets duly punished for her good deed.

Star Wars purists will be disappointed with Clone Wars. It can’t compete with the more sophisticated CGI films on offer these days, and its roots as a TV show quickly become evident. It just doesn’t have the usual epic Star Wars film feel stamped on it. No doubt the kids will enjoy it, but some may be lost, without prior knowledge of the characters. I’d recommend watching the original Clone Wars cartoons on DVD over seeing this, but the continuation of this film onto our TV screens should be worth watching, as that is the format its designed for.