The rise and fall of the Star Wars franchise has been so well documented by so many people, especially online, that I don’t need to waste time telling you how I feel about it. Everyone born in the late 70s/early 80s has pretty much the same relationship Star Wars. We loved it, then we kind of forgot about it, then we loved it again and then we got really crazy about it in like 1998, then the prequels came out and people’s love devolved into various states of anger and disappointment.
Then the Clone Wars movie happened.
Clone Wars was so wrong-headed, puerile and good old fashioned stupid that it left even the most jaded former-fan kind of dumbfounded and the most lenient fanboy with little to defend. Clone Wars was doubly disappointing as the pilot to a new Star Wars animated series which, at the time it was announced, had me pretty excited. As Genndy Tartakovsky proved with his own, far superior, Clone Wars cartoon, Lucas’ universe can still be fun in the right hands and an episodic show with multiple creators seemed like the perfect vehicle to make Star Wars something approaching relevant again.
Does it work?
Based on the four episodes here: Kind of.
The show so far is completely, baseline, C-Grade mediocre which, in context, is kind of a minor triumph.
Episode 1: Ambush
Katuunko, the king of the Toydarian system (Watto’s home for anyone who cares) is all set to meet with Yoda on some moon somewhere that looks suspiciously like Felucia (the Star Wars planet, not the city in Iraq). Yoda is still en route when Asajj Ventress (the admittedly pretty badass female Sith from Tartakovsky’s series) shows up and says something to the effect of “How can the Jedi protect you when they cannot protect themselves?” and to prove her point, sends her droid army after Yoda his three clone buddies. The rest of the episode is pretty much an excuse to have Yoda deliver inspirational speeches and smack robots around.
I appreciate that they try to make Yoda seem more like the Jedi Master of Empire and less like the goblinoid Patton of the prequel films. He spends as much time bolstering his clones as he does cutting tanks in half and the effort at actual characterization is appreciated, even if his actual dialogue is kind of stupid (At one point, he asks the clones to take their helmets off so that he can see their faces. The clones quip that it won’t matter, because they all have the same face and Yoda replies that they are all unique snowflakes to the Force, which begs the question, ‘why did he have them take their helmets off to begin with’).
This episodes is also a great showcase for the series’ most consistent irritation: Battle Droids.
The clanky retards were pretty annoying in the movies but here, perhaps with the welcome lack of Jar Jars and Stinky the Hutts, they take center stage in the which-Star-Wars-character-can-be-the-most-gratingly-incompetent talent show. At one point when asked why he is so goddamn useless (paraphrasing), a Battle Droid replies “It’s my programming!” which kind of casts a poor light on Anakin, Obi Wan and Yoda as, if the Separatists are intentionally programming their robots to be morons, their hearts obviously aren’t in the whole war thing to begin with.
Episodes 2-4: Rising Malevolence/Shadow of Malevolence/Destroy Malevolence
The rest of the disk is a three-part mini-epic that, when viewed together, form a much better Clone Wars movie than the actual Clone Wars movie. Master Plo Koon’s (The squiddy, gas-mask-wearing Jedi) fleet is attacked by a Separatist Ion-Cannon ship called, no kidding, Malevolence (which when, as the last episode established, you are trying to win the hearts and minds of neutral systems, might not be the friendliest thing to name your ship. At this point, if they want to up the ante on evil sounding Sith armaments, they will have to start naming them with full sentences describing brutal sexual assault), which uses a sort of EMP to leave Plo’s fleet dead in the water (space).
The first episode is a kind of tense, submarine-style story with Plo and his clones floating in space, awaiting Jedi rescue, while Battle Droids fly around, ripping open the individual vessels and dumping the helpless passengers into the cold void. The tension is diminished somewhat by the fact that these are Battle Droids and, as such, are about as menacing as ducks with a penchant for slapstick, but overall it works. There is some kind of nice, approaching-subtle-for-Star-Wars stuff about Anakin maybe not being the best person to be training a Padawan and said Padawan (Ahsoka Tano) is far less irritating than she was in the movie.
The second and third episodes devolve into pretty classic/standard/cliched Star Wars, with the inevitable kidnappings, ship battles and assault on the Malevolence. But it works. As I mentioned, my expectations for this series were so abysmally low that anything that isn’t actively bad feels like a breath of fresh, clean air.
I still don’t know about the style. They seem to be going for a kind of Thunderbirds wooden puppet look and while that does give the sometimes embarrassingly stiff animation a context, it feel anachronistic is the Space Opera setting. That being said, it is still a step above most television CG animation and the more I see it, the more I am getting used to it. The DVD copy I received wouldn’t actually work in true wide-screen mode, so I had to fiddle with my TV’s settings and even then, it would only appear as a small, low-res box in the middle of the screen. This didn’t look like a review copy, so if you have a wide-screen TV, you may have some issues with the disk itself.
Audio is predictably stellar.
It’s not bad, it’s not great. But it does give me (a new) hope. I hear that the second half of this season showed even further improvement and, like a battered woman who just won’t learn her lesson, I find myself kind of looking forward to something Star Wars again.
FINAL GRADE: C minus
Within the Canon of Star Wars Movies: B minus
As an Improvement over the Clone Wars Movie: A
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