Star Wars: The Clone Wars (United States/Singapore, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Poster

When I was sitting in a theater during the summer of 1977 enthralled by the spectacle that was Star Wars, never did I imagine that, some 31 years later, I would find myself wishing it would go away. Overmerchandising, fan unfriendliness, and greed have sapped all that was magical about the Star Wars name. The Clone Wars, as obvious a money-grab as there has ever been, stands alongside the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special as officially sanctioned productions that are better ignored or forgotten. The Clone Wars is the last nail in a coffin that has been propped up ever since George Lucas sold his creative soul in the quest for a few more pieces of gold.

It has been 25 years since the Star Wars saga has moved forward. In that time, we have gotten three movies' worth of back story, but there really hasn't been anything new. The prequels work well enough in the overall picture of things, but there's something a little underwhelming about watching the pieces fall into places where one knows they'll end up. The tragedy of Anakin's fall is less compelling because we know what will happen to him after that fall. Now, with the latest cinematic installment of Star Wars, does Lucas finally give us something new? No. He returns to the time period of the prequels (specifically, the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) and gives us more back story. Only this time, we know the specific fates of all the characters. It's hard to imagine a more pointless endeavor.

To add insult to injury, this isn't even a live-action episode. It's animated. In fact, the movie is really the pilot for a TV series and looks about as stilted as one might expect from something with that pedigree. This isn't quality computer generated animation, it's cut rate stuff. It might look okay on a television but, blown up on the big screen, it looks cheesy. The space ships and droids are okay, but the humans have the appearance of old-time Christmas tree ornaments. The Star Wars action figures have more personality. Then there are the voices. Most of the actors declined invitations to provide their vocal talents, so we have a group of unfamiliar actors giving voice to the animated likenesses of Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Padme. Only Samuel L. Jackson (as Mace Windu), Anthony Daniels (as C3PO), and Christopher Lee (as Count Dooku) provide a tenuous link to things past. (This gives Daniels the distinction of being the only actor to have participated in all seven Star Wars motion pictures.)

The Clone Wars is a good example of how action can be boring. Roughly 50% of the movie features droids and clone troopers blasting each other. Repetitive doesn't even begin to cover it. A lot of the other stuff is anti-climactic. For example, there's a lightsaber duel between Anakin and Count Dooku, but since we've already seen the final confrontation between the two in Revenge of the Sith, this feels more than a little unnecessary. From the moment it begins, we know it's destined to end in a stalemate, so what's the point?

The story centers on a plot by Dooku and his minions to capture Jabba the Hut's son and frame the Jedi Knights for his abduction and death. The Jedi, meanwhile, are negotiating a treaty with Jabba to move their ships through the areas controlled by his bandits. Obi-Wan (voice of James Arnold Taylor, who sounds surprisingly like Ewan McGregor), Anakin (Matt Lanter), and Anakin's new padwan, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), are dispatched to rescue little Jabba and deliver him safe and sound to his rotund papa. Of course, along the way, they face severe resistance from Dooku's droid troops.

Throughout the six live action films, Lucas created a number of memorable sidekick characters - some successful, some not so successful. C3PO and R2D2 rank at the top of the former category, and are viewed by many as the most endearing inhabitants of the Star Wars universe. Then there's Jar Jar Binks, and the less said about him, the better. (To his credit, Lucas heeded the negative feedback and phased Jar Jar out of the series after The Phantom Menace.) The Clone Wars gives us Ashoka Tano, a bratty teenage girl who is nearly an annoying as Jar Jar, but without the accent. Since she's nowhere to be found by the time we get to Revenge of the Sith, one must assume she's not going to make it through the TV series. Sadly, her demise does not occur at any time during The Clone Wars.

There's just enough of John Williams' main title to trick us into momentarily believing this is a true Star Wars movie, but even that has been re-mixed so it doesn't sound quite right. The incidental music is adequate but, considering what we have come to expect from the Star Wars features, it sounds pedestrian. It's another example of how much the entire project feels like a cheap knock-off - an attempt to prey on whatever little good will still exists in Star Wars fandom. Judging by the surprisingly sparse audience at the "free" promotional screening, however, there's not much enthusiasm out there for The Clone Wars. Gatherings for pre-release screenings of Revenge of the Sith were madhouses, with lines circling blocks. There were rows of empty seats for The Clone Wars. This surely won't be the last time Lucas attempts to wring blood from his Star Wars stone, but perhaps this golden egg is hard-boiled.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (United States/Singapore, 2008)

Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2008-08-15
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1