Thursday, August 21, 2008

Clone Wars! If you should bemoan wars...

(Sing the title to yourself in the style of Bill Murray's Nick the Lounge Singer character from SNL, and it may make a little more sense.)

I must be some sort of V.I.P., because I had my very own private screening of the new animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie last night! Of course, it's probably just that I was the only ticket they sold to a 9:20 P.M. showing of what is, ostensibly, a kids' movie - which was probably bad news for the movie itself, but was great for me - but I'm gonna cling to the V.I.P. theory, if that's alright. Give me this, okay?

Anyway, the short, short version is that I liked it quite a bit. You want more details, you'll have to keep reading. It might get a little SPOILERY, though, so if you haven't seen it yet and still plan to, you've been warned. I'm gonna pull a Mike Sterling and list my thoughts in between some images... they'll start below this first picture of Ahsoka and Anakin, and they'll end with a second picture of them. Got it? Good. Let's go!


  • Okay, let's get the elephant Hutt in the room out of the way... the animation takes a little getting used to. Until you get used to it, it looks like one big video game cut scene. And once you do get used to it, it looks like a next gen Gerry & Sylvia Anderson project... maybe more Captain Scarlet than Thunderbirds , but still, there's a definite "bastard child of CGI and Supermarionation" feel going on here that requires some mental adjustment. It does allow for some interesting character designs, and everything looks to have a very unique texture, and in the end, it probably makes it easier to watch than it would be if the people looked more realistic, since the whole "uncanny valley" issue never really comes into play.

  • Besides the general look of things, you know right off the bat that this is a much different Star Wars than you're used to... a WB logo instead of the usual 20th Century Fox fanfare, a unique Clone Wars logo instead of the standard Star Wars one, and an actual narrative voice-over instead of the traditional opening expository crawl text. That was probably the biggest shock to my system. I mean, it worked - you still the Saturday matinee serial effect from it - but still, you go in with certain expectations, you know?

  • And speaking of that Saturday matinee feel, this is probably one of the most action-packed chapters of Star Wars anything ever. The characters are all just constantly in the soup this time, jumping from one giant battle to the next with very little breathing room in between. But it uses the downtime well, I thought... lots of nice character bits that helped establish some new relationships, strengthen old ones, and generally move the plot along. No endless prattling about intergalactic parliamentary procedure or socio-economics here, thankfully.

  • The plot itself was pretty interesting, and it fit into the larger framework of the movie saga well, I thought. I know a lot of people expressed concern that this would feel like it was retreading old ground, since we've seen so much of the Clone Wars era before through the new trilogy and the previous animated series, but it didn't feel tired or particularly extraneous to me. There's quite a gap in that first cartoon between where Anakin becomes a Jedi Knight and the point where it starts the lead-in to Revenge of the Sith, and this is clearly in that gap. There's still a lot of wiggle room to play with in there before things start feeling excessively tacked on, I think.

  • It was great to hear Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Anthony Daniels all back to voice their characters - it really gives the entire project the feeling that it still matters - but the real stand-out here was Matt Lanter as Anakin. It's amazing how you can actually bring yourself to care about the character when he's played by someone who can, you know, actually seem to act (and, admittedly, probably directed by someone who doesn't think all dialogue should be delivered in a state of dull surprise). Even in the previous Clone Wars cartoon, the dude voicing Mannequin Skywalker was just echoing Hayden Christiansen's soulless delivery, but here the future Darth Vader actually has - gasp - vocal inflection! It's a welcome change.

  • As for the character of Anakin's new padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano... she was a little grating at first - she's really enthusiastic and a bit cocky - but she won me over pretty quickly, I have to say. And really, she's kind of the perfect apprentice for him in that she's almost more reckless and headstrong than he is. But it just can't end well for Ahsoka, can it? Knowing what's to come, and given Yoda's ominous statement that Anakin's real test as a teacher will be learning to let go of his pupil... yeah, sooner or later, this chick is toast. She's Luke's way-too-optimistic snowspeeder gunner from Empire ("I feel like I could take on the whole Empire by myself!") and a Star Trek red shirt all in one.

  • R2-KT cameo, people! It's cute, and it makes me happy she's canonical now.

  • Whoever wrote the score has clearly been watching a lot of Battlestar Galactica. I didn't have a problem with that, though. As much as I love the work of John Williams, the music in this felt moodier, more urgent, and it captured the feel of the battle sequences pretty well.

  • I know a lot of people were worried that Ziro the Hutt sounding like Truman Capote might seem offensive and stereotypical, but I think it did work for the character. Ziro's character is both decadent and snivelly at the same time, and, well, so was Capote, really. And I don't think they played it too over-the-top, either. It didn't come off as gay-baiting to me, like I've read that some claim it might be, but then again, I'm a straight guy, so I'm looking at this from a different perspective. I'm certainly interested to hear thoughts from anyone who might have been offended by the character's portrayal.

  • Only one burp joke with Jabba's son Rotta ("Stinky") the Hutt in the whole movie, and not one fart joke. I'm impressed by (and thankful for) their restraint.

  • Captain Rex = Space Snake Eyes. Where's his pre-Jedi-killing spin-off, huh? I'd totallk watch or read that!

  • Do we know for sure that this will eventually be shown as part of the TV series? If so, which episodes? Because while it could lead off the show, I'm sure, it seemed to start a little to in medias res to really be a premiere episode, even for a franchise that began at Episode 4.

  • My only big complaint? No one ever has "a bad feeling about this." Come on guys, it's a running gag! I don't ask for much. Well, okay, actually I do. But I'm asking for this, too. I'm assuming it shows up in the series at some point then?


Star Wars: The Clone Wars isn't always a perfect movie, but it's a very fun 98 minutes at the movie theater (especially when there's no one else there to bug you). It's probably different than what your used to, but it's still recognizably Star Wars.

And you know, after the prequel trilogy and everything, I'm of the opinion that a different take on the material is probably a good thing.
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