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Going back to its serial roots, this new STAR WARS adventure feels like a chapter in a continuing story while standing on its own as an individual story. Unlike PHANTOM MENACE it stands on its own. Not only the animation moves this installment into a new direction. The light blue “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” is still present, but the signature text crawl has been replaced by a Gary Owen-ish announcer, filling us in on what has preceded this story. Big on action and pun-filled banter, this film reminded me of the fun I had with SKY CAPTAIN more than any of the STAR WARS prequels.
The Clone Wars are raging. Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter, HEROES first season) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor, TV’s DRAWN TOGETHER) are battling the Separatists droid army, led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, LORD OF THE RINGS). Yoda (Tom Kane, TV’s KIM POSSIBLE) has assigned Anakin a padawan learner named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein, TV’s THAT’S SO RAVEN), a snippy young girl who is desperate to prove herself. Anakin resists having a pupil at first, but takes to the brash young Jedi quickly. They are given the mission to rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hut (Kevin Michael Richardson, TV’s THE BATMAN), whose help is needed by the Republic in their war effort. But Count Dooku sends his assassin Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman, TV’s MY GYM PARTNER’S A MONKEY) to thwart their efforts.
Capturing the same dynamic between Luke, Leia and Han that filled the original STAR WARS, CLONE WARS has a sense of fun adventure. While the tone, with its silly puns, skews young, it never dips into the childishness that tanked PHANTOM MENACE or the duo of EWOK TV movies. Not bogged down by a cliché-ridden love story, this film takes the good parts of ATTACK OF THE CLONES, mainly the dynamic between Anakin and Obi-Wan, and expands on it. The addition of Ahsoka works well in the developing character study of Anakin’s journey to the Dark Side. His reckless personality isn’t suitable for having an apprentice, but that’s the point. A crafty teacher Yoda has always been.
Serving as a continuation of the 2D animated CLONE WARS series that aired on Cartoon Network, this 3D animated production borrows the formers character design, transforms it to 3D, and adds a brush-stroke feel to the characters that make them less plastic looking than typical 3D humans. Most people will already know that this film was originally conceived as a TV series with the feature spawning from that project, which debuts this fall on Cartoon Network. Those who didn’t know won’t care, because this film is its own entity. As for the animation, it’s not going to win any character animation awards. The performances can be stiff and plodding from time to time, especially when characters walk. It’s not as bad as watching game cinematics, a common comment over the Net, but it’s nowhere near the caliber of character animation that many of the top American feature studios have established. But let’s be honest, has acting ever been a concern of the STAR WARS franchise?
Director Dave Filoni, a self-proclaimed STAR WARS geek, has done justice to what his master George Lucas created more than 30 years ago. With Lucas handing over the reins to younger artists who grew up on STAR WARS, it will be exciting to see where the series goes from here. Animation is a wonderful way to keep the fantasy/sci-fi world and its characters alive for new generations. Hopefully, the animation will improve, making the productions more emotionally engaging. But THE CLONE WARS shows promise. I went in fearing that I was going to hate it, but it won me over. I could see its faults, but I don’t have to apologize for them like the first two prequels made me do. After years of therapy, I have come to terms with the fact that PHANTOM MENACE is not a very good movie. However, CLONE WARS reminded me of why I loved the original STAR WARS series as a kid, and it allows the franchise to put Jar Jar Binks behind it and still engage the imaginations of a new generation of kids.