Cartoon fun Star Wars style

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
United States, 2008
Directed By: Dave Filoni
Written By: Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Scott Murphy
Starring: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein
Running Time: 98 min.
Rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking
3 out of 5 stars
Here’s a little-known fact: Jabba the Hutt has a flamboyantly gay uncle. His name is Ziro the Hutt (voiced by Corey Burton), and he lives on the metropolis planet of Coruscant, where he sits around being fanned by handsome men and talking like Truman Capote. This is the sort of thing you’ll learn from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and frankly, it’s tidbits like this that keep the film from being the huge waste of time it should have been. I’m sure most critics will lambast it for being ham-handed, spurious, and silly, but frankly, they’re missing the point. The Clone Wars isn’t essential by any means, and it admittedly has some problems, but who cares? It’s a lot of fun.

The Clone Wars is a fully computer animated film, the first production of the newly-created Lucasfilm Animation, and functions as the lead-in to the future Cartoon Network series of the same name. I’m not entirely sure the whole thing is at all necessary, since there was already a (cel-animated) Cartoon Network series called Star Wars: Clone Wars, but who am I to judge? If Lucas likes his Clone Wars, I say, let him have ‘em. In any case, the most recent Star Wars trilogy (episodes I-III) was almost entirely computer animated anyway, so this makes pretty good sense. The only difference here is that the stiff, wooden actors have been replaced by stiff, wooden CGI characters. (You’ll hardly even notice.)
Story-wise, this takes place between episodes II and III. I’m not going to try terribly hard to parse it all out, since the prequels have the most convoluted of storylines—the sort that only the most hardcore of Star Wars fanboys claim to understand (and even they are lying). It goes something like this, though: Obi-wan Kenobi (voice of James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) are fighting in the Clone Wars against the proto-Evil Empire (which consists of a rebellious count, a mysterious guy in a cloak, and a bunch of robots). In order to gain access to “trade routes,” the bad guys have kidnapped the son of Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson) and are attempting to frame the Jedi for the act. Yoda (Tom Kane) and Obi-wan have assigned Anakin a padawan (i.e., a Jedi-in-training)—a girl named Ashoka (Ashley Eckstein)—and the two of them have to rescue little Rotta the Huttlet.
If that didn’t make sense to you, it’s not really worth figuring out, so don’t bother. The whole thing is rubbish, of course—but in that sense, it’s no worse than the previous three Star Wars films. We all may as well face it—the whole idea behind all three of the prequels was misguided from the beginning. The fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of the Evil Empire make for a fascinating back-story to the original trilogy, but they fall apart when asked to stand on their own as entertainment. By way of example, would anyone be interested in reading an entire novel about Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread, and then languishing in prison for a couple decades? Or would you watch a play about Hamlet’s uncle killing his father? Not so much, right?
Of course we could argue about that until the wampas come home, but the point is this: as long as Lucas is focused on the pre-Imperial years of the Star Wars universe, he’s going to make comparatively inferior entertainment. This is simply a fact, and exactly how inferior you think it is will be determined by your level of fanboy-ness. I personally am a Star Wars fan, in the sense that I represent what the phrase “Star Wars fan” would have meant in the 1980’s—in other words, I like the original trilogy. I’ve never read any of the books, and I’ve never been overly impressed by any of the myriad videogames (frankly, I wish LucasArts would get back to making Monkey Island sequels). I never felt the need to see any of episodes I-III more than once. But—and this surprised me somewhat—I still had a lot of fun with The Clone Wars.
This appeal is largely due to a surprisingly strong sense of visual style (and in fact, this is the main reason that Lucas has cited for this theatrical debut). The whole thing is computer generated, but everything looks like it was painted on canvas. This gives it almost a stop-motion effect, but the sharp angles and smooth lines grant it an anime-esque dynamism and immediacy. Combined with an expressive palette, it makes Star Wars: The Clone Wars a feast for the senses (even if John William’s bombastic score has been mostly replaced with some generic rock guitars).
The occasional wink at the audience doesn’t hurt either, and there are numerous nods and nudges, such as the aforementioned Ziro, who is nothing short of hilarious. There are other bits as well, such as the vaguely cute Rotta the Huttlet and the snarky (if somewhat banal) repartee between Anakin and Ashoka. (Also, those annoying Trade Federation battle droids have been turned into goofy comic relief, which is what they always should have been.) This is all proof of what can happen when Lucas (who is credited here as executive producer) takes his lead fist out of the proceedings a bit and lets his cohorts have some fun. Often, the lame dialogue weighs things down (“This could be a rough landing!”), but seriouslythis is poetry compared to anything in the last three films.
All in all, the visual flourish (and there is much of it) is far and away the best aspect of the film—and as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth the price of admission by itself (even if it relies a bit too heavily on motion capture). To those who hold Star Wars sacred, I guess this will be another insult, but to those of us who know it was never really worth taking seriously anyway, it’s a fun ride.

About the author:
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Luke Harrington currently resides in Tulsa and works in the aerospace industry–but, at any given moment, would probably rather be reviewing movies.  In his spare time, he’s off playing blues piano and pretending to be Assistant Editor for