It's no secret that I love Star Wars -- and not just "the old ones" but all six movies: their mythic scope, their conceptual and visual inventiveness, the cheesy characters and blunt dialogue, the structural complexity, the joy they take in speed and color. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the all-new animated Star Wars adventure, is a worthy addition to the original six-film cycle, staying true to the spirit of the series while overhauling it in a number of important ways.
Expanding the Star Wars Universe
Ever since George Lucas slapped the words "Episode IV" on the crawl of the original Star Wars
movie, he promised that the planned six-film cycle would complete the series. The rise and fall of Darth Vader forms a narrative arc that begins in 1999's The Phantom Menace
and ends in 1983's The Return of the Jedi
. (Is there another series anywhere that devotes six feature films to the story of its main character's life?) But for decades now, the rich world of Star Wars
has been mined in a variety of other formats -- the comic books, novels, video games, and animated shorts that make up the "expanded universe
." Like the forthcoming Clone Wars
TV series, the first animated Star Wars
feature fits neatly into the three year gap between Episodes II and III, filling in events and introducing new characters without undermining the integrity of the original series.
With a script by Henry Gilroy, director Dave Filoni (working closely under Lucas's tutelage) changes the pitch of the film to fit with the new animated aesthetic: rendered in beautiful 3D, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Count Dooku and all the others look like hand-painted action figures in world flooded with dramatic color. The fresh, anime-inspired look goes along with a lighter, more playful tone. Gone are the operatic lines that gave prequel haters such ample ammunition. Instead of a brooding, tragic figure, Anakin (voiced by Matt Lanter) is a reckless fighter, and his secret lover Padme (Catherine Taber) gets in a few good shots of her own.
Sky Guy, Snips, and Jabba the Hutt's Baby
Aimed more squarely at kids, The Clone Wars isn't entirely free of the occasional cheesy groaner, but many of the jokes are actually funny. A lot of the sassy new attitude is provided by girl Jedi Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), a red-skinned dervish with thick tails on her head and a green lightsaber she uses in a special back-handed way. Assigned to Anakin as his padawan learner (she calls him "Sky Guy," he calls her "Snips"), spirited Ahsoka has to prove herself in the battles between clones and droids that ensue when the wormy baby son of Jabba the Hutt is kidnapped by mysterious bounty hunters.
Non-Stop Excitement and Jedi Derring-Do
Did I say ensue? In fact, the battles are already raging when the movie starts, and they barely stop to fill us in on plot and characters. None of the other Star Wars
movies -- which were partially animated but weighed down by their human actors -- offer nearly as much non-stop excitement. In another updating of hallowed Star Wars conventions, The Clone Wars
features a groovier world music take on John Williams' iconic score and does away with the famous opening crawl. Instead, a narrator brings us up to speed on this episode's events with a voice-over that seems ripped straight from the 1930s serials Lucas was riffing on in the first place.
Overwhelmed by the bold new imagery, I missed the setup, but so what? Before you have any idea what is happening, the Jedi are already engaged in feats of such derring-do that it doesn't matter which planet they're on or whose army they're fighting. If you thought the prequels spent too much time with debates of the Galactic Senate and in the offices of the Supreme Chancellor, this movie's for you.
For every convention that's been tweaked, Filoni faithfully serves up the tropes and in-jokes Star Wars fans have come to expect. Anakin jumps, Obi-Wan negotiates, famous lines are repeated, Threepio and Artoo save the day. There are traps and crash landings, smugglers, incompetent droids, and nefarious plots. Commanders Cody and Rex get screen time, and Ventress, a new villain first spotted in Cartoon Network's animated series, unsheathes her light sabers for a climactic confrontation.
Warner Bros, the new distributor for the independent Lucasfilm production, screened Star Wars: The Clone Wars early on a Sunday morning, and I couldn't imagine a more perfect time slot for this perfect matinee film. It's easily the most fun I've had at the movies all summer.