Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Anakin Skywalker's journey to the dark side was completed in 2005's Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge of the Sith. But that hardly means George Lucas and Co. have run out of stories to tell from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Enter Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the debut effort from Lucasfilm Animation. This animated movie chronicles the further adventures of Anakin, Obi-Wan Kenobi and their supporting cast of new and familiar characters. It also serves as an introduction to the Clone Wars series on cable TV's Cartoon Network.
The story takes place during the three-year gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Call it Episode 2.5 if you will. The titular Clone Wars rage as the Jedi guardians of the Galactic Republic engage the droid armies of the Confederacy of Independent Systems (also known as the Separatists), led by the cunning rogue Jedi-turned-Sith lord, Count Dooku.
Dooku has kidnapped Jabba the Hutt's infant son, Rotta (who resembles a wriggling, big-eyed, overgrown tadpole), and has framed the Jedi for the crime. Dooku hopes to secure a treaty between the Separatists and the Hutt clan, who control the shipping lanes in the Outer Rim Territories. Anakin's task: Rescue the Huttlet and thus preserve the Republic's strategically necessary relationship with the slimy interstellar gangster.
Anakin's main sidekick this time around is a young apprentice Jedi named Ahsoka Tano—a headstrong young woman who tests Skywalker's patience. Meanwhile, shadowy Sith assassin Asajj Ventress stalks their every move as they seek to return the littlest Hutt to his daddy.
As with all the Star Wars films, there are many moments of heroism and bravery as Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka place their lives on the line for the sake of one another and for the Republic. That's especially apparent when Anakin and Ahsoka sneak behind enemy lines to disable a shield generator. Likewise, Obi-Wan stands his ground even as hope for victory in a key battle fades. Two Republic officers, Commander Cody and Capt. Rex, also exemplify courage under fire.
Senator Padmé Amidala (Anakin's soul mate, eventual wife and the mother of Luke and Leia) puts herself in considerable peril when she tries to clear the name of the Jedi by visiting Jabba the Hutt's uncle, Ziro the Hutt. Yoda and Mace Windu offer strategic counsel in guiding all these characters through various webs of political intrigue and military confrontations. And, of course, R2-D2 and (to a lesser extent) C-3PO blend comic relief with courage in their stereotypically stalwart support roles.
When Anakin complains about having Ahsoka assigned to him as an apprentice, Obi-Wan reminds him, "Teaching is a privilege" and something that is part of a Jedi's responsibility. Anakin slowly warms to Ahsoka and is able to see the young woman's strengths, one of which is acting in a very motherly way toward young Rotta, who is sick almost to the point of death when they rescue him. (In one of the oddest twists of all, we learn that Jabba is a devoted father who loves his son and refers to him as his little "punkie muffin." Really.)
Anakin's torturous path toward the dark side of the Force is nowhere to be seen in this story. Instead, we've got an old-fashioned, Saturday matinee story of good vs. evil where the distinction between the two is in no danger of being confused.
Speaking of the Force, Clone Wars assumes that viewers are already fully in the know regarding the pseudo-spiritual energy field that the Jedi harness for good and the Sith (dark Jedi) for ill. There are no long, expository conversations about the nature of the Force like the ones that pop up occasionally throughout the live-action films. Mostly, we see how it equips Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka (as well as their dark-side opponents Dooku and Asajj) with superhuman agility in combat, as well as the ability to telekinetically shove objects and people out of their way.
Even though Anakin isn't initially enthusiastic about being paired with Ahsoka, he says, "It's the will of the Force that you're at my side" and that there are "no accidents." These Jedi convictions about what happens and why are broadly similar to the Christian doctrine of providence, which also emphasizes the purposefulness of everything because all events are under God's control.
A character uses spiritual verbiage to talk about the reality of consequences, saying, "Old sins cast long shadows." C-3PO says, "Oh, thank the maker."
Both Jabba and Ziro employ female entertainers whose dancing is somewhat sensual. The woman who dances for Jabba wears a form-fitting full-body outfit that's much less revealing than the one that's seen in Return of the Jedi. In the case of Ziro's dancer, we see her silhouette as she undulates in the darkened background behind him. Ahsoka's outfit reveals her midriff, while Asajj's exposes some cleavage.
Also, it seems that there may be more to Ziro than him being just a quirkier Hutt than Jabba. Shawn Adler, writing for MTV Movies Blog, states, "OK, let's be straight for a second: Jabba's uncle, Ziro the Hutt, a new character introduced specifically for the upcoming animated series, is a gay stereotype that makes what Jar Jar Binks represented to the island of Jamaica look subtle by comparison. It's not the look or design that pushes it over the top into stereotype, of course, but the voice (performed by Corey Burden), a lispy, high-pitched twang purposively reminiscent of Truman Capote." Adler goes on to report that it was George Lucas himself who asked for the lisp.
Combat scenes permeate The Clone Wars as the Jedi square off against droid armies on the ground and their fleet of warships in space. Lasers and lightsabers play a dominate role in frequent firefights that include a considerable number of explosions and casualties on both sides. Droids meet their end in all manner of ways, including getting their metallic heads lopped off.
More intense is when a similar fate befalls several Republic soldiers who're wearing armor from head to toe. Several take energy shots to the head and are knocked down so fast it seems as if they, too, were decapitated. One beam blasts a hole all the way through the torso of a soldier. Combatants on both sides meet a fiery death in space as well, especially when a small craft crashes into the landing bay of a larger transport ship.
The majority of the violence is free from blood and gore. One notable exception: The heads of four failed bounty hunters are presented to Jabba on a plank of wood.
An obligatorily extended lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Asajj ends without either warrior vanquishing the other. Dooku has the ability to hurl lightning bolts from his fingertips, and Asajj uses the Force to choke a man, à la Darth Vader.
Crude or Profane Language
One "d--n." Beyond that, the worst of it is the putdown "scum."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Ziro smokes from a hose-like apparatus.
Other Negative Elements
Anakin doesn't think much of Ahsoka at first, largely because he's arrogant and not interested in training anyone else. He often dismisses Ahsoka's good ideas about how to deal with the problems they face. And his pride keeps getting them into trouble—a character trait that's consistent with how he's depicted in the live-action flicks. Anakin's grumpiness is also evident in his disdainful attitude toward Jabba's son, whom he dubs "Stinky" (a moniker reinforced by the Huttlet's loud belch).
Dooku schemes, manipulates and lies constantly. As does the series' ultimate villain, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who is secretly an evil Sith lord plotting the fall of the Republic.
I've never been to a movie where sparkling white, armor-clad Imperial Stormtroopers guarded the box office. Until Star Wars: The Clone Wars, that is.
At the pre-release screening I attended in suburban Denver, the line of devotees snaked around the block. And Stormtroopers weren't the only ones in attendance. One family sported authentic-looking Jedi robes—Dad, Mom, the kids, everyone. And a woman from a fan club talked with me about her group's prized possession: a three-quarter-size X-Wing fighter.
It's a testament to the enduring cultural mystique of George Lucas' Star Wars saga that even an animated offering such as this inspires rabid identification among the faithful. And it's exactly fans like these who'll likely continue queuing up throughout the film's theatrical run—then buy the Blu-ray DVD and watch the TV series—to discover what Lucas might still have to offer that's new and interesting.
As it turns out, there's little that's changed here except for the downshift from live action to computer animation. From a fan's perspective, Clone Wars is neither breathtaking nor awful. Mostly, we get more of the same stiff dialogue and rather predictable storytelling that Lucas majored on in the last three movies. (He served as executive producer on this project, but did not write the screenplay.) Combat is intense—plenty o' lasers and 'splosions—but for the most part the ride is quite smooth. The major bumps being a brief glimpse of four unfortunate bounty hunters' noggins and a soldier who gets a hole blasted in his chest.
In other words, it's cartoonish.
Which is exactly the point. At the end of the day, Star Wars: The Clone Wars isn't really intended to be a stand-alone theatrical offering. Think of it instead as a marketing vehicle for the upcoming Cartoon Network series, an 88-minute big-screen preview of what you can likely expect when the story migrates to the tube.
Still, if 30-plus years of Star Wars history—coupled with the image of those watchful Jedi and Stormtroopers in Denver—is any indication, I'd say it's probably unwise to underestimate the drawing power of the Force. And, if you twist that phrase a half-turn, it's probably unwise to dismiss the drawing power of the Force, especially upon young new fans who may just be discovering the George Lucas universe for the first time. Those who are curious about the heroes and villains he's crafted will certainly need some help navigating the violent and spiritual worldview that the franchise as a whole espouses—even if this film mostly assumes that everyone is totally familiar with it already.