It was about a year and a half ago when Koz called to tell me they were making a Star Wars cartoon, about the Clone Wars, which take place between Episode II and III. I was cautiously optimistic. I am a huge fan of the Star Wars movies, but other than playing with the toys as a kid, have never gotten into any of the other aspects to the franchise like books, RPGs, video games or actively hating things about Star Wars because I can't grasp how twenty years might change me more than it changed Lucas. (That's the last I will say on that subject today; I have written about it before, and probably will again.)
The series was officially going to be called "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Simple enough, until an IMDB search showed me there was already a cartoon series about the Clone Wars back in 2003!
(What else happened while I was up in Canada that you're not telling me about, America? Come clean!)
I soon figured out what was going on, and saw those cartoons on DVD. (For the record, they are called "Star Wars: Clone Wars." Note the lack of "the" in the title. Hmmm. More on that later.)
The reason I'm writing today is that "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" debuted Friday night on Cartoon Network, with encore episodes tonight and later in the week. I am writing these short reviews for people who were/are fans of the Star Wars films, so might be interested in a cartoon, but are hesitant about jumping into something that may be derivative work.
If that sounds like you, read on.
STAR WARS: CLONE WARS
I think we should start back with the 2003 series. It was developed and produced by Cartoon Network Studios (not LucasFilm), though I'm sure with Lucas's blessing. The series consisted of 25 episodes in three volumes. The first two volumes (twenty episodes) are each three minutes long. The final volume of five episodes is a little different, with each episode 12-15 minutes in length.
What can you do in three minutes? At first, it may not sound like much. Obviously these are not "character-driven" dramas. The first twenty episodes are mostly set-ups for battles. The last five are a little more complicated, featuring some character development and even two new bad guys. The animation is weird looking at first, definitely takes some getting used to, but grows on you. All of the voices are different except C-3PO, but to be honest there is not a lot of talking. Most of the plots involve fighting, and feature a variety of the characters, including Mace Windu and Yoda, and especially Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.
Why am I taking the time to write this DVD up? I don't know what a non-Star Wars fan would think of them. The cartoons were designed for kids--not us, but kids--but not being a kid any more, I'm not sure what kids would think of them either. (My guess? = Love.)
What I do know is that they get better as they go, and I find them almost essential as a fan of the Star Wars movies. For one thing, it was this cartoon series (which debuted BEFORE Episode III) which introduces us to General Grievous. You know how in Episode III Grievous just shows up out of nowhere, and is slightly injured, and it's no big deal because you just roll with it, but it's a tiny bit confusing? All that confusion would have been avoided if I had seen these cartoons first.
More intriguing than Grievous is Asajj Ventress. She's Count Dooku's new Sith apprentice, and this is one badass Sith! I kind of wish she'd been a big character in REVENGE OF THE SITH.
Anyway, the bottom line is: you can watch both volumes (all twenty-five episodes) of "Star Wars: Clone Wars" in just over two hours. They're fun, frothy, and off-beat. If you ever wanted to watch Mace destroy an entire droid army in three minutes (without his light-saber), this is the place to do it. I think any fan of the movies would find these cartoons charming and fun. They may not live up to the films, but they are not supposed to.
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (movie)
A few months ago it was announced there was going to be a new Star Wars movie. I discovered it was a lead in to this fall's new cartoon series. What differentiates this series is that LucasFilm is doing the animation and is more involved in the story. While I'm sure Lucas supplied ideas and signed off on everything in the 2003 work, I think it is more akin to The Animatrix than aligned in the Star Wars universe. If that makes sense. On the other hand, these new cartoons are canon, or so I gather. (Which is why they are called THE Clone Wars. Or maybe I'm being too definite in this article about definite articles.)
I cannot review the movie directly. I haven't seen most of it, though not from a lack of trying. I was sent a review copy, but it was in horrible shape, with the sound all messed up, which did not help with the experience. I do know the plot involves the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt's little son Rotta. (Yes, it's true that as ugly as Jabba is, his son falls into the "Baby Animals Rule," and is adorable.)
I will say that from what I could gather, the movie felt much more like an extended pilot episode to the show. That would be cool if that's all you were looking for, but might be disappointing if all your "theater" experiences of Star Wars are more epic. (In this regard, it will probably play better on DVD, which is where all of you would end up seeing it anyway, since you didn't see it on the big screen.) There are several new characters introduced, including a new Padawan for Anakin, a spunky fourteen year old orange girl named Ahsoka Tano. I surmise she will be a much bigger character in the show While the episode introduces new characters and elements, it is completely unnecessary to understanding and enjoying the series.
Which brings us to....
THE CLONE WARS (TV series)
The first two episodes debuted Friday night. The reason I rushed to write this all up on a Sunday is that there are replays tonight from 9-10 and Wednesday from 7-8 (Normal Standard Time), with two new episodes every Friday at 8.
I have read several reviews online at various media sites, all pretty much trashing THE CLONE WARS as utter crap, or else consigning it as total kids' fluff. (And since reviews are not written for kids, this is just another way to slam Lucas.)
I read most of these reviews before I saw the first two episodes, and was kind of worried about the quality. Now that I've seen them, I think all of those critics should be sodomized.
I don't know what their deal is, but half of them aren't fans of Star Wars in the first place (in which case, why are you even reviewing it? Pass of the job to someone else. These cartoons were not made for non Star Wars fans, and ARE NOT the vehicle to bring in new fans. That is what the movies are for.), while the other half more interested in savaging Lucas and continuing their narrative that he has produced nothing good since that last party in Endor.
Reasonable people can disagree about the Second Holy Trilogy (people who are stupid idiots, anyway), but what frosts me is the "already-written" feel most reviewers brought into the show with them. I understand that mentality. Sometimes I find myself starting to write a review (in my head) before I even watch a film, and have to catch myself.
But here's the bottom line: The first two episodes of George Lucas's CLONE WARS were delightful, and I would recommend them to any Star Wars fan.
Yes, the show is written for children. But that's nothing new. What many people never quite understood is that the movies were written for children too. (This is why Yoda seemed so wonderful when you were younger but Jar-Jar seemed so annoying twenty years later. Well, partly why.) It does not matter who is the intended audience. Surely Harry Potter taught us that. What matter is the level of enjoyment, and I repeat my assertion that fans of Star Wars would enjoy this series.
The epic nature of Star Wars is obviously not there, not in twenty-two minute cartoons. The grim realities of the second trilogy are gone, even in a cartoon about war, as that would be inappropriate for a cartoon aimed at younger audiences. And the actors are not there, although some of the voices, like Samuel L. Jackson, are.
What is there is that whiz-bang sense of fun that Star Wars has always had. The battle droids have line after line that just cracked me up. Sure, they're cheesy, but all great Star Wars lines are cheesy! If you can't see that, you've missed the point. Plus, there's Yoda the Zen master, and you can never have too much of him.
The animation is different from the 2003 series, more 3-D and rendered, but still takes some getting used to. At times it looks downright human, and then at other times very odd. I think three or four episodes in all will seem normal.
CLONE WARS may not be essential, but it is absolutely added to my TV calendar, and I think you should consider it too. Maybe you'll just roll your eyes, but anyone with the heart of a wookie will likely throw back his head and yell, "Hnn-rowr yrroonn nng rarrr!"
October 5, 2008