‘Clone Wars’ is too late, too little
August 20, 2008
Gone on long enough, the Star Wars cycle has. And it’s still going, with “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” in theaters and setting the stage for a television series on Cartoon Network and TNT domestically, as well as CTV in Canada.
“The Clone Wars” and its TV spawn fit between the second and third films chronologically in the canon, chronicling in cartoon form the war that follows “Attack of the Clones.” I’ve wasted enough of one newspaper’s ink detailing my views on Episodes I-III, but I find it pretty easy to encapsulate them with an anagram of “Sith.”
When “Revenge of the Sith” came out in 2005, I speculated that the prequels suffered because the filmmakers brought the boring stuff ” trade federations and the interplanetary legislative process ” front and center at the expense of the original trilogy’s swashbuckling action. The CGI guys got really good at grafting tentacles and extra heads onto minor characters, but that didn’t make them do anything as interesting as suck down cocktails at the Mos Isley cantina.
It’s heartening that “The Clone Wars” puts the emphasis on action. As such, it’s less dreary than any of the prequels because the principals, the clones and the droids are fighting rather than sitting around the galactic Senate chamber blathering on about midi-chlorians.
Ewan McGregor notwithstanding, it’s really the first time they’ve injected some life into the franchise since the pod race. The result is, indeed, a lot more fun than the dour prequels, and opening the universe up to the interpretation of artists holds potential, especially considering what cartoonists with a sense of have come up with.
Less fun are the characters peopling the Old Republic. Hayden Christensen has shouldered much of the blame for making the pre-Vader less intimidating and inscrutable than unlikeable. The wooden Christensen’s brooding certainly doesn’t help, but I wonder if the quality of the characters in the Star Wars universe is decreasing in proportion to the number populating it.
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Letting Christensen off the hook, voice actor Matt Lanter stands in as Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker, mentor to the apprentice Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). It’s worth noting that the only actors who voice their live-action roles are Sir Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels and, briefly, Samuel L. Jackson.
(And calling it “live action” is a stretch: As other movie reviewers have pointed out, the prequel trilogy is so cartoony that going all the way isn’t that jarring. To me, making the whole movie animated felt more honest and less distracting than mixing green screens and live action in the prequels.)
The focus is on Anakin and Ahsoka as they bicker their way through secret Jedi missions during the titular war, most notably rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s larva (who isn’t much more tolerable than Jar Jar Binks). She nicknames him “Sky Guy,” he calls her “Snips,” and that’s supposed to evoke the prickly camaraderie of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original trilogy.
George Lucas & Co. threw Jar Jar under the landspeeder after “Phantom Menace,” but what great characters have emerged before Episode IV? Palpatine doesn’t count since he was in the originals, nor does Mace Windu, because he’s just Jules Winfield, our man in Coruscant.
Anakin in his final throes as an antihero before donning Vader’s mantle should be more compelling. Maybe it’s a little dark for a cartoon spinning off to TV, but wouldn’t painting the relationship between the conflicted Jedi and his padawan as a Dark Side “Training Day” have been a blast, with Anakin the Alonzo Harris of the Outer Rim? (“Darth Maul ain’t got shit on me!”)
At least Lanter’s no worse than Christensen (who, I shuddered to learn, is likely to play Case in the film adaptation of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”). But there’s not much substance to the new characters glomming on the franchise, and the old favorites are getting progressively more shrill with each iteration.
Annoying even Yoda has become.
It’s progress, though. Even if the dialogue’s still lame, it’s not front-and-center as in the prequel trilogy. Still, the galaxy is far away from its high-water mark a long, long time ago, and I don’t think moving forward will bring it back.