Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Note: This article was originally published in Technician on August 26, 2008.


Clone Wars continues downward trend of franchise

Star Wars fans have had a rough ride the past few years.

Considering the cultural impact and quality of the original Star Wars trilogy, most people contend that the latest batch of films was tolerable at best, and the cinematic equivalent of a colonoscopy at worst. The last decade has seen the release of a plethora of Star Wars-themed television shows and video games, many of them poorly received. It's as if George Lucas himself has forgotten what made the classic trilogy so great, and is now merely using its name to line his pockets with even more money.

Enter Clone Wars, an animated feature film set between Episodes II and III. Except, it's not really a feature film. Instead it consists of the first four episodes of the television show with the same name set to premiere on Cartoon Network this fall. Could this be what makes Star Wars relevant again, or is it just another low point in the history of a franchise long diluted?

Unfortunately, it's the latter.

The plot mainly focuses on Anakin Skywalker and his new apprentice, Ahsoka, as they try to track down Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son. Yes, Jabba has a son, and his name is Stinky. He also has an uncle named Ziro, who sounds like a cross between Truman Capote and Cartman. After all, why have character development when you can have fart jokes and gender stereotypes instead?

Most of the film's 98-minute running time is spent with action scenes, so the audience doesn't have time to dwell on the paper-thin story. Unfortunately, although the filmmakers have managed to choreograph some fairly well-constructed battle scenes, the old-fashioned Star Wars spirit seems to have been lost in the transfer to animation. The sight of dozens of clone troopers getting mowed down, heavy armaments raining down missile fire, and huge droids being torn apart by lightsabers might have seemed large-scale and intense if they were in live-action. As a cartoon, the explosions are small and self-contained, there is no sense of impending doom and everything feels rather inconsequential and boring.

The story is fairly simple. This is a film that relies heavily on presentation and style. Unfortunately, it's a style that's rather hit or miss. For every shot that appears multi-layered in its level of detail and color texturing, there's another one that looks bland and plain, even by television standards. It's as if the animators got so excited about working on certain scenes that they let the others slide. The result is a visual mish-mash. Where's Pixar when you need them?

One of the biggest complaints people had about the prequels was the poor acting. Luckily, this is one of the few areas where Clone Wars shines. Although Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee are the only high-profile actors returning from the prequel films, the voice acting remains consistently above average, even despite some awful chunks of dialogue.

As a film, Clone Wars emerges as one of the worst entries in the saga. As a television show aimed as kids, there is potential. With better writing and more consistent animation, it might be the kind of thing parents would be able to tolerate watching with young children. If this beginning is any indication, though, hardcore fans don't have much to look forward to until the live-action show next year and the re-release of the original trilogy (again).

Really, George, you've done enough damage. It's time to let Star Wars go.