Is it possible that George Lucas would okay a new Star Wars film for the express purpose of shutting down all the mean things film critics have been saying about him over the course of his second trilogy of Star Wars flicks?
Probably not, but one could make the argument; after all, one of the very few pleasure of the new computer-animated Star Wars: Clone Wars is ticking off the ways it responds to common criticisms of the past few films, proving critics’ assertions wrong.
For example, one of the most common complaints was that the reason the new trilogy was so goddam awful compared to the six-ilogy’s crown jewel, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, was that control freak Lucas was insisting on doing so much himself, instead of turning the scripting and directing over to more competent creators.
Well, Clone Wars is directed by animator Dave Filoni, not Lucas, and it’s screenplay is written by Steven Melching and Scott Murphy. Lucas only gets credit for the “story” (“Okay, so these guys fight these guys, and then they do it again, and then they do it again, and that oughta kill 90 minutes”) and for creating the “characters and universe.”
And you know what? It’s even more goddam awful than the last three movies. So there, smarty-pants critics!
Another criticism was that Lucas had grown so enamored of digital effects and computer wizardry that he was just one step away from not needing actual humans for anything; that some day he could replace all the Samuel Jacksons and Natalie Portmans with digital effects.
Well guess what? This movie is completely actor-free (save voice actors impersonating the actors who played the characters in previous films), and it is not an improvement. Lucas may have sucked almost all signs of life out of his performers in the previous outings, but there was still some spark of humanity even he couldn’t kill; say what you will about least Hayden Christensen, at least he gave a human sense of scale to the proceedings. I found myself longing for his dull monotone and petulant emoting while I watched his hideous, elongated avatar glide gravity-less across the screen.
Filoni and company also manage to keep the weaknesses of Lucas’ last go-round while simultaneously ditching Lucas’ aces in the hole and the results are, predictably, quite tedious.
The galaxy still seems small to the point of claustrophobic; there are only a handful of different planets, that we keep returning to, and maybe a dozen different people, all of whom know one another.
The conflict is still about boring shit—this time, trade routes and treaty negotiations.
And the bad guys are still comical stereotypes with goofy names; this time out, the new villain is Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s uncle who, for some reason, speaks English with an effeminate southern accent. Think Truman Capote as a giant space slug, covered head to tail-tip in mardi gras make-up.
Now the prequel trilogy had two things going for it that not even every bad filmmaking decision in the whole world couldn’t completely kill. One was the fact that we all knew the ending already and generally liked it, so whatever missteps were made along the way, we knew exactly where it would end up, and had some degree of curiosity about how this toe-headed little tyke would grow up to impregnate Natalie Portman and then turn into space Hitler.
The other was the number of nostalgia buttons that could easily be pushed, sending a signal straight to so many people’s pleasure buttons. That 20th Century Fox music before the opening credit, the scrawl, the John Williams score—these have left indelible impressions in a whole generation of kids who have grown up into the prime film demographic.
Well, they’re all gone. This film’s distributed by Warner Bros, so no Fox drumroll. It’s also apparently aimed at kids (or maybe dumb kids, since the last six films were all aimed at kids too), so no crawl to read at the beginning because if you can read, you probably shouldn’t be watching this movie; the set-up comes in the form of a narrated montage of images instead.
And, sin of sins, no Williams score, or even playing of his themes (not until over the ending credits). It’s been replaced by an instrumental rock and roll score, of all things.
The story is set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, although, more specifically, it’s set between 2003 Cartoon Network animated series Star Wars: Clone Wars and an upcoming CGI TV series also called Star Wars: Clone Wars, making this film essentially just the pilot for a TV series (which is evident in the fact that no conflicts are actually resolved in the film).
The original Cartoon Network series was a traditionally-animated, 2D affair helmed by brilliant animator Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Laboratory), and it consisted of extremely simplified but highly stylized character and set designs in services of blisteringly fast action. It wasn’t terribly ambitious—billed as a “micro-series” each episode was only a few minutes long—and tended to simply show extended action set-pieces. But it was quite good; Tartakovsky knows who to tell a story efficiently and effectively through moving images.
Why he wasn’t involved with the new movie is perplexing, but not as perplexing as the decision to use the flat, cartoony designs of the 2D series and add a third dimension to them, giving the entire film a bad video game look.
As for the story, Still-Not Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and their Clone armies continue to fight against Count Poopy, er, Dooku, his evil apprentice Ventress (introduced in the 2003 TV series) and their comical droid army. And then someone kidnaps Jabba The Hutt’s son, an actually rather cute “Huttlett,” and both sides race to recover it to curry favor with the Hutt clan so he will allow access to trade routes in his sector from troop movements and blah blah blah.
Complicating things for Anakin is the fact that he’s assigned a new padwan learner (that’s nerd for “intern”) Ahsoka Tano, a spunky/bratty orange-skinned teenage girl. They call each other by irritating nicknames (“Skyguy” and “Silks”) as they bicker and try to safely deliver baby “Stinky” the Hutt to his dad.
Like all of the Star Wars films, this one has its moments—I liked the squid-shaped ship that appears for three seconds in the opening montage, and the fight up the side of a sheer cliff wall—but it has fewer moments than any of the others that came before.