Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Having suffered through the three recent Star Wars incarnations, I attended a press screening of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with the lowest expectations. Though mildly entertaining, and any Star Wars product without Jar Jar Binks has to be considered an upgrade, this movie’s message is clear: the good exists only at the mercy of the mixed.

That means slobbering slug-thug Jabba the Hutt supplies Clone Wars’ moral code by default. His son—apparently, he has one—has been kidnapped. Because Jabba controls shipping lanes, the race is on to find the tyke and win Jabba’s allegiance. Like I said, it’s a few galaxies from the 1977 original’s higher ideals.

The animated action begins swiftly as the Republic’s Jedi knights—Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Mace Windu—try to outsmart conniving separatist Count Dooku. The Jedi aim to find the kid and halt the spread of evil. Christopher Lee and Samuel L. Jackson voice their reprised roles as Dooku and Windu.

Character facial expressions are good, especially the eyes, though Yoda’s ears are on steroids and Obi-Wan’s hair is more like a helmet fitted in station wagon faux wood. The story thankfully tones down that mystical nonsense known as the Force, which drove the rest of the series toward the unintelligible.

Clone Wars is action-packed and the plot is easy to follow. The narrative retains the familiar opening elliptical phrase and the dialog is still filled with talk of deflector shields and dark days ahead. With knowledge of what becomes of Anakin and others, the sense of conflict is seriously diminished and Clone Wars is not suspenseful, though there are twists.

War is portrayed as a fun game and characters zap enemies into oblivion without having earned their stripes. This is especially true of the main character, a female Jedi wannabe called Ahsoka, a brat who manages to be almost as annoying as Jar Jar. She’s flip and she’s logical, and she masters in three seconds what took Luke Skywalker three decades. Assigned for apprenticeship to Anakin, she dubs him Sky Guy—and gets away with it. This is not your dad’s Star Wars; it’s your kid sister’s.

Besides the irritating Ahsoka—a shock of facial tattoos in sprouting head gear, like that adorned by one of Jabba’s slave girls—bad omens include repetitious lines (“bucket of bolts”) and a Hutt best described as a hybrid of Huggy Bear and Truman Capote. The most exciting character in Clone Wars is a villainess named Ventress, a hooded, feline sorceress—think Maleficent from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty—that stalks Ahsoka and Anakin.

This animated Warner Bros.-distributed picture—creator George Lucas’ first Star Wars movie to be released by a studio other than 20th Century Fox—is an introduction to a cable television series slated to air this fall. Judging by this installment, Clone Wars is neither must-see on TV or in theaters. But it’s better than this writer expected.

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