Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003 - 2005) (TV Mini Series Review)

      The 2008 TV series titled “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is currently on its sixth and final season, making it the longest lasting animated Star Wars TV series so far. But before I talk about that show, let’s look back at the animated mini-series titled “Star Wars: Clone Wars”, which aired back in 2003 and ran till 2005. Unlike all the other animated Star Wars TV programs, this show was done in the style of a classic adventure serial like “Flash Gordon”, which means episodes had a run time of three minutes, and every episode picked up right where the last left off. Think of it like one long animated movie that was just broken up into 25 short chapters. I’m not a huge fan of this style, but it’s actually very appropriate because Star Wars was originally inspired by classic adventure serials like “Flash Gordon”. The show ran for two seasons and aired between the theatrical movies “Star Wars 2: Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars 3 Revenge of the Sith”. In fact, this series actual connects the two films by picking up right where “Attack of the Clones” ended and concludes right where “Revenge of the Sith” begins.

       Ever sense it’s release, this show has received critical acclaim, even more than any theatrical movie that aired alongside it. The fans loved it, critics loved it, and even IGN placed it at the #21 spot on their list of the 100 greatest animated TV shows of all time, which is no small accomplishment. So, considering that I’m a super huge Star Wars fan, you’re probably wondering what I think of this super successful series. Personally, I think it’s good, just good, I don’t think it’s nearly as great as it’s been built up to be, and I certainly don’t think it holds a candle to the 2008 TV series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, but it’s definitely good, and offers a lot of good things that are worth talking about. It’s a series that definitely needed to grow on me because I remember hating this when it first aired back in 2003. It just irritated me that I’d only get 3 minuet long episodes, followed by “To Be Continued”, then I’d have to wait for a day or even a week before I could see what happened next, plus I always missed critical chapters, so it got annoying really fast. Thankfully the show was released on DVD and all the episodes were edited together. It’s interesting that when edited together, this TV show has a run time of only 2 hours, which is shorter than any of its theatrical counter parts and obviously shorter than any other television series. 

      All the well known Star Wars prequel characters are present in this show, but the cast is entirely new, with the exception of Anthony Daniels who continues to do the voice work for C-3PO, although he doesn’t really say that much. Interestingly enough, the voice cast has become very recognizable and I’ve come to regard many of them as popular cast members in the Star Wars franchise. Admittedly, you hardly recognize a difference between them and the live action stars. This especially applies to both James Arnold Taylor, who is fantastic in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Tom Kane, who’s very respectable in the role of Yoda. Other characters have their highlights, R2-D2 is still cute and Jedi master Mace Windu gets some terrific action scenes. The real surprise is that this shows portrayal of Padme Amidala is fantastic. This is a character that I’ve hated in other shows and even the movies, but for some reason I really like her in this show. The voice actress Grey DeLisle is terrific, I love how quick she is to think on her feet, I even like her scenes with Anakin, mostly because it’s conveyed through emotion and expressions as opposed to really bad dialogue like what we got in the movies.

        Unfortunately, I still can’t stand the shows lead hero Anakin Skywalker. Granted he’s not as bad as in the movies, and he even has some really cool moments as a selfless hero, but he’s still annoying, bland and I really don’t care for the voice actor. In this series Anakin is voiced by Mat Lucas and he ... wait a second, is his last name “Lucas”, like George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise itself? Well, he actually isn’t related to George Lucas at all, but it’s still an amusing coincidence, and he’s actually become a respectable voice actor at Lucas Arts. I personally just don’t think he fits the role of Anakin Skywalker all that well, he just sounds too young, especially in comparison to Matt Lanter, who supplies the voice in the new series. Now while the character is still boring, the events surrounding him are really interesting. I love this one scene when he journeys into a cave and has a chilling vision of the future. This scene is just dripping with atmosphere, and the visuals are very fitting to represent what the character is internally going through. I also like this one dream sequence in which he sees himself as a little kid again and is visited by the spirit of his desist master Qui Gon Jinn.   

      Just like our hero’s, the show features many famous Star Wars villains, including the evil Emperor Palpatine, also known as Darth Sidious, who has a terrific design in this show. Count Dooku obviously makes a number of appearances throughout the series, but he never makes that big an impact. But it hardly matters because the star who completely steals everything is the sinister cybernetic General Grievous, who actually makes his very first appearance in this series, even before “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”. Personally, I think this is the best portrayal of General Grievous by far, he’s menacing, he’s powerful, he has a terrific design and there’s never a moment in which he comes off as silly or boring. Most people think of him when he’s voiced by Mathew Wood, who supplied the voice in both the movie and the 2008 TV series. But in this show he’s voiced by John DiMaggio, and he just adds this really chilling and intimidating voice to the character. 

      This show is also responsible for introducing most of the popular villains from the expanded clone wars universe, including the dark Jedi assassin called Asajj Ventress. This character became so popular that she was featured as the main antagonist in the theatrical animated “Star Wars The Clone Wars” movie, and become a recurring character in the new series. In this show, she’s tasked to assassinate Anakin Skywalker, which leads to an incredible light saber dual, which might just be one of the best duals in all of Star Wars. Aside from that, she doesn’t do that much else, her design is unique and her voice is awesome, but there really isn’t much else to say about her character. 

       Now every installment in the Clone Wars universe has its own trade mark bounty hunter character, “Star Wars 2: Attack of the Clones” featured Jango Fett and the 2008 TV show “Star Wars The Clone Wars” featured Cad Bane. This series features a bounty hunter named Durge, who’s actually less of a bounty hunter, and more of a super soldier with an ability to regenerate after losing limbs, kind of like the T-1000 from “Terminator 2”. This character was kind of popular at the time, and was featured on a lot of Star Wars merchandise and action figures. The irony is that he isn’t even in the show for that long, he doesn’t even make it through the first half of season 1. He certainly looks cool and has some thrilling battles with Obi-Wan Kenobi, but once he falls, he’s just gone and he wasn’t even featured in the new series, what’s up with that?

       The animation in this show is something that I have mixed feelings about. This series was brought to life by the same people who did other Cartoon Network shows like “Samurai Jack” and I personally can’t stand their style of characters moving slowly or standing still for long periods. In fact, there’s hardly any talking throughout the series, whenever there’s a big battle scene, you just hear a lot of explosions and sound effects. Characters obviously aren’t developed much, but they do get a lot across with basic expressions, and even though I’m not a fan of this animation style, I do still love the quiet moments. I love it when it’s just pure silence because it really adds another layer of atmosphere to the experience. The animation itself is still very impressive to look at, I mean this was kind of a ground breaking mix of CGI and traditional hand drawn animation for the time.

      My only real problem with this series is that I never felt like I got to know the characters, in fact the story for season one is just a series of action scenes, with just a small thread of a plot. Anakin leads a fight in space, while Obi-Wan leads a ground assault, and lots of battles ensue, that’s basically the synopsis of season one. There are some little detours like Padme and Yoda rescuing two Jedi that were trapped on a snow planet, and Anakin being lured into a trap, but little else. Some fans may argue that this adds to the simplicity of the experience, which is fine, but I just prefer how the new series allowed the characters to just breath and occasionally get developed as actual characters.

      Now to be fair, Season 2 gave the characters in this show plenty of breathing time and we got more of a plot with character themes laced throughout. We see how over the course of three years Anakin goes on a journey from Padawan learner to Jedi Knight, which was great, and there are more moments when the characters just talk for a while. Anakin’s journey eventually leads him to a planet where all the male inhabitance of a village have be captured and brainwashed by evil doctors. This gives Anakin a fitting lone hero story that had more to offer then just a series of action scenes. Meanwhile, General Grievous launches a huge invasion and kidnaps the Chancellor, which leads into the opening of “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”. I have to admit, the show stops too quickly that it just comes off as annoying, like really, that’s it.

      Overall, “Star Wars: Clone Wars” is a welcome entry in the franchise, nowhere near as good as other Star Wars offerings, but certainly not bad. The action was exciting, the creators clearly had a lot of respect for its source material and there’s enough to make the experience worthwhile. If you’re a long time Star Wars fan, check it out, you’ll probably enjoy it. Just don’t let the shows positive reputation build up your expectations for something amazing, because it’s no land mark by any means, but it is good for what it is.

I give the animated mini-series “Star Wars: Clone Wars” 3 stars. 


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