Saturday, November 29, 2014

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008 - 2014) TV Show Review

       When “Star Wars 2 Attack of the Clones” was first released, I just assumed it was going to be another installment in the film series, but little did I know that this film would be the architect that completely reshaped the Star Wars franchise into the Clone Wars franchise. It was as if the word “Star” was replaced with the word “Clone” permanently, because every installment in the Star Wars saga would revolve entirely around the clone wars for the next 13 years. There was an animated mini-series that aired from 2003 – 2004, but it’s the 3D animated series released in 2008 under the title of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that I’ll be reviewing in this post. This show began with a theatrical animated motion picture under the same title, which was followed with six seasons, and a grand total of 122 episodes. This was a series that seemed to generate no interest in Star Wars fans at first, but over time, it grew a devoted fan base, and it became an Emmy award winning, critically successful TV show. Personally, I’d go so far as to say that this series was the best thing to happen to Star Wars sense the original trilogy. Being a hard core Star Wars fan, it seemed unavoidable that I look over the complete Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series. Now with six full seasons, there’s a lot to cover and there’s no way I can do the series justice, but I’ll do my best.

       As stated above, the show began with a theatrical motion picture, but it really should have just been the TV pilot because that’s all it really was. The movie received very negative reviews and it seemed like things were off to a shaky start, but I’ll give the movie some credit, it at least got me aware of the show. After the films pore reception, I thought for sure that this show was going to bomb and not make it past its first season. Thankfully the movie was just a miss-step, because this show really picked itself out of the gutter and really revived my interest in the Star Wars franchise. Seriously this series went from decent, too exciting, too thrilling and then I was completely hooked. I never thought an animated Star Wars TV show could be so firkin good but “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” proved me wrong. Actually, this show is very much like what “Star Trek: Deep Space 9” was to the Star Trek franchise, in both cases they didn’t seem that interesting at first, but I gradually began to like them and mid way though, I was finding myself hipped on a show that returned me to my love for a franchise that I had previously fallen out with.

       The animation is incredible, I mean holly cow, all the look and detail given to these planets is just sensational. The backgrounds, locations, space ships and settings are all stunning to look at, but I’m also very impressed with the animation on the characters. Their detail and expressions are great, and half the time I actually find myself forgetting that I’m looking at cartoon characters. I honestly can’t think of any other show that looks this cool and unique. Unfortunately, the show still stays in continuity with the Star Wars cannon, which meant that the show couldn't surprise us too often as we all knew what was inevitably going to happen in the end. To the shows credit, they still kept things interesting, and developed the characters in new way. I couldn’t always predict what surprises the show would give us, and this series as a whole dose fit well in the continuity of the franchise. I also love the revised Star Wars theme song, but admittedly that over excited narrator in the opening was obnoxious. Instead of having a traditional opening sequence, each episode begins with a fortune cookie type metaphor like “Choose what is right, not what is easy”, “Adversity is a friendship’s truest test” or “Revenge is a confession of pain”.

      The most important achievement of this show is how it expanded on the Star Wars universe. I felt that the prequel trilogy reduced the force to more of a scientific explanation instead of making it a magical phenomenon, but this show makes the force feel magical again, and further expands on the mythos and lore of the series. While there’s a lot of war and politics featured in this show, it also depicts this universe as a very mysterious one, with strange worlds, mystical creatures, exotic locations and it takes Star Wars back to its proper Sci-Fi /fantasy roots. A lot of the episodes can get really exciting and sometimes have a genuine emotional quality to them. Some of the stories and even plot elements were very reminiscent of events from the movies, and there are references to "Indiana Jones" everywhere. While there are some stand alone episodes, most of the stories are told through long story arc’s that last for about three or even four episodes total.

     There are also a lot of really dark elements and things can get really violent at times. Supporting characters seem to die as often as extras from “Game of Thrones” or “The Walking Dead”. Even main stay characters get the axe now and then. I was actually kind of shocked with how adult some of the content got. There’s mass murder, ruthless kills, and we even see head decapitations. This could be a big problem for some people, especially parents, which I completely understand, however the violence usually works in favor of the story, and for delivering a more emotional impact. None of the violence is in extreme detail either, it’s just enough to get the effect across, but I’d also understand if parents wouldn’t want their kids watching this too. It’s best to remember that this is a show intended for older viewers, and while there is some comedy, the show mostly takes a mature, dare I even say adult approach. To properly talk about this show, we need to cover the basics. So let’s look at the hero’s, villains and the biggest highlights of each season.

The Hero’s

   After I saw the Clone Wars movie, I genuinely felt a spark in these characters that made me think they’d be perfect for a TV show, and they didn’t disappoint, in fact they exceeded my expectations. First of all, Anakin Skywalker is a huge improvement over the Anakin portrayed in the prequel films. This one is a little more honorable, selfless, has a subdued sense of hummer, and is even a good role model. He still has his annoying moments to be sure, but those are mostly in the first two season, by season three he becomes a real hero to rally behind. His voice is awesome and fits the character very well. He also has a little bit of that blandness that Luke Skywalker had, but it's mixed with an upbeat personality. Overall, not a stunning main character, but a nice improvement over all his past variations. His relation with Padme was also improved, and the two actually have some chemistry. They share good conversations, there’s nothing too over the top, and it's just a simple and sweet relationship. 

Unfortunately, Padme herself is still just as boring as ever, not a bad character mind you, just not very fun to watch. Her episodes tend to be weaker then others, but thankfully she dose have some highlights, and truthfully, I think she's portrayed better in this show then the movies. Obi-Wan Kenobi is okay, he’s a little boring at times, and his puns can get really silly, but there’s nothing that bad about him either. He certainly has his share of good episodes, and really cool action scenes. There’s an especially cool reoccurring Jedi character named Master Plo Koon, who’s like the strong moral compass of the group, kind of like what Gandalf was in “The Lord of the Rings” series.

Other popular Star Wars characters like Yoda, Mace Windu, C-3PO & R2-D2 are good recurring characters, but there really isn’t much else to say about them. One of my favorite lead hero's in this show is actually a clone trooper named Captain Rex. First of all, it’s great to have a non-Jedi as a lead character, and everything he does is just so noble, heroic and 100% bad ass. This is a guy you cheer for whenever he's on screen. The Clone Troopers themselves are great, there not just cannon fodder, and offer a lot of humanity that allows the viewer to care for them. This show actually gives them a lot of dimension with their own conflicts, internal battles and they really feel like hero’s fitting in a war. Whenever one of these solders dies in the line of duty, I honestly can’t help but feel a little sympathy for them. 

The last of the main characters is Anakin’s young female apprentice named Ahsoka Tano, who in my opinion is the break out character that steels the show. I didn’t get a good first impression of this character but as the seasons went on, she matured, and I really grew to like her a lot. She began as an annoying little show off, but then she became this really strong and compelling hero. It’s honestly been a real joy watching this once shallow character grow over the cores of the series. She’s the first female character in the Star Wars universe that’s a skilled fighter, she’s also strong, brash, has a terrific design and has a really fun, spunky personality. Ahsoka can also be wise and patient at times too, and it's her relationship with her master Anakin that's at teh heart of the series. All in all, I think this group of characters stands just as strong as those of the original trilogy. I find them very memorable, they fit with the show perfectly and I frequently look forward to seeing them in other episodes.

The voice actors in the show were all really good, and most of them matched their live action counter parts perfectly. James Arnold Taylor as the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi sounds just like Ewan McGregor from the prequel trilogy. 
While the show consisted mostly of a new cast, there were some actors from the movies that reprised their signature roles. The great Liam Neeson continued to supply the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn, Peter Mayhew continued to give life to Chewbacca, Matthew Wood continued his vocal role as the sinister General Grievous, Pernilla August returned to do the voice of Shmi Skywalker and of course Anthony Daniels continued to supply the voice of C-3PO. The show also featured a number of celebrity guest roles that included Ron Perlman, Seth Green, George Takei, Simon Pegg, Jon Favreau and even Mark Hamill, the guy who played Luke Skywalker himself, makes an appearance in the final episode as the voice of a villain named Darth Bane. On That note lets talk about ...

The Villains 

 One of the shows greatest accomplishments is its rouge gallery of villains, some are just one-note villains for a single arc, while others are reoccurring threats throughout the shows run. For the most part, these guys are all awesome. The late Ian Abercrombie was the voice of the evil Emperor Palpatine, and was just spot on matching Ian Mcdiarmid's portrayal from the movies. On that note, the voice actor Ian Abercrombie sadly passed away during season five of the series. However, he was replaced by good old Tim Curry, who brought his deliciously evil charm to the role. It’s still very sad that the other guy died, but it’s undeniably awesome to have Emperor Palpatine voiced by Tim Curry, one of the greatest villain actors of all time.                                                  
Count Dooku naturally is the shows main antagonist, and he has a very commanding evil presence in the series. He’s also brought to life very well by talented voice actor Cory Burton, who surprisingly does a better job bringing this character to life then Christopher Lee did in the theatrical movies. 

The cybernetic General Grievous is also a main stay villain, and even though he was boring in “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, he was actually a really fun villain in this show and had some genuinely intimidating moments. Admittedly the battle droids can be really stupid at times but they at least have some funny lines.  My favorite main stay villain by far is the new bounty hunter named Cad Bane. 
He has such an awesome design, with those blood red eyes, the cowboy attire and that big black hat. It’s all very reminiscent of Lee Van Cleef A.K.A “Angel Eye’s” from “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”. His voice is also really cool (another character brought to life perfectly by Cory Burton) and he has such a cool laid back yet still sinister personality, that he completely steels every episode he’s in. He’s also really smart and ruthless, proving to be more than a match for our hero’s. Whenever they advertised a new episode featuring this guy, I got excited just knowing that I was would be viewing more Cad Bane awesomeness. Throughout the shows run, we see other popular Star Wars villains including Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, Greedo, Grand Moff Tarkin and even Darth Maul. That’s right, Darth Maul is back with a vengeance and is honestly one of the most Bad Ass TV villains of all time. Those of you who thought he was dead and gone have no idea how awesome he is in this show. 

Usually, I can always picture a voice actor behind these characters but that’s not the case with Maul. Whenever he’s on screen, I just see the character. His new design is stellar and his voice is downright chilling. It’s just a real treat to finally see Darth Maul as this hard core villain that he should have been in the movies. Rounding up the villains at last is the dark Jedi assassin named Asajj Ventress, who is also a really cool main stay enemy and has earned the right to be called a classic villain in the Star Wars universe. She has such a shadowy menace, and as her character gets developed over the show, we learn that she actually has a rather tragic back story. In fact, she becomes one of the most well rounded characters in the shows run. That just about covers the characters, so let’s start covering each season, and highlight some events along the way.

Season 1: A Galaxy Divided

     I personally didn’t start watching this show regularly until season two, because the first season was just a little mediocre good. It was a decent start for the series, it had some terrific episodes, and it even gave a lot of promise that things were only going to get better as the show went on, but it’s not one of the best seasons, not even close. The first story arc called “The Malevolence saga” was really exciting, involving a super battle ship that our hero’s have to stop, which feels reminiscent of the Death Star from the original movie. There's enough subtle changes that made this concept work on its own, and the war ship itself had a very cool design. Many of the episodes felt reminiscent of classic medieval adventures. For example, the episode “Bombad Jedi” featured a beautiful maiden locked in a tower, then a peasant disguises himself as a knight to free her, but first he has to navigate through an underground labyrinth and battle a dragon. “Mystery of a Thousand Moons” revolved around a deadly virus, and our hero’s brave their way across an unknown part of the galaxy to find a cure. There are also some really good war themed episodes, not just involving big battles, but also the after math of war. The episode titled “Innocents of Ryloth” is all about two troopers who find an orphaned girl on the battle field. This is perhaps the most touching episode of the season and focuses on the real coast of war.     

This season introduces us to a new pirate character named Hondo, and he's a lot of fun, especially when voiced by the talented Jim Cummings. The big highlight of the season by far was the season finally episode titled “Hostage Crisis”, which was like Star Wars meets Die Hard. Cad Bane makes his unforgettable first appearance leading a group of bounty hunters into the capital and holding the senate hostage. Just like John Mcclane, Anakin Skywalker is left wandering around the building trying to find away to free the hostages (his wife Padme is amongst them) and also like how Mcclane was stuck in a situation without his shoes, Anakin is stuck in this situation without his lightsaber and has to rely on stealth as opposed to bruit force, it’s great. The rest of this season was just good, many of the episodes were exciting and action packed, however nothing had exceeded expectations yet but it was just enough to get me interested in seeing what the show has to offer.

Season 2: Rise of the Bounty Hunters

         Now personally, I’m a huge fan of the bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe, I think their some of the coolest characters in this saga, and when I heard this season was dedicated to them, I got really hyped. This isn’t the only season to feature bounty hunters, they become main stay villains and throughout the show we see an entire gallery of fascinating Bounty Hunter characters. Fan favorite bounty hunters like Aurra Sing and Gredo make note worthy appearances along with some other familiar faces. As the title suggests, this is where the bounty hunters get to make their lasting mark of the series, and it doesn’t disappoint. The first story arch of the season called “The Holocron Heist” trilogy was a great start, involving bounty hunter Cad Bane and how he’s hunting down young Jedi to give to Darth Sidius, with our hero’s trying desperately to pursue him. The story was engaging, the action was great and it was the first time that the show really broke out of its routine battle episodes. It also demonstrated what an awesome villain Bane is, and how the bounty hunters in this show are a serious threat. This season in-particular pays tribute to classic B movies, there’s an episode involving zombie aliens which is attributed to popular zombie movies like “Night of the Living Dead”, there’s also an episode involving aliens that take over the minds of many of the characters, which can be connected to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. There’s even an episode where the city is attacked by a giant monster called the Zillo Beast, which is a nice little nod to “Godzilla” and I must admit, the animation on this creature is very impressive, especially by TV standards. It’s also one of the most unique designs I’ve ever seen for a giant monster.

My favorite stand alone episode of the season is titled “The Deserter”, which is personally one of my favorite episodes of the series. Captain Rex meets another trooper who abandoned the war to have a life raising a family, these two have terrific conversations, ask some deep questions and its overall a great Rex themed episode. The other episodes this season were also very good, we meet some fun new bounty hunter characters including a terrorist group called Death Watch, which is the clan that Jango Fett’s armor originates from. These guys make for an awesome group of villains and the leader of this group is voiced by Jon Favreau, who you may know as the director of the first two “Iron Man” movies. The final story arc is centered around Boba Fett and we finally see him emerge as a character, rather than just an extra in the background. This episode arc did a great job focusing on his need for revenge while still acknowledging that he’s still just a kid who hates violence and wants nothing more than to be accepted amongst his brother troopers. I’ve always been a big fan of Boba Fett and even though we don’t seem him in his classic armor suit, I still think this story arc is the best thing to ever happen to the character. Overall, this show was becoming less of a chore and I was finding myself enjoying it even more with this awesome season.

                                        Season 3: Secrets Revealed

       Season 3 was absolutely stellar, the animation was better, the stories were stronger, the characters became more dimensional and for the most part, every episode was outstanding. The first two episodes called the “Clone Cadets” story arc was a very strong start for the season and focused on a team of failed clone troopers who learn to work together as a team and later defend their home planet from invasion. By the way, this battle was very impressive and had a huge cinematic quality to it, actually, many new episodes would have a big cinematic quality after this. In a series of episodes called “The Night Sisters Trilogy”, we’re introduced to Darth Maul's brother named Savage Oppress, voiced by the always fantastic Clancy Brown and just like Darth Vader, he’s monstrous and threatening but there’s also a lot of tragedy that goes into this character, like he’s a victim of being evil. This story arch also introduces us to a clan of witch's lead by the mysterious Mother Talzin, and they become an exciting group of reoccurring villains. There’s also a story arc called "The Citadel Trilogy" that’s heavily inspired by films like “The Great Escape”, as it focuses on our hero’s trying to escape a prison planet, and brings in classic Star Wars villain Admiral Tarkin, which is a nice bones. Several episodes in this season actually went out of the linier order and took place after events from the first two seasons, including an episode that followed up on the events of the season 1 finally. While it didn’t quiet live up to its predecessor, it at least featured bounty hunter Cad Bane in one of his greatest battles scenes and the down fall of Jabba's silly uncle Zero the Hutt, who was arguably the stupidest villain of the series. Jabba the Hutt himself is featured in three episodes this season, which is his biggest appearance in the show.

My favorite story arc of the entire series also comes from this season, and it’s titled “The Mortis Trilogy”. This arc further enhanced the mythology aspects of Star Wars. Basically, our lead hero’s are stranded on a mysterious planet that was created from the force itself, and on this planet, they meet three mystical beings that put Anakin Skywalker through a series of challenges and internal conflicts. The characters are developed further, the planet is very imaginative and looks awesome, the action is stunning and there were a few nice little surprises along the way, including Liam Neeson reprising his role as Qui Gon Jinn and a scene where Anakin looks into the future and sees himself as Darth Vader. The villain in this story arc was called the son, and he’s without a doubt one of the best villain of the week characters. The two part season finally titled the “Wookiee Hunt” story arc was a perfect way to close a great season. In these episodes, Anakin’s apprentice Asoka is captured by hunters who set her lose on a jungle planet where she and a team of young Jedi are being hunted for sport, so it’s almost like “Predator” meets “The Hunger Games”. The animation in these two episodes are beautifully detailed, the story is fast past and thrilling, the action is some of the best to come from Star Wars, we get some more solid character development and as one last treat, Chewbacca gust stars in it. Season 3 is personally my favorite season of the show and it was easily the season that officially got me hooked into watching this series for enjoyment, because it was getting very good at this point.

                                          Season 4: Battle Lines

      This 4th season was kind of a mixed bag because the first several episodes were just standard okay, but then this season started to build some momentum and ended on a high note. In the beginning, we get some really average story arc’s including this “Water War” trilogy, which spent way too much time focusing on boring, temporary characters instead of the lead group. There was also a story arc involving R2-D2 and C-3PO as they find themselves lost in the galaxy, going on one adventure after the next, which wasn’t great but it was honestly kind of fun to watch. Captain Rex and his Troopers have a 4 part story arc called the “Dark world” series, the first two episodes of the arc were terribly standard but then the last two episodes of this arc were outstanding and further developed these characters in a way that I loved. My favorite story arc of the season was titled “The Slaves of the Republic trilogy”, which revolved around a colony of aliens that were taken prisoner by another planet of slave traders. Our four lead hero’s (Anakin, Obi-Wan, Rex and Asoka) are also turned into slaves under the rule of an evil queen. It’s an exciting premise, the action is awesome and it’s interesting to see Anakin battle some of his personal demons in a situation like this.

 Every episode that followed after this was really good, including an awesome four part bounty hunter story arc that involved Obi-Wan going under cover as a mercenary and winning the trust of Cad Bane. Death Watch makes another exciting appearance and Asoka gets her own forbidden lover named Lux Bonteri. This character was actually introduced in the last season, but it's here that the two form a relationship, which is actually very subtle, maybe even on par with Han and Leia. The dark Jedi Asajj Ventress gets some great character development over the cores of the final season episodes and becomes less of a villain and more of an anti hero who tries to find meaning in her life. The episode titled “Massacre” was another really good one that focused on Ventress as she defends her home planet from an invasion of battle droids, it’s probably the most unique war episode of the entire series as it’s a battle of magic versus technology. Another highlight is when Ventress teams up with Boba Fett to go on a bounty mission, this episode features the greatest bounty hunter battle of the entire series, which is saying a lot. The season finally was the least good of all the shows season finale’s but it was still very exciting because it’s here that Darth Maul was brought back from the dead and became a new primary villain. This did a great job setting the stage for the next season, and raised my expectations for what was to come.

                                         Season 5: Army of Revenge

       This was a powerhouse season and is hands down my favorite of the series, despite some small annoyances. Naturally, having Darth Maul as the new primary villain, the writers were able to go all out with him and his never dying quest for revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He and his brother spread across the galaxy like wild fire, concurring all in their path, they bring Jabba the Hut and the entire Hut clan down in ruins, they take control of the Death watch clan, assemble their own personal army and even take over their own planet in which Maul becomes a ruler. His means of enacting vengeance on Kenobi are also really intense and for the first time in the shows run, Darth Sidious finally emerges in the flesh and battles Darth Maul in an awesome dual. Most of the story arc's this season were  great but there was one insanely long story arc that revolved around R2-D2 and a small team of R2 droids as they go on one crazy adventure after the next, and one of the episodes titled “A Sunny Day in the Void” is arguably the worst episode of the series, because it's just these droids wandering around in a desert, that's it. Thankfully the last two episodes of this story arc were actually quite good.

One thing that may bother fans of the show is that Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice, Asoka, gets far more attention in this season than any other character, in fact you could almost say that this season was dedicated to here. On the one hand, it’s kind of annoying that other big clone wars characters like Anakin and Captain Rex are given less attention but the stuff that they do with her in this season are great. There’s a series of episodes in which she leads a group of rebels against a corrupt and evil Kingdome. Then there’s this surprisingly fun, four part story arc involving a group of young Jedi who embark on a wild adventure across the galaxy with Asoka leading the way. They forge their own lightsabers, which really feels like classic Star Wars, then they battle pirates, rescue Asoka after getting kidnapped, learn a few good life lessons and even fight General Grievous. The four part season finally is great and probably the best season finally of the entire series. In a situation that’s very reminiscent of “The Fugitive”, Asoka is framed for murder and is on the run from the clones and even the Jedi, she has to form an alliance with her arch enemy Ventress, there’s some awesome action scenes, the mystery elements are all very good, the twist reveal of who the villain is was excellent and the final scene of this story arc is one of the best on screen character moments in Star Wars history. Thanks to this finally, and some solid story arches before hand, Season 5 in my opinion stands as the best in the clone wars line up.

                                          Season 6: The Lost Missions

      The sixth and final season of the clone wars is arguably the weakest of the series, not because it was bad, but because it was incomplete. During the fifth season, Star Wars was bought by Disney and plans for both a new Star Wars movie and a new animated series came up fast, which resulted in this show getting canceled even though there were several episodes in development. A hand full of episodes were finished, but many didn’t make it, the result was a season with only 10 new episodes, instead of 22 (which is what all the other season had) and a story arc that was meant for season five was actually held back for this season, just to make it a little longer. This also meant that several other story arcs from the show couldn’t get proper closure, most unfortunate of all was Darth Maul’s story arc that ended on a nail biting cliff hanger back in the last season.

The surviving episodes mostly set the stage for things to come in “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, which was both fitting but also a little depressing at the same time. The first story arc revolved around a clone who discovers the order 66 protocol that will turn the troops against the Jedi, but unfortunately he’s killed before he can warn his comrades. We hardly see any of our favorite characters this season and there’s a noticeable lack of popular villains. Mace Windu at least gets some good action episodes. The big saving grace about this season is the final four part story arc revolving around Yoda, as he journeys across the galaxy to learn more about the force and discover the secrets of the universe. This was a deeply touching finally, complete with terrific character moments, genuinely deep moral values, incredible animation, a thrilling final battle between Yoda and the evil Emperor Palpatine, and it closed the series on a relatively high note. While the show was taken just a little too soon before it could get a proper finally, it at least had some subtle closure, which is more then I can say for other shows canceled before their time.

      Over the years, “Star Wars The Clone Wars” has taken me on some surprisingly exciting adventures, both heroes and villains have good interaction, development and hold your attention quiet well. The animation is stunning for TV standards, the action is thrilling and it’s a show that I highly recommend to Star Wars fans or to general Sci-Fi fans. Most important of all, this show made me a fan of Star Wars again, at a time when I had lost interest in the franchise. Honestly, I think this show is an important benchmark in the history of the Star Wars franchise, it expanded the universe, had a cast of memorable characters, and some thrilling space adventures.

     I give the TV show “Star Wars The Clone Wars” a very strong 4 ½ stars out of 5.



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