Sunday, January 1, 2017

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) (Movie Review)

      After “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith” hit theaters in 2005, it seemed like the series was done for good ... I mean what more could possibly happen? Well, much to my surprise, there was another movie that premiered theatrically only two years later in 2008 under the title of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars". However, this was very different from all the previous films, as it was distributed by Warner Brothers instead of 20th Century Fox, and it didn’t get a chapter title because it was intended as a launching pad for a new TV series. Oh, and it’s also the first ever theatrical Star Wars movie to be a completely animated feature. I was very skeptical, but also intrigued. It’s actually kind of a rare treat for a popular series to deliver something so different. However, I certainly knew better then to see this one in the theater, and those who did where not happy. This film was universally panned by critics and audiences alike, making it the worst received entry in the series ... almost as bad as “The Star Wars Holiday Special”.

      Well, I certainly don’t think it’s that bad, in fact I actually kind of like this film, but that’s mostly because of my own personal feelings toured the TV series this movie launched. Yeah, I Love the TV show "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", and on the standards of a pilot episode, this dose it’s job introducing the characters and giving them a decent first adventure to set the stage for things to come. Actually, when watching this film, I’m always in the mindset that it’s just an episode from the series. In fact, the project started as four individual episodes, but were then edited together to make a feature film, and it really shows. Thus, this film has to be reviewed as a theatrical movie and jugged on those terms, not those of the TV show. So, even though I kind of like this film, I will admit, it fails big time as a standalone theatrical movie. It actually bothers me a little to think that some parents took their kids to see this on the big screen. Nothing about this film works as a theatrical production, heck, even “Star Wars 1 The Phantom Menace” with all its problems still felt like something that belonged on the big screen and had enough to offer to a general audience. 

    The story is set somewhere between the events of “Star Wars 2: Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, but I say “story” very loosely because the actual scrip is nothing special. Following in the tradition of “Return of the Jedi”, the movie begins with a thirty minuet long event that has nothing to do with the actual plot. 

Basically, some nameless evil general is leading an invasion on some planet, and our two Jedi hero’s Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are there with an army of valiant clone troopers fighting them off. This scene goes on for way too long, and by the time it’s done, your left exhausted and disinterested in what’s going to happen next. The only significant thing to happen in this opening is that Anakin meets his new young female apprentice named Ahsoka, who quickly becomes one of the chief main characters of the series. After the two get to know one another, the real mission finally begins. The infant son of the evil crime lord Jabba the Hutt has been kidnapped by the sinister Count Dooku, and he's framed the Jedi for his abduction, which Jabba takes hostile action against. Now Anakin and Ahsoka have to learn to work together, rescue the infant, clear the name of the Jedi, and battle waves and waves of enemies in the process. 

      Right off the bat, this movies biggest problem is an over abundance of action and battle scenes that go on for way too long. It’s like the story exists just as an excuse to set up several long winded battle scenes with troopers barking orders, and Jedi slicing through droids. It gets very repetitive, and whenever you think the characters can finally talk or maybe even develop as characters, it’s suddenly interrupted again by another loud and obnoxious action scene. There’s really no substance to the experience, no moral quality for the audience and I think the writers got too caught up in making this seem like something really adult, only to have it back fire big time. Now some of the action is exciting to watch, there’s an especially fun battle with armies and war machines fighting vertically on the side of a mountain, and I can’t say I’ve seen anything like that before. Also, even though the action gets exhausting, it can at least provide some passive form of entertainment.  

      I biggest issue I have with the movie is that the story revolves solely around Jabba the Hutt, and now he’s the only character with something to lose. Yeah, this movie actually makes Jabba the Hutt look like a victim that we’re supposed to feel some sympathy for, which is impossible. I mean for goodness sake, it’s Jabba the Hutt, the same villain who dumped a cute little green girl in a monster pit back in “Return of the Jedi”. There’s also a sub plot in which Anakin's wife Padme goes undercover to unravel a secret plot revolving around Jabba’s gay uncle named Zero the Hutt. Needless to say, he's probably the stupidest villain to ever come from the Star Wars universe. It’s revealed that Zero helped organize the kidnapping plot for personal reasons against Jabba, but it only adds more unneeded plot threads to the film, and serves as a week excuse for Padme to do something useful.   

       Now the characters are at least an improvement over what we got in the prequels, especially Anakin Skywalker, who’s still stubborn, but he certainly isn’t the same whinny jerk he was in the previous films, and the new voice actor Matt Lanter is actually pretty good in the role. Many people have mixed feelings about Ahsoka, and while the movie doesn’t exactly give her the chance to leave much of an impression, I’ve come to regard her as a classic Star Wars character in her own right. 

Voice actress Ashley Eckstein dose a fine job of bring Ahsoka to life with a bubbly and high spirited performance, and I love her interactions with Anakin. These two actually have good chemistry, and there was certain spark between them that got me interested to see more of the two in the show. While their obviously not as charismatic as the cast from the original films, they do at least hold their own, their banter is fun, and they do have some subtle interactions. My favorite scene of the whole film is when Anakin chooses to take her on as an apprentice, and it's very rewarding for us long time fans to look back on this scene as the moment in which their friendship first took shape. Also, whenever Anakin and Ahsoka have an emotional moment, there's subtle music ques that will eventually take the shape of their dramatic balled in the TV show. The remaining characters are all pretty good, and I immediately loved the clone trooper named Captain Rex, who’s like a one man army, and one of the most dignified characters to be featured in a Star Wars film in years. Obi-Wan Kenobi has less to do, but the new voice actor James Arnold Taylor is awesome in the role, and captures Ewan McGregor’s voice perfectly. 

     The most entertaining character who mostly steals the show is the new female villain called Asajj Ventress, who’s a dark Jedi assassin, and the biggest threat that stands in the way of our hero’s. At least she’s more of a threat then all those stupid battle droids, and their insufferable puns. While she had been introduced in the expanded Star Wars series before, this was her first appearance in a movie, and she’s become a memorable villain in the franchise. Voice actress Nika Futterman is fantastic is the role, supplying the character with a malevolent voice, and shadowy menace. You won’t get much more than a one dimensional villain in this movie, but it's except-able here, as she'll eventually become one of the most multi-layered characters in the show. As far as this movie is concerned, she’s at least fun to watch. She has a great design, and some thrilling light saber duels, even though the actual fighting choreography is a little stiff at times. Her big showdown with Obi-Wan for example is a good enough set piece, but the team hadn't yet mastered the art of animated light-saber battles, which they eventually got perfected in the series.  

     Most of the popular characters like Yoda, Padme Amidala, R2-D2 and the evil Emperor Palpatine just make brief appearances, and have little bearing on the film, but once again, the new voice cast does a good job filling in the respected roles. 

While most of the voice cast is new, some of the original talents continue to supply the voice work. Obviously, Anthony Daniels still supplies the voice for C-3PO, which is always welcome. Surprisingly, Samuel L. Jackson continued to do the voice for Mace Windu, but he’s in the film for about a minute or two, and then quietly disappears ... so what’s the point. Well, then again, Samuel L. Jackson is making a carrier of having cameo appearances in those Marvel movies, so why not call him in to read four lines of dialog. On the opposite side of that coin, Christopher Lee continued to supply the voice of Count Dooku, who has a much bigger role in this film as the main villain. In fact, Count Dooku actually has more screen time in this movie then he did in either of the live action movies. Unfortunately, it’s not one of Christopher Lee’s stronger performances, and it pains me to say this, but his voice acting is actually quiet mediocre when compared to Corey Burton who supplied the voice of Count Dooku in the TV show.  

     One of the biggest complaints from critics was the animation, which is impressive on some technical level, but it’s also kind of lifeless. Now I’ll be as fair as possible to the creators of this film, as they weren’t as experienced with the animation department, and the TV show definitely highlighted how far they’ve come sense this project. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that, while the design of the movie is unique, the animation itself is kind of sloppy. Half the time the characters move like stiff marionettes, the texture doesn’t look that great, and heck, even the hair doesn’t move. This is also the first Star Wars movie to have a musical score composed by someone other than John Williams. Some of his classic tracks are used, but it’s mostly done by a new composer. I actually like the music variety in this film a lot, there’s a cool rock soundtrack that highlights a lot of the action, and there’s also a subtle quire that adds some atmosphere to the locations. 

      It may seem odd to comment on, but after all the loud battle scenes, and endless fights, the movie actually builds to really subtle climax. On the way to Jabba’s palace, Anakin and his young apprentice Ahsoka are ambushed by Count Dukoo and his droids. It’s actually a very satisfying final battle, as there’s no war, no armies and it allows the audience to get excited without getting exhausted. The final lightsaber dual between Anakin Skywalker and Count Dukoo is also really cool, in fact, it’s their best fight in the whole film series. Rather than just giving us the strait forword clashing of lightsabers, these two liven it up with some cool force techniques. Dukoo uses lightning energy while Anakin uses wind energy, which creates a sand storm, so it’s almost like a battle of the elements on display. Of cores, we get our usual good choreography mixed with great music, and on the side lines we have Anakin’s apprentice getting in a tense fight with some commando droids. The movie ends in kind of an odd place, as the Jedi make some kind of peace treaty with Jabba the Hutt, but it doesn't really connect with his villain status in future films ... so, what was accomplished here?    

      In the end, this film really should have been a TV movie, or at the very least a direct to video film, because there’s nothing about it that makes it worthy for the theater. It goes without saying that when a movie is released in the cinema, it swims with movies of high quality, which can raise viewer expectations. Look at it this way, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” came out the same year as animated hits like “Kung Fu Panda”, “Bolt” and “WALL-E”, and all three out-shined this film by a mile with quality storytelling, mature content, some genuinely adult themes, and have been regarded as classics in their own right. This movie quietly sneaked into the theater, left without people giving it much thought, and is largely forgotten by all except those who watched the show. 

     Now, movies adapted from TV programs aren’t automatically bad, as “The Simpsons Movie” for example is one of the best theatrical comedies I’ve seen in years, and it was a good homage to the show. I do still like the movie “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” on the standards on an episode, and I should give it some credit for introducing me to a TV series that I’ve definitely enjoyed. Truthfully, I'd rather watch this film over the majority of the live action prequels. If you look at this as just a pilot for the TV series, it’s perfectly passable, but it certainly doesn’t highlight the best of what the show has to offer, and for the casual movie goers, id say this is a safe film to skip. Still, I have some fondness reserved for this one, certainly not enough to call it a favorite, but just enough for me to regard it as something special from a long running series. 

All my "Star Wars" movie grading's reflect how I personally feel when comparing this film to other installments in the franchise, and not movies in general, so with that said ... I give Star Wars: The Clone Wars” 3 stars out of 5. 

To be Continued...

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