Strong In The Force, This Is Not
Our next “Star Wars” adventure is not “Star Wars-Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” it is instead another feature film that was released in 2008. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was the last film released into theaters until this December’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. It is a curious era of “Star Wars” because this movie proceeded the franchise’s first ever TV series. This movie has a string of things working against it. The idea of having a fully animated feature film set in the “Star Wars” universe is actually rather intriguing. However this iteration of “The Clone Wars” was not originally suppose to be a movie.
“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (the film) is comprised of what originally the first four episodes of the soon to come TV show. So, you can’t help but feel this is a giant pilot for the forthcoming series. It’s also hard to critique it when it’s clear this was not meant for the big screen. The animators and filmmakers were creating this with a TV series in mind (and on a TV sized budget). George Lucas came in and made a last minute decision to push this to a feature film. It’s worked before. “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” was originally suppose to be direct to video release. However, Warner Bros saw the quality of the film and gave it a theatrical release (while the live action Burton universe was still in production). “The Clone Wars” wasn’t so lucky.
“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” follows the adventures of Jedi Masters Anakin Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi during the Clone Wars in between the events of “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”. Anakin has taken on an apprentice (an idea of Yoda and Obi-Wan) when Jabba the Hutt’s son is kidnapped. In desperate need of their trade routes to help the Republic win the war the Jedi agree to help the gangster. Hot on their tails is the Jedi assassin Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku. The pair make sure to do everything possible to stay one step ahead of their Republic enemies.
If this film ended up being the first four episodes of the new series (as it was originally intended to be) I’d probably shrug my shoulders at some of its faults and roll with it. As an opening to a TV show it does show some promise but as a full length feature film I cannot ignore “The Clone Wars” limitations.
The first thing that becomes increasingly clear as the movie goes along is the lack of strong animation. The characters are sometimes expressionless. You can tell the filmmakers didn’t have the time or the budget to really flesh out their character models. This makes for some awkward looking scenes and expresses from our main heroes at key points in the movie’s story. Considering how much George Lucas likes to push the technology of film forward it’s strange to think he didn’t pour millions of dollars (in the triple digits) to create one of the most beautiful and groundbreaking animated films, instead of settling for the wooden looking animation here in “Clone Wars”.
It’s hard to say the film has much of a story. It’s simple, it doesn’t. Okay, let me back up it does have a story it just doesn’t have anything worthy of the big screen. It feels extremely episodic meaning there is a strong lack of character building, stakes and universe expansion. In the three prequel films Lucas dealt us we actually don’t see much of the Clone Wars. We see the beginning and end. This movie had a huge opportunity to really expand upon that but nothing interesting really happens. Originally being a few episodes of the forthcoming TV series doesn’t excuse it from the lack of character building. There are lots of episodes in other animated shows (from say “Batman: The Animated Series”) that really grew and developed it’s story, and it’s characters. Even episodes in the later “Clone Wars” show did this.
The movie opens as the narrator from Little Orphan Annie catches you up to speed to what’s going on in the universe. Between the lines of a “previously on” and something pulpy from a 1930s or ’40s movie and radio serials (from which “Star Wars” was always inspired by) this is the first “Star Wars” film not to have an opening crawl text. Which, oddly enough, didn’t bother me. The narration works for the film’s tone and story.
The majority of this movie consists of giant scale battles and short lightsaber duels. The battles will occasionally thrill but mostly miss it’s mark. The lightsaber battles have no weight to them; they feel extremely programmed. Meaning, there is a lack of weight to the movement from our characters in battle. There is no danger, not because we know what happens to the principal characters but because it’s just so lifeless. I don’t feel like I’m watching two characters engaging in a fight, rather more like a simulation. That hardly creates dramatic tension when you can’t get sucked into the action.
It’s a shame that this is the only animated film we were dealt from Lucasfilm. Anyone hoping this would be the “Star Wars” equivalent of “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” you won’t find it here. It’s a disappointing venture and a bad first impression of the series that would follow. I hope in the future Lucasfilm does take another crack at a properly animated “Star Wars” film. Maybe. something in the vein of the “Old Republic” CGI Rendered cut scenes?