Theatrical review: Star Wars – The Clone Wars

Released: 15 August ’08
Certificate: PG
Director: Dave Filoni
Screenwriter: Henry Gilroy, Steve Melching, Scott Murphy
Cast: Matt Lanter, James Arnold Taylor, Tom Kane, Ian Abercrombie, Ashley Eckstein, Catherine Taber, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee, Samuel L Jackson
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 97 mins

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Released: 15 August ’08
Certificate: PG
Director: Dave Filoni
Screenwriter: Henry Gilroy, Steve Melching, Scott Murphy
Cast: Matt Lanter, James Arnold Taylor, Tom Kane, Ian Abercrombie, Ashley Eckstein, Catherine Taber, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee, Samuel L Jackson
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 97 mins

Do you remember playing with your Star Wars figures? Do you recall if the plots of those play moments matched anything resembling the movies you loved? Chances are they probably didn’t. More than likely they revolved around continual dust-ups between stormtroopers and Jedi. It’s clearly something that the makers of the new Star Wars movie, Clone Wars, remember only too well, yet unlike the rest of us, they decided to make a movie of their figurine playtime.

Set awkwardly between not only Episodes 2 and 3, but also between the two halves of the Cartoon Network animated mini-series that spawned it, Clone Wars continues the story of the campaign between the Separatists and the Republic, with the Sith manipulating everything in a massively convoluted power play that will pay off in Revenge Of The Sith.
The opening story revolves around the kidnap of Jabba the Hutt’s previously unmentioned son by Count Dooku, in a bid to destabilise the outer rim systems and stir up a second warfront for the Republic. Anakin Skywalker now with his own “sassy”, valley girl Padawan, must venture off to locate the “Huttling” before Jabba decides to side with the Separatists, turning the tide of the war in the process.
After the initial establishing of the plot and the stakes involved, director Dave Filoni hunkers down and sets about giving you 97 minutes of the CGI equivalent of those figurine dust-ups from yesteryear. The action, which initially starts off in spectacular fashion, quickly becomes dull and numbing, with swathes of droids and clones falling beneath a hail of laser fire and lightsaber hack-‘n’-slash combat that has you yearning for something, anything, in the way of meaningful dialogue to give you some respite.
When the dialogue does eventually arrive, it quickly slips into two very distinct categories: the first, childish action dialogue mostly cribbed wholesale from the original films; the second, huge lumps of leaden exposition, bringing those who may have dozed off during the 15th clone/droid stand-off in the past 5 minutes up to speed with exactly who is fighting who, where and why. The script by Henry Gilroy, Steve Melching and Scott Murphy removes Anakin’s whining and petulance, transforming the character in to a dull straight man to his hip young Padawan, but the effect is one that removes the series from the films that bookend it both in tone and content. Other characters fare little better: Padmé, 3P0 and Yoda get little more than cameos, while Obi-Wan is effete, consigned to being little more than Anakin’s backup where the story demands.

The action is certainly eye-popping in places, most notably a vertical assault up a cliff face by Anakin and his clones, yet it’s very hard to engage with. Partly this is due to the fact that the clones and the droids, who make up the majority of the cannon fodder, are utterly faceless and wiped out with monotonous regularity; partly it’s to do with the visual overload of what amounts to 90 minutes of the 97 being a constant fight. But ultimately the real problem comes with the innate knowledge that nothing that takes place on screen is going to have any impact at all.

The original animated Clone Wars series consisted of two volumes; the first took place directly after Attack Of The Clones, the second preceded Revenge Of The Sith, ending on the very opening shot of that movie, and so both halves felt relevant to the overall story. Unlike these, though, the new Clone Wars series feels redundant from the outset. It’s a feeling that increases as the film, an amalgam of multiple parts of a forthcoming TV series, moves forward. Only Anakin’s new Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, stands any chance of being interesting due to her introduction to the saga here, but even so, given her master’s actions in Revenge Of The Sith and her lack of appearance outside of this new series, her future isn’t exactly looking rosy.

Beyond the story, such as it is, the production of the film adds a lacklustre feel to everything; from the frankly dire score by Kevin Kiner – who re-enforces the majesty of John Williams’s original work by turning in a rendition of the epic opening theme that’s so abysmal, that it sounds like a demo preset on a cheap electric organ – to the majority of the voice acting, which wavers between competent impressions to decidedly dodgier representations of characters and races. The one exception to this being Christopher Lee’s booming presence as Dooku.
The visuals fare little better. By turns striking and certainly iconic in places, the animation at times gives too clear an idea what the galaxy far, far away would look like had it been handed to Gerry Anderson in the Sixties. At times it’s dramatic and interesting but for the majority of the time the characters are lifeless, lacking in weight, pacing and empathy. In these CGI/DVD-extra savvy times, audiences will find very little to wow them, especially when the latest DreamWorks or Pixar beautifully-animated extravaganza plays in the theatre next door.

The overall result is one of profound apathy for all but the most hardcore (or undemanding) Star Wars fans who need to know the minute surrounding events between Volumes 1 and 2 of Genndy Tartakovsky’s original stylish series. For the rest of the audience, it will be hard to shake an overwhelming sense of cynicism that this is simply product to keep balance sheets looking healthy.