Star Wars The Clone Wars Review: Lucas Aims Young

If the Star Wars prequels taught us anything it’s George Lucas’ mind is wrapped around pushing the boundaries of technology in filmmaking and maximizing profits by introducing his beloved series to a new generation rather than appealing to the now adult fans that made him into a “gazillionaire” to begin with. This frankly “flippant” attitude has irked many a Star Wars diehard who shakes their head in disbelief every time Lucas answers criticism with “but that’s how I always wanted it and I’m the boss, so there!”

As much as the original generation of Star Wars fans cling to hope the new Clone Wars film serving as the catalyst for a television series will be closer to their adult vision of Star Wars as seen in Tartakovsky’s 2003 Clone Wars animated shorts, the realization is this series is not made for them. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is an evolution of the brand into a flashier, hipper and dare I say it, more juvenile product than its predecessors. It’s for the diehard fans’ children and the girl down the street singing to Miley Cyrus playing on her iPod Shuffle. With a few welcome exceptions, The Clone Wars doesn’t look, sound or play like the Star Wars of old.

The Internet unofficially replaced plain text newspapers as our medium of choice for news not too long ago. Much in the same vein, the opening crawl text synonymous with Star Wars has been replaced with something more visually arresting. Kids today don’t want to read their information, right? Their wired brains want pictures and sound, so director Dave Filoni and Lucas deliver with an obnoxious high-pitched newscaster reading off what would have been the opening crawl to snippets of accompanying “news” footage all set to a new faster-paced Clone Wars theme replacing John Williams’ iconic score. More disheartening for fans is the glossed over back story warrants screen time as much as, if not more so, than the film’s main plot.

The Clone Wars is an assemblage of four episodes from the upcoming stylized CGI-animated television show with a main story arc involving the film’s McGuffin: the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt. Whoever returns the young Huttling to his impatient father will gain favor from the Hutt clan and clear passage through the shipping routes in the outer rim territories. It’s a story deeply rooted in the original trilogy and an inventive foundation to build a series upon.

Serving as the portal into the world of Star Wars for new younger fans is Ahsoka Tano, a teenage Padawan assigned to Anakin Skywalker by Yoda and Obi-Wan against his will. Ahsoka is strikingly beautiful in appearance and more than capable with the Force and a lightsaber, skills necessary to survive a mission sending her and her Master to rescue the Huttling from nefarious Count Dooku.

Ahsoka’s arrival following the film’s opening intense ground battle between Separatist droids and Republic Clonetroopers triggers the first of many creative decisions throwing the narrative and tone into an uneven ride. Everything the animators did right with Ahsoka’s physical appearance is washed away the moment she opens her mouth.

Ahsoka, voiced by Ashley Eckstein of That’s So Raven fame, speaks like she stepped off a Disney Camp Rock set with voice inflections mirroring those of a hyper teenage girl who hangs out at the mall. Her youthful demeanor rubs off on Anakin and before you know it they address each other with grade school nicknames and call Jabba’s son “Stinky” whenever possible. The attempt to recreate banter between Han Solo and Luke is appreciated but falls flat on Ahsoka’s overly youthful and contemporary representation. Where’s congested General Grevious to add her lightsaber to his belt when you need him?

The Separatist armies don’t offer any assistance towards achieving a consistent tone, either. One minute a Super Battle Droid catches a lunging Clonetrooper and puts a blaster hole in his chest in a decidedly mature moment. In the next, Battle Droids act out a slapstick comedy skit in the heat of battle. The pattern of indecisiveness repeats itself throughout leaving kids subjected to intense violence and adults checking the time left until the credits roll.

Massive AT-TE walkers climbing a mountainside while struggling to maintain their footing is one of the more impressive Star Wars scenes ever put on film in any medium. Likewise, providing a history of the B’Omarr Monk Monasteries that connects to Jabba’s Palace and giving Clonetrooper commanders’ personalities is a noble nod to fan requests. But those ideas and contributions likely written by true fans within LucasFilm’s ranks won’t be the topic of discussion after viewing The Clone Wars.

“Italian” Watto, the “Asian” Separatist leaders and “Jamaican Rastafarian” Jar Jar proved Lucas is not afraid to tap into blatant stereotypes in this new Star Wars era. None of these personalities come close to igniting the controversy Ziro the Hutt is poised to. The character first introduced as Jabba’s “uncle” is suspiciously decked out in feathers, make-up and glow in the dark tattoos. When Ziro speaks for the first time, a collective groan of “what?” will be felt throughout the theater at the sound of an English, not Huttese, raspy feminine voice inspired by Truman Capote. Ziro is, in fact, the first transsexual gay character in the Star Wars universe whose speech delivery sent a chill down my spine.

Times have changed since the original Star Wars trilogy and Lucas isn’t one to not take advantage through his work. Unlike the upcoming GI Joe Resolute cartoon Hasbro is gearing squarely at fans responsible for making the brand popular back in the 1980s, the new Clone Wars adventure is designed to introduce a new younger fan base to Star Wars in hopes of dragging out the adventures of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

If not for the numerous large-scale battle sequences and influence of LucasFilm writers and animators that understand Jawas creeping up on a parked droid is broad appeal humor while battle droids telling jokes is not, the Clone Wars would be one big “stinky” mess. There’s fortunately just enough “old school” Star Wars sprinkled in with the adolescent tinkering to warrant a digital viewing up on the big screen where the sight of droids and Clonetroopers shooting at each other never seems to grow old.

– Dan Bradley

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