Thursday, October 9, 2014

Movie Review #35 - Star Wars: The Clone Wars

In 2003, Genndy Tartakovsky created a series of animated episodes called Star Wars: Clone Wars. His distinct style, used to great effect in the Samurai Jack series, was applied to the Star Wars universe, telling stories that happened between Episodes II and III. I never got to see this series, though I sorely want to. It looks amazing.

A few years after that series ended, though, George Lucas decided to create another animated series that takes place in the same time period. It was computer animated and had no connection to Mr. Tartakovsky, so I wasn't that interested. However, the movie that kicked off the series is on Netflix, so I decided to check it out.

Short review: well, it's not the worst Star Wars movie? It's not good enough or important enough to the Star Wars canon for me to recommend it.


Shortly after the battle on Geonosis in which Anakin and Obi-Wan fought Count Dooku, war has broken out across the galaxy. The Jedi, once galactic peacekeepers, diplomats, and teachers, were now generals at the head of an army of clones. The various planets and governments in the galaxy start taking sides as each army seeks to gain the advantage over the other.

Anakin and Obi-Wan, once master and student now each a master in their own right, are battling a Separatist army on some planet when a messenger arrives with news that their assistance is needed to save the child of Jabba the Hutt. The child had been kidnapped, and the Republic hoped to secure access to Jabba's hyperspace routes by returning his child to him unharmed.

Also, the messenger was Anakin's new padawan, a responsibility Anakin had neither asked for nor wanted.

So, the Jedi set out on an adventure as the padawan Ahsoka strives to prove herself useful to her reckless new master.


To be honest, I only really watched this movie after I had already started watching the rest of the series on Netflix. I just assumed that Ahsoka was introduced in the Tartakovsky series and accepted her and the other new characters like Darth Ventress in stride. For what it's worth, Venress is originally from the Tartakovsky series, I think.

The TV series isn't bad, but it's tough to watch at first. The storylines and characters start off pretty bland, and there's no clear reason for the series to exist at first. But then, much like the clone troopers who make up so much of the show's cast, you start to notice little changes in the show over the course of its run that give it a unique character with a charm of its own. The series begins to tackle issues beyond simple good and evil and starts exploring the individualism of the clone troopers, the reasons people fight, the reasons people don't fight, and increasingly complex ethical questions as we get to know the characters well enough for those ethical questions to hold weight.

Likewise, the animation of the show starts off pretty stiff, as if the 3D animators were kind of getting the hang of it as they went along. The style is cool enough: faces are expressive, the hair and body structure of the characters are clearly in reference to the Tartakovsky series, and even the multitudes of identical clones have little idiosyncrasies that allow you to distinguish one from the other. However, the movements felt stiff and limited, and it all felt a bit unnatural. Over time, though, the animators seemed to get the hang of it, and things moved more smoothly.

Watching the movie after seeing the later episodes was rough, though. Everything came right back to where it was before: bland characters, bland and predictable storylines, and stiff animation even though it was a feature film. Though, as it turns out, it was really just basically the first four episodes of the TV series strung together; a fact that I suspected before I confirmed it.

Early in the series, there's very little tension as the Jedi characters never really feel like they're in danger. While the clone troopers fight and die around them, the Jedi are busy looking cool and shouting quips at each other. It's like the Jedi barely value the lives of their soldiers any more than the Separatists value the "lives" of their droids.

In fact, it's kind of a running joke in the series that the droids, though bumbling and rather dumb, clearly have a sense of self-preservation and fear of death. There's a moment in the movie when, after Ventress fails to capture Anakin, a battle droid asks if he should let Count Dooku know that she failed. She proceeds to throw the droid off of a cliff, and you can hear the droid screaming, "WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYyyyyyyy....." as he falls. It's tragic and kind of funny at once, and it brings up that persistent question from the Star Wars universe: are droids truly sentient and, as such, do they deserve rights as organics do? The movies seem to be saying yes, over and over again, yet the people of the universe never bring it up. Maybe they just try not to think about it.

Anyway, it's not that surprising that the bad guys treat their minions poorly. What's more interesting is how the Jedi treat their clone army. It seems like, at first, most Jedi (including heroes like Anakina and Obi-Wan) just treat their soldiers like any other resource; tools to get a job done, rather than real people. Even the clones themselves seem to ascribe to this concept as, though they care for each other as brothers, they acknowledge their subservience to the people of the Republic and consider its protection the sole purpose of their lives.

At first, only Yoda seems to acknowledge their individuality, and he tries to illustrate it to the troopers under his command. For everyone else, it seems like a slow realization, as only after spending a long time out in the field, getting to know each other and getting to know themselves, do the Jedi and clones start to accept their value as individuals who, honestly, deserve a choice to, say, fight in this war or not. As Obi-Wan and Anakin come to rely more and more on their captains Cody and Rex, it begins to seem like more and more of a loss if these soldiers were to ever die under their command.

And these soldiers and other people die a lot. Violently. Luckily, blasters and lightsabers don't leave much blood, or else there's no way the show would be able to maintain its rating.

As a final note, one of the most interesting things about the show is the way it portrays Anakin Skywalker in a fairly positive light. He's a deeply flawed individual destined to become Darth Vader, sure, but the transformation of the Anakin from the movies seemed like an inevitability. The transformation from the Anakin of this series, though, seems more and more like a tragedy. Giving Anakin a padawan was Obi-Wan and Yoda's idea to calm Anakin down and make him into a more responsible person, and the plan basically works. Anakin's relationship with Ahsoka is the source of much of his growth as a character, just as he affects hers. In the end, it's much easier to like this Anakin than the one from the movies, which is what makes his destiny tragic.

Anyway, though the series is getting better, the only notable event from the Clone Wars movie was the introduction of Ahsoka and, as I noted, she's pretty easy to understand even if you miss her introduction. So, I'd only recommend the movie if you're interested in watching the series and absolutely feel the need to start from "the beginning." Otherwise, go ahead and pass.

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