Sunday, November 1, 2015

'Star Wars: Clone Wars' animated shorts (volume 1) review

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third of an eight-part occasional series by Cary's Comics Craze in which blogger Cary Ashby is reviewing the "Star Wars" saga -- in chronological order.  The pseudo-series is helping this lifelong, diehard "Star Wars" fan get ready for the Dec. 18 release of "The Force Awakens" — about which he's already written several op-eds or reviews. (And really, who's not pumped for that film anyway?!?)

The first installment was his review of "Episode I - The Phantom Menace," continued with "Episode II - Attack of the Clones" and now, with the first volume (the only one I own!) of the animated shorts directed by Genndy Tartakovsky known as "Clone Wars." 

The next installment of this pseudo-series will be a review of the 2008 computer-animated film "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and since I don't own any of the seven seasons of the phenomenal "Clone Wars" animated series, I will move onto the 1977 blockbuster film that started it all — "Episode IV - A New Hope."

For all of the CCC op-eds and reviews about "Star Wars," click this link. Now, without further ado …

The Clone Wars — Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) briefly mentioned it to Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope."

Since 1977, the pivotal war has been the thing of legend in the "Star Wars" universe. It's a defining moment in George Lucas' world, but we never see it happen in any live-action incarnations.

True, the Clone Wars starts with the Battle of Geonosis, the finale of "Episode II - Attack of the Clones," but is mostly done by the beginning of "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith."

That leaves the war getting the animated treatment — three times over: The 2003-2005 series of animated shorts (the first volume of which is reviewed here), the 2008 computer-animated film that bombed in theaters (which will be reviewed next in this pseudo-"Star Wars" saga series) and the 2008-2015 Cartoon Network series.

Simply, the first volume of "Star Wars: Clone Wars" is a delight.

Drawn in the style of director Genndy Tartakovsky's "Samauri Jack" animated series, "Volume One" is told over multiple micro-episodes, lasting about three minutes each. The story picks up after "Attack of the Clones" when the various battles known collectively as the Clone Wars are pounding the galaxy.

The characters are drawn in sharp angles, but there's no mistaking they are part of "Star Wars." The distinct sound effects, such as a lightsaber's sizzle and crackle, R2-D2's beeps and blaster fire, are all there and as distinctive as ever. So is the speed; the ships and blaster fire move as fast — if not faster — than anything seen in the live-action films.

Mat Lucas does an admirable job of invoking Hayden Christensen's flat delivery of Anakin Skywalker's dialogue. James Arnold Taylor's Kenobi sounds more like Ewan McGregor than Anthony Daniels does once again reprising C-3PO. Threepio and Artoo basically have an extended cameo in one adventure paired with Yoda and Senator Padme Amidala, who also only has a cameo. Amidala's animated counterpart is much more fun than Natalie Portman's original incarnation.

There's not much dialogue; nearly half or more of the "Clone Wars" episodes focus on action. This allows for an appreciation of the fantastic visual and sound effects and the score.

"Clone Wars" brings home the realization just how much the galaxy-spanning battles drain the Galactic Republic's forces. It also spreads the Jedi Knights thin, so we see Masters Kito Fisk and Ki-Adi-Mundi do their thing.

By far, the most impressive adventure not featuring the clone troopers, Kenobi or Skywalker (the focus of the series) is the one starring Jedi Master Mace Windu.

He's just as much as badass as Samuel L. Jackson's; Windu takes on — and defeats — hundreds of Federation battle 'bots in an agricultural planet. In the no-dialogue adventure, the Jedi Master Force-jumps and runs in ways we'd never be able to see in live-action films (because it would be impossible to make it look real). By the end, there's no doubt why Windu has earned a reputation for being only second to Yoda in fighting skills.

Besides the many, many battles, the only true storyline thread is Skywalker's continued immaturity and overconfidence. It doesn't help matters that he's still only a Jedi Padawan, but he nonetheless is given the rank of commander to oversee a space battle.

Skywalker, never one to listen to authority — and certainly not Kenobi, eventually leaves that fight to chase down Asajj Ventress, a Dark Jedi who hopes to be the Sith apprentice to Count Dooku. Their lightsaber battle in the jungle planet is ultimately a draw, but Ventress is a great match for Skywalker, who fights with reckless abandon and seems to come one step closer to his Dark Side destiny. She also proves Skywalker isn't the only warrior in the galaxy adept at fighting with two lightsabers.

Ventress seemingly falls to her death. But not to worry: She returns later as an assassin in the "Clone Wars" movie and the animated series.

Even later, the Jedi Order even hires Ventress to work with a Jedi Master to assassinate Count Dooku in the highly recommended novel DARK DISCIPLE, based on unaired "Clone Wars" episodes. Ventress truly comes into her own in DARK DISCIPLE, which is an intriguing story dealing with the messy and complicated tanglement of Jedi-Sith allegiances. (Make sure you read the foreword by Lucas' daughter, who had a hand in the "Clone Wars" series and loves Ventress.)

Having the read Christie Golden's book and gotten to know Ventress, I understand why so many fans find her fascinating. Without spoiling anything, let me just say I found myself rooting for the equally complex Ventress and Jedi Master Quinlan Vos and by the heard, my heart broke over their complicated relationship. Grade: A

This "Clone Wars" is a fun time — much more enjoyable than "Attack of the Clones." Ironically, Tartakovsky handles Lucas' prequel universe better than the master and creator himself.

I actually agree with the propaganda DVD packaging: It is "a must-have for any 'Star Wars' DVD collection" — or at least something fans should watch. Grade: A

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