Tuesday, November 3, 2015

'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' review

Some films improve with time and a second viewing.

"Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" didn't get any better after taking a break for a while. On the other hand, "The Clone Wars" is much better than I remembered (not that I ever didn't like it). The same goes for the "Clone Wars" animated shorts, which I reviewed recently here.

Of course, to be fair, I didn't give "The Clone Wars" much of a chance when it was released Aug. 15, 2008 in theaters. But neither did many other "Star Wars" fans; it's safe to say they stayed away in droves as the computer-animated movie released by Warner Bros. only made a pathetic $35.1 million in the United States.

Lucasfilm would have been better off releasing "The Clone Wars" directly to DVD. (Keep in mind Blu-ray wasn't an option at the time.) This would have been a less risky and possibly more profitable move.

The fact is there was a lot of "Star Wars" hangover — and not the good kind — seven years ago. Even diehard fans like me, still stinging from the disappointing prequel trilogy, could have cared less about George Lucas and Lucasfilm adding to the prequel era. And releasing yet another film out of chronological order didn't help matters.

But let me be clear: Years later, I've realized "The Clone Wars" is a solid and enjoyable addition to the "Star Wars" saga. Not necessarily a must-see or must-have, but it's worth finding on DVD for a cheap price.

Before I get into the meat of this review, I'll address the misleading subtitle.

Director Dave Filoni's story (by a three-man team) doesn't focus on the clone-related battles. Instead, the focus is on the politics of the galaxy-spanning war (except without all the annoying, overly talk-y dialogue that dominates so much of "Episode I - The Phantom Menace"). What should be the main plot becomes secondary -- Anakin Skywalker being assigned a Jedi Padawan (more on that later!), much to his chagrin and the development of their working relationship (which isn't developed much at all).

The Galactic Republic needs to use Jabba the Hutt's trading routes in order to best transport its clone troopers from one battle to another. But his son has been kidnapped (who knew the slimey gangster could reproduce?).

In the meantime, Count Dooku's Separatist faction is playing both sides from the middle by trying to convince Jabba that the Jedi Order (which have agreed to rescue the Huttlet and bring him back to Jabba alive) actually killed the youngster and want to murder Jabba himself.

The idea that Jabba the Hutt has a son in ridiculous. But like the STAR WARS Expanded Universe novels (now under the LEGENDS moniker), "The Clone Wars" uses the plot point to make the Hutts a bigger part of the galaxy set "a long time ago."

Much to his astonishment, Skywalker is assigned a Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, by Yoda.

There's a major continuity snafu here because as of the "Clone War" animated shorts, Skywalker clearly is a Padawan. Here, he's referred to as "Master Skywalker" more than once, so this begs a couple questions. Did he skip the Jedi Knight status due to the needs of the Jedi Order during the Clone Wars? Or did the Jedi Council elevate him to Jedi Knight during the latter part of the animated shorts (which I haven't seen and don't own) or did this happen in the time between those adventures and this film? (Besides, how much time has between the two anyway?)

To complicate matters, it's not clear Skywalker is a Jedi Master by the time of "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith." In the beginning he's clearly paired with his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I don't remember anybody referring to or addressing Skywalker as "Master" throughout the film. (I definitely will pay attention to that next time I see "Revenge of the Sith.")

And wouldn't a Jedi Master work independently of his former master? Or did the Jedi Council order Skywalker and Kenobi to work together as they figured it would take two Jedi Masters to rescue Chancellor Palpatine?

Regardless in "The Clone Wars," Skywalker is much more mature than we last saw him (and will see him in "Revenge of the Sith"). He's much more centered and much less angry than in the preceding animated shorts. In fact, the usual hothead is almost likable.

But by "Revenge of the Sith," Skywalker is as impetuous and reckless as ever. Prequel director and "Star Wars" creator George Lucas is the single executive producer for "The Clone Wars," so any continuity glitches are all on the Bearded and Plaid-Shirted One.

The voice casting is solid. Tom Kane does an admirable job of invoking Frank Oz's Yoda-voice and James Arnold Taylor is back as Kenobi, who once again is wearing parts of the clone-trooper armor from the previous adventures.

Checking the credits, I was surprised to see Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels and Samuel L. Jackson reprised their respective roles of Count Dooku, C-3PO and Jedi Master Mace Windu. Lee's grumbly baritone honestly doesn't sound like himself while Threepio, Windu and Senator Padme Amidala are relegated to cameos.

Amidala makes a late appearance in the story. However, she is important to revealing who besides Dooku is behind the kidnapping scheme. Amidala also secures the Republic's much-needed routes from Jabba the Hutt once Skywalker and his apprentice return his son safely to his palace.

Despite Kane's unneeded narration to start the film and Kevin Kine's uninspired adaptation of John Williams' score, "The Clone Wars" is a good time and a welcome addition to the "Star Wars" saga. Grade: B

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