Saturday, November 15, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The "Movie"

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) came out in the middle of August and barely took in $40 million at the box office. It was ignored by all but the most die-hard Star Wars fans, and rejected by the press. It suffered from the lack of goodwill that the prequels engendered in the mainstream audiences, and from its own lack of ambition.

Let's be honest: the Clone Wars movie is a trumped up pilot episode. Or, really, a few pilot episodes, edited together to make a "feature." It could be argued (and I'm certain it has been argued) that the feature might have been more happily received if it were originally released for the small screen.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Since the movie was less a story of its own, and more of a "release party" for the show, maybe it's best to judge it on its goals.

First of all, the movie establishes and introduces the Thunderbirds-influenced animation style of the Cartoon Network show. The look was always going to be a bit controversial, but it certainly works. The problem, perhaps, is that on the big screen, there's Pixar and Dreamworks pumping out things like Wall-E and Finding Nemo and Kung Fu Panda. Animation that simply looks breath-taking. The Clone Wars is amazing for a weekly TV show; but its simply low-rent compared to Pixar.

Second, the feature introduces the Ashoka Tano, the Togruta teenaged Padawan of Anakin Skywalker. "Snips," as Anakin bracingly calls her, offers a little bit of Star Wars for the Hannah Montana-set. One might fairly ask if Hannah Montana fans were looking for a little more Star Wars in their diet. God knows. But they've got it, and now, so do the rest of us.

Ashoka, in the feature, is a heartlessly market tested contraption, sort of the opposite of Qui-Gon Jinn. Whereas Qui-Gon seemed to be a good idea that was unrealized, Ashoka seems like a terrible idea, to which the entire film is dedicated. She treats our heroes like imbeciles, makes already bloodless scenes of war into play-time contrivances, and generally lowers the IQ of the entire feature.

Why, a reasonable Star Wars fan asks, does she exists beyond an appeal to teenage girls? The stated reason, essentially posed by Yoda, is that Anakin has too many "attachment" issues and this Padawan is a way for him to learn how to let go. Fair enough. (A lot of good it does everyone, according to Revenge of the Sith and the entire Star Wars mythos.) The dark side is in the details, though. It's hard to look the other way as Anakin's entirely unheard of Padawan shows up in this cartoon series, never to be spoken of again, and never heard of before. It's harder still to accept the idea that the only solution that the Jedi can come up with for solving the Anakin-problem is to team him up with a quippy, chirpy teenybopper in the middle of a civil war.

Her presence makes Jar Jar Binks seem positively unintrusive.

Not helping, though, is the plot. This sort of Scooby-Doo level plot revolves around a baby Hutt that's missing. It's, suffice to say, an insufficiently thought through story. There's never been much clamor for a sentimental Jabba the Hutt story (his menace here is butterknife dull) and the "hutt-let" called Stinky (I'm told he has a real name, but who really cares?) is a visual gag that attains only Michael Jackson childishness. Plus, within the confines of this plot lies a mistake so massive, it doesn't even get subtitles Huttese: Zirro the Hutt.

How many ways does Zirro the Hutt fail? He is designed with glowing tattoos and feathers. He speaks like Truman Capote. He is a gay Hutt from New York City. He is a terror. Let us speak no more of him. Ever. Again.

So... not a smashing debut for the series, so to speak.

So what went...right?

First of all, Anakin Skywalker, in the movie (and in the series) comes off as particularly likeable and heroic. In the confines of the two films in which we see an Anakin that's older than 10; there's little time for much beyond brooding. Hayden Christensen had the weight of Darth Vader on his shoulders; cartoon Anakin has no such pretense. He has no idea that he's about to become the world's biggest villain, and in the feature, he comes off as charming, fun, and resourceful.

Second, some of the action sequences were inventive. The vertical battle (despite the "race ya' to the top" boneheadedness) is staged with real style; the Obi-Wan vs. Asajj Ventress duel has some nice moments; and space battles have a nice Star Wars feel to them.

Third, it was Star Wars on the big screen. So heck, who doesn't like that?

Rating (out of five): **

No comments: