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Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008): **

Directed by Dave Filoni

This movie got hideously vilified when it was released into theaters, but really there isn't very much that is actively bad in it. It's only real problem was that it should never have been released into theaters to begin with.

SWtCW is really just the three-part pilot of the Cartoon Network television series, crammed together and released into theaters to make a quick buck (at which it succeeded admirably; it had a budget of about $8mil and easily made $35mil) and promote the up-coming TV show. The movie doesn't have any appreciably higher budget than the TV show, leading to some scenes having some awkward animation and lazy compositions. So even at its best it still just kinda felt like a big long advertisement for something you should watch later.

One thing I did appreciate about the film was that it brought back the old-school Star Wars story formula that appeared in 4 of the 6 films: The Interrupted Quest. Episodes 1, 4, 5, & 6 are all based on the idea of having one simple, clear goal throughout the movie that the protagonists are trying to accomplish, but they keep on getting side-tracked by all manner of problems being thrown at them. In Episode 1 they're trying to get Padme to the senate so she can plead for help. In Episode 4 it's that they have to get the plans in R2D2 to the rebellion. In Episode 5 they're just trying to meet up at the rendezvous point. Episode 6 has two Interrupted Quests back-to-back: first they try to save Han from Jabba, then they're trying to blow up the shield generator on Endor. In Clone Wars they're trying to rescue Jabba the Hutt's son and return him to his home on Tatooine. But first they gotta deal with all kinds of problems being thrown at them. Here's some bad: Jabba's kid, when they rescue him, turns out to be a Snarf character, and is horribly annoying every moment he's on the screen.

Since the movie was made from three episodes crammed together, there are really three very clear acts to the movie. Easily the most successful one is the 2nd act, where the protagonists raid a cliff-top monastery where Jabba's kid is being held captive. There are some very entertaining action sequences here, such as a large-scale battle on a vertical surface, and some air-based fighting. There is also a well-done lightsaber duel between Asajj Ventress and Obi-Wan.

The over-arcing character story of the movie deals with Anakin. The Jedi council is (justifiably) concerned about his maturity level. And so they assign him a student (padawan), a youngish girl named Ashoka, in a hope that being thrust into a teacher role will help him grow up and settle down a little bit (it worked for Obi-Wan after all). And it does seem to work some as Anakin changes from his inital resentment at being saddled with this burden to coming to respect and honor the responsiblity. But it brings up some ominous thoughts: we know this movie takes place before Episode III, and we know that at the beginning of Episode III Anakin does not have a padawan. So what happenes to her before Episode III? Why doesn't Anakin mention her even once? I guess we'll have to watch the show to find out.

A nice detail was the voice work of Christopher Lee and Samuel L. Jackson reprising their roles from the prequel movies. And of course Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. The other voice acting is hit-and-miss. James Arnold Taylor sounds almost exactly like Ewan MacGregor's Obi-Wan. Matt Lanter is actually a bit more charismatic than Hayden Christensen's Anakin. Tom Kane just doesn't quite do Frank Oz's Yoda justice. And Ashely Eckstein as Ashoka is horribly un-appealingly "sassy" and made it very, very difficult to care at all about the character.

The very stylized art style of the movie grew on me as I was watching it. I kinda liked the way all of the surfaces--even skin and clothes--looked as though they'd been painted with brushes. It was as if they were going for more of a stop-motion, physical puppet look rather than a more contemporary CGI style.

So there is nothing in this film to inspire the resentment it garnered. Reviewers, I think, were just angry that it was in theaters at all when it is clearly just a TV show. That's a legitimate complaint, but let's not make a mountain out of a molehill. As at TV pilot it's pretty good; as a movie it's only okay.


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