From what I gather, Star Wars: The Clone Wars has been dumped on pretty thoroughly by just about every review, receiving average or worse ratings across the board. It currently has a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty dismal. But I’m here to speak up in its defense… sort of. I mean, it’s not all that bad.
The title, of course, is the first problem — “wars” is in there twice, a full 40% of the words. It’s just awkward, really. The second problem is that it isn’t a movie. I mean, sure, it was released in theatres, but it’s actually just the first few episodes (I suspect the first five) of a TV series set to debut later this year. As a result, the pacing is completely off for what is usually expected of a theatrical feature.
Anyway, on to the content, rather than nitpicking the format.
The Clone Wars series is set between episode II (Attack of the Clones) and III (Revenge of the Sith), which should have ample material to mine for a series. It is, after all, the period during which Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi became famous and powerful Jedi with extensive combat experience.
It could also, conceivably, add something to the movie outings. I mean, part of the problem with the prequels was that you didn’t care so much about Anakin, so the tragedy of his fall had no impact. He went from annoying kid to whiny teenager (with terrible dialogue) to a kind of slight bad-ass, and then evil. We never see him at his most heroic, his most inspiring, and thus we never really understand how far he has fallen when he becomes Vader.
The difficulty the series will face, however, is much the same as that of the prequel movies themselves — Star Wars offers so much potential for greatness, but there is so much room for things to go very, very wrong. And the recent track record has been far over on the “wrong” end of things, than the “right”.
Unfortunately, elements of The Clone Wars continues that trend, primarily by skewing toward an audience of young children. Thus, we’re treated to the “hilarious” antics of the enemy battle droids, ridiculous caricature characters like the effeminate, lisping Ziro the Hutt, and villains that are, for the most part, so stupid you wonder how they could pose any credible threat at all.
Seeing stuff like that on the screen makes me want to face palm myself. I know George Lucas has long maintained that the Star Wars movies are for kids, and he’s not wrong on that front. While the original trilogy was enormously popular in its day, I suspect that the people most affected by it then, the people that the trilogy stayed with all these years, were the children and teenagers. The problem with the newer material is that those kids grew up, but the new movies and related content didn’t, and the kids these days just don’t go for it in the same way.
That’s not to say that kids these days don’t like Star Wars in its various forms, but it doesn’t consume them like it did a generation ago. I find it telling that I can go into a Wal-Mart or Toys ‘R’ Us store, and find a modest selection of Star Wars toys and action figures, but then I can go to The Silver Snail and find a whole wall full of them. These things are not selling to kids anymore, they’re selling to the people that were kids at the time of the original trilogy.
So, for me, it’s pretty apparent that Lucas is way off base in targetting all of this Star Wars media at young kids. And that goes for The Clone Wars, too.
Which is sort of sad, because it’s not all bad. We do get to see Anakin when he’s not a whiny little twit; when he cares about the soldiers under his command to the point where he’s willing to risk the overall mission to go back and help them; when he takes a new apprentice (Ahsoka Tano) under his wing to train her. Even in this first movie, we see a lot more depth to his character than came across in the three prequels.
The action sequences are pretty good, too. Lightsaber duels, space battles, and the like — all as good as you’d expect from Lucasfilm. The main drawback is the computer-generated animation — it’s fine, and all, but really, it can’t capture the fluidity of hand-drawn work, and so comes across as slightly rigid and mechanical. A lot of the more dumb elements that I mentioned before also seemed to get toned down a bit as the “movie” wore on, but I don’t know whether that was the creators’ intent, or whether I just got good at ignoring it.
Overall, this “movie” was moderately entertaining, but was marred by some particularly attrocioius production choices. I was entertained enough by it to be interested in seeing more in the forthcoming TV series, but I’m not sure I could recommend this without strong reservations. Naturally, it doesn’t hold up to the original trilogy; unfortunately it teeters along a fine line between being better than and worse than the prequels. I don’t think we’ve seen enough yet to tell how it’s truly going to go.