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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (review)

Jedi Mind Trick

“You fought in the Clone Wars?” Oh man, do I remember hearing Luke Skywalker say that when I was eight years old and thinking, Wow, cool! Clone wars! What could that have been? Now, I’ll concede that what the Clone Wars actually turned out to have been, in that historical era a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, is probably not as mindblowing as my eight-year-old mind could have invented, seeing as how it’s just a big galactic civil war with cloned humanoid soldiers on one side and droid armies on the other. (I seem to recall imagining, when I was a teenager and really consumed with Star Wars, that surely the Clone Wars must have been fought over clones or cloning, not merely with them. You know, as an ethical thing. Like how the U.S. fought over slavery or something.) But I’m old now, and I’ve seen it all. I bet today’s eight-year-olds will find Star Wars: The Clone Wars pretty darn awesome.
But you know what? Don’t tell anyone I said so, but I kinda thought The Clone Wars was pretty darn awesome too. At least as far as overblown Saturday morning cartoons go — probably if I could have had a big bowl of Frosted Flakes with cold milk to go with it, it would have been perfect. Sure, the flick is basically nonstop battles with a few funny lines thrown in, but the battles are actually highly entertaining, wildly varied — the vertical one, with machines climbing up a 90-degree cliff, is amazing — and way more coherent than anything George Lucas created for the new trilogy. The director here, Dave Filoni, is an animation pro with credits like TV’s King of the Hill and Avatar: The Last Airbender to his name, but basically he’s just a big ol’ Star Wars fanboy who lucked into this job. But it seems he knew how to take the best of what Lucas gave us with this universe and play with it, while ignoring Lucas’s worst excesses.

The story is, as is the way of things with Star Wars these days, simultaneously very simple and horrifically complex. We’re in between the events of Episodes II and III: Anakin Skywalker is a full Jedi Knight but has not yet gone to the Dark Side. Jabba the Hutt’s son — that’s right, I said “son” — has been kidnapped, and Republic General Skywalker, along with General Obi-wan Kenobi, have been dispatched to rescue him. Why would the Jedi care about the son of a gangster? Well, it seems the breakaway separatists led by evil Count Dooku and his droid armies have succeeded in taking over certain of the hyperspace lanes vital for galactic travel, which leaves only the spacelanes of the Outer Rim for the cloned Republic armies, commanded by the Jedi, to move about on… but those are controlled by the crimelord Hutts, and so the Jedi have to make nice with them before Dooku does. I think it may be even more complicated that this, but Galactic C-Span bores me so I’m not fully up on the politics.

Oh, it’s all cheesy at times, no question: the universe appears to be full of catwalks ready made for lightsaber-dueling upon; we get to visit the Coruscant nightspot run by Truman Capote the Hutt — actually, he’s called Ziro the Hutt, but he’ll always be Truman Capote the Hutt to me; and Anakin’s Padawan learner is almost as annoying as Jar Jar. So what? The original Star Wars was cheesy too — we just didn’t realize it because we were only in third grade. I suppose some fans find the “roger, roger” battle droids cheesy, but I think they’re hilarious: hearing one of them bark “Surrender Republic dogs” is one of the highlights of the movie.

The animation is both clever and magnificent, too. The style was supposedly prompted by the look of Thunderbirds, that old British marionette show, but I don’t see it. I do see how everything not organic — spaceships, robots, cityscapes — looks completely realistic, and much like those things looked in the new “live-action” trilogy, which was mostly CGI anyway. (The battle machines continue to be inspired in design: some look like giant spiders, others like big snails; I suppose the beer-can robots came from another weapons contractor, one that didn’t take cues from nature.) And everything organic, like people’s faces, is stylized enough so that you’re not expecting photorealism in them. The story — scripted by animation vets Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, and Scott Murphy — isn’t one of deep emotion anyway, so we’re not looking for any great sensitivity in those faces. (The voice cast consists of mostly unknowns doing passable imitations of the famous live-action cast, with the exceptions of Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, and Samuel L. Jackson as Mac Windu, because they’re not ever gonna get that lightsaber out of Jackson’s hands, even when they’re cold and dead, and I don’t blame him.)

I went into Star Wars: The Clone Wars not anticipating anything to hold my interest, but I was hugely entertained by it. The Force was with me.

MPAA: rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • Chris-E

    Thanks for posting this MAJ. I wanted to take my son, but was waiting to see your review since the other crtics have been harsh (why does everyone have a hard on for Lucas now?). I was afraid this was more like SPACE CHIMP WARS or something. I’m only mildly interested, but my son is almost 4 so I think he’ll love it.

  • Just came out from the theater, and have to admit being a bit underwhelmed, and I’m a guy who still doesn’t actively hate the prequels, and thought the Clone Wars cartoon miniseries kicked copious quantities of backside.

    Some of it was missteps in the translation of the stylized flat drawings of the cartoon to the new 3d form. The Cartoon used a snap-to-pose that worked really well for the graphic style, but comes across as stilted and limited with the 3d rigs. Also, while there’s definitely a painterly aesthetic to the production, it doesn’t extend to the character models, which are chiseled plastic. I wish they’d fully committed to one form or another; as it is, the compromise feels a little like playing with action figures in an art museum.

    The dialog was stilted and cliche, which is typical for Star Wars (especially the prequels), and while that’s ok for a 30-min show, It doesn’t carry a feature-length movie very well.

    So that’s my take. It was ok, with some good moments, and I’ll be interested in watching the tv series, which should be much more digestible chunks. I just don’t think this film-length episode worked out quite right.

  • Steve Youss

    This review is unfair.

    This film is awful. The Hutt’s? Tatooine again? This film ruined what was once great about the Star Wars universe.

    Yes, its like a saturday morning cartoon…that costs 10 dollars!

    The animation is incomplete and shotty, the character designs are extremely cheap (because again, this is a kid’s tv cartoon)

  • JoshB


    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • MaryAnn

    The Cartoon used a snap-to-pose that worked really well for the graphic style, but comes across as stilted and limited with the 3d rigs.

    I recognize those words as English, but I have no idea what they mean all strung together like that.

    This review is unfair.

    My opinion is unfair? How can that be?

  • e


    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    Man all I can think of is Princess Bride after reading that. Go Fezzik!

  • Catalinda8

    I liked it, too – and so did my kids. No, it wasn’t great or groundbreaking or earthshaking. Was it entertaining? Was it a fun way to spend a couple hours at the movies? Yes. As a SW fan, I can appreciate that people’s expectations and hopes were extremely high, and I can understand how some would be disappointed, but take it for what it is – an hour and a half preview for the cartoon series – and enjoy it. (And personally, I couldn’t stand the animation from the older mini-series – as rigid as this animation is at times, I do think it’s an improvement)
    When the live action series is launched, I hope there’s more depth to the characters and better dialogue!!

  • Russell

    I just got home from the theater and I have to say that you’re spot on about the Saturday-morning-cartoon feel of the movie.

    We loved it and it’s gone a long way towards washing out the horrendously bad taste that the prequels left behind.

  • George Lucas seems to have become the man everyone loves to hate. He can do no right in certain peoples eyes and the amount of vitriol I have seen levelled at this man in recent times has been gob smacking…almost.

    I for one loved the Clone Wars and I’m as cynically twisted as the next 30 something year old for whom too many years has passed since September 11. Look, the Clone Wars was a decent film, well paced, funny and fun and if you look at it as a part of the whole saga I think it fills in the gaps in Lucas’ narrative nicely and in time both this movie and the tv series to follow will cause many to revise their revulsion of the prequel series of films.

    The animation was fantastic, the dialogue was actually pretty decent and there certainly wasn’t a helluva whole lotta cheesiness in their. I loved the character of Ashoka Tano and I feel that she will be the one to watch as this series progresses.

    Many people out there will continue to punish Lucas no matter what he does. It has sadly become a sport of sorts but the Clone Wars is by no means bad at all. In fact it actually kicks butt quite nicely…


  • Mel

    I’m bothered by the decision to give Anakin a padawan–I feel like it’s totally inappropriate for his character arc, and I definitely got the impression in ROTS that he hadn’t fully moved out of the master-apprentice relationship with Obi-Wan, so I’m really hesitant to see this (although I loved the previous Clone Wars animated miniseries). Perhaps I should wait for DVD.

  • Chris-E

    Well, I saw it with my kid. Not bad. Not great, but for what it is it’s good. Being a parent with a 3 year old requires that you watch some pretty lame cartoons and shows. This was a welcome diversion from the usual crap I have to watch. Is it SW like were used to? No, but for a TV show (which is what this is) it’s good. It’s no where near the atrocious Ewok Adventure films!

    Mel, as far as Anakin having a padawan is concerned, I think it’s clear that it won’t last too long (since Ahsoka isn’t in Ep III). In Ep III Anakin is a Jedi and no longer a padawan, but sought continued guidance and mentoring from Obi-Wan. This is likely going to be due to his failure as a teacher of Ahsoka (and possibly his failure to protect her) and the fact that he is living a secret life with Padme and is having difficulties reconciling the two. It seemed to be more of a brotherly relationship in ROTS.

    I do agree that Lucas likes to paint himself into little corners with the non-linear story telling of this saga. We shall see how this all works out.

  • Maryann: Sorry; animator babble. I’ll try to put it in layman’s terms.

    By snap-to-pose, i mean the timing of the fights is always a quick motion (just a couple frames of film) followed by a short pause. All the fights feel like zip-pause-zip-pause-zip-pause.

    In live action though, the pace is much quicker. Actors don’t just hit, stop, then move again; each movement flows straight into the next one. The big pauses are saved for more dramatic moments, like characters trying to overpower each other, or prepare for the next clash.

    I think they chose the timing of the lightsaber battle actions to mimic the cartoon series, but it didn’t quite work. That timing style is meant to be a bit of a cheat for hand-drawn animation, getting viewers to focus on the strong drawings of the held poses, so the animators can cheat on the action drawings. With the 3d models, It probably would be just as easy to match the timing of the live-action fights, and given better results.

  • JoshB

    With the 3d models, It probably would be just as easy to match the timing of the live-action fights, and given better results.

    Not quite as easy. To animate a 3d rig with normal timing you have to do alot of subtle in-between poses. You can’t let the computer do the tweening and still have it look right, especially in a big-screen quality film.

    On the other hand if you do snap-to-pose with a 3d rig you can offload a lot of that work to the computer and the audience will be none the wiser.

  • alan

    The film was not that bad. Short, so when one felt like yawning, you know it will soon end. A contradiction, but true…the film had it’s potential…a flash of the future of Star Wars. An acquired taste.

    These sci fi films are expensive to make, so animation may be a cheap way to go. It can work if the writing can catch up to the cartooning.

    Was this state of the art animation? We are led to believe it is… after all… it is Star Wars. Money is not suppose to be a problem, so the best people can be hired.

  • Moe

    This was awesome. I admit, at first I was not without my misgivings, but this turned out to be something I can whole-heartedly call art.

    When it comes to CG films these days, I’m honestly bored to tears most of the time because the models, while well-crafted, lack any kind of texture or personality, but every image was so stunning that I forgot my critical mind enough to relax and enjoy the show.

    The simulated brush strokes were the best part for me, and really helped me to get into the action and appreciate the look and feel.

    But yeah, I agree about the plot being “horrifically complex”, I actually dozed off for the first 20 minutes or so and I don’t feel like I missed anything. I caught the gist of it. haha

  • Ryan

    The script was unbelievably awful; ‘This smells of Count Dooku’ was probably my least favorite line, but 80% of the other dialogue runs a close second.

    The animation was fine, but because the story was un-interesting, we all knew which characters would live and die, and every battle featured clones fighting robots…any sort of emotional investment in the outcome is utterly impossible.

    And lo and behold, they need Hutt trade-routes! I have soooo been missing the key trade route elements of Star Wars that really made Episode 1.

    Whatever, I almost fell asleep in this movie several times. If you are 10 and under (the demographic I suspect was being aimed at) I can understand your enjoyment of this movie.

    If you are over 10, you need to go read a good book so you can remember what it’s like to be entertained without having the creator of the entertainment be actively insulting your intelligence.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m over 10, I read tons of books, and I didn’t feel insulted. Also, I *did* wonder about the fate of at least one character, and was surprised that it turned out as it did.

  • Paul Hayesl

    “I’ve seen it all”

    Not in a Patrick Stewart sort of way, I hope!

  • MaryAnn

    I may have to turn in my Geek Membership Card, but I’m not gettin’ that Patrick Stewart reference…

  • Hypocee

    It’s pretty recent, but Google is our friend – from Ricky Gervais’ Extras, Patrick Stewart playing himself…as a pervert and utterly terrible author-insertion screenwriter: http://weeklygeekshow.com/2008/03/patrick_stewart_on_extras.php . I cracked up at the “make it so”; so…many…layers…

  • Ryan

    That was probably the greatest of many great episodes of Extras.

  • MBI

    If I don’t pay attention to anything Star Wars for the rest of my life, I can assume that Ahsoka died a horrible death along with the rest of the Jedi in Episode III. That thought makes me happy.

  • Ryan


  • Erik

    I for one have only recently come to marvel at just how uneven the whole star wars franchise is. It started with the dreamy myth of A New Hope, followed by the perfect darkness of Empire Strikes Back, then the cutesy ewoks in Jedi, then the slapstick wackiness of Jar Jar, the gee-whiz coolness of Attack of the Clones, then the utter despair of Revenge of the Sith. Wow…the tone of this universe is all over the place!

    Now we have the Clone Wars. I agree with MJ–its fun, and the fun is in the animation, not so much the character development (there aint none), or the plot (its corny and derivative) or the dialogue (its banal and vanilla but occasionally funny at least). Anyone going into it thinking its “the seventh star wars movie” must be completely clueless. It’s not. It’s just a preview for the cartoon series, which I think will be fun to watch. So take it for what it is and enjoy it.

    Empire Strikes Back is still the best of the lot, though.

  • Rick B.

    Sorry, but I’m just not interested in giving George another few bucks to watch a 90-minute toy commercial, and I say this as a 41-year-old man who owns WAY too many Star Wars toys, and still occasionally buys them.

    This franchise has been sucked dry – whatever charm it had until about, oh, 1981 has long been dissipated. Lucas has become just as bad as the “Big Hollywood” that he was so desparate to escape, and the ONLY reason for a “Clone Wars” cartoon is to keep the behemoth alive. Seriously, if there is any compelling story left to tell, why wasn’t it in the Prequels?

    The past decade has demonstrated, conclusively, that Lucas has no more good ideas for the “Star Wars” universe. Everything he does these days just pushes the genuinely great work he did in the past (before he was richer than God) further into the background. Which is a shame, because the George Lucas who made “Star Wars” knew his limits as a filmmaker and got help (and made better movies because of it), but after the money seriously started rolling in, collaboration ended and it became all about his “vision”.

    For a pretty good examination of why everything after “Empire” just goes off the rails, take a look at this essay:


    No, it’s not mine, but I wholeheartedly agree with its thesis. The rest of the site is also pretty good, including the big e-book that will, apparently, be revised and published in paper form later this year.

    I’m encouraged by the dismal performance at the box office, as it goes a long way toward proving what many suspected – the success of the Prequel Trilogy rested entirely on the fading hope of the existing “Star Wars” fans that Lucas could somehow produce something, *anything*, that felt like it belonged in the same universe as “Star Wars” and “Empire”. After three big, noisy, empty movies, we all know that it’s just not going to happen. The few people who liked the Prequels enough to want to see more of that particular storyline showed up for “Clone Wars”, but nobody else did.

  • Chris-E

    Rick B, if you’re a 41 year old who collects Star Wars toys, perhaps this new animated film was a revelation for you. I’ll quote Yoda: “A life to get, you need!” It’s JUST a movie, one for young kids at that! It’s also far better than any other Star Wars show (Holiday Special & Ewok Adventures anyone?). Why is this any different than the countless video games or comics and expanded universe books? It’s not. I hate most of the books and other crap but it doesn’t ruin SW for me since my life isn’t devoted to a fake universe. I just enjoy the imaginative action pieces in this saga. Lucas wants to dabble in animation and this is his way to do it. Why do people complain? If you don’t like it, it don’t go. If you don’t want to pay, then wait for it to be on TV.

    If this was around when I was 8 years old I’d have eaten it up. I loved Star Wars, but my cartoon favorites were GI Joe and He-Man (both of which were Star Wars knock offs in a way). Are those any more “adult” than The Clone Wars? No way!

    Hardcore geeks just need to realize that not everything will appeal to their Star Wars wet dreams. This is for kids. The games are generally for teens and 20 somethings. Lets hope the live action show coming up in 2010 is as “adult” as Lucas says it will be, so that everyone has their own little piece of Star Wars. I think Lucas realized that he couldn’t please everyone with the movies so he is segregating the saga into different age groups. Cartoons for the kids, games for teens & 20’s, live action show for adults and the EU comics and books for “super hardcore, never gotten laid or even seen a vagina” geeks.

  • Ben

    I actually liked this movie. Was it the greatest movie ever made? No. Was it fun to watch? Heck Yeah!

    This movie was aimed more at younger audiences as a preview for the cartoon. I like animation in general so I was willing to give this a chance. Enjoy the action, and try to look below the surface. The plot may not have been to complex, but how many kids shows now adays have poilitcs in their plots at all? I have alot of younger siblings so I have seen just how horrible shows have become.

    I miss the eighties. lol.

    My last comment is aimed at Ashoka haters, particularly the Jar Jar guy. Seriously, she was a good character. Somewhat stereotypical, but not bad.
    In comparison to Jar Jar she was beleivable, especially if you know a lot of teens. And at least I could appreciate the relationship between her and Anaikin. I am somberly waiting to her what happens to her character.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Chris-E, just because you want a movie to be good doesn’t mean one’s “life is devoted to a fake universe.” Sheesh.
    And it doesn’t matter that it’s “just for kids”. So, that lets it totally off the hook as far as having good characters and a nice plotline?
    Plus, I take issue with the “just for kids” statement. Star Wars is a big part of the culture. The original fans are all adults now. This isn’t just some little-known for-kids cartoon show, it’s (my Geek is showing) a cultural phenomenon! Plus, I hate being pigeon-holed. I’m no 20-something, but I love video games, and just because I’m not a kid doesn’t mean I can’t love an animated SW film. And, just because I am an adult, doesn’t mean I’d necessarily enjoy a dark, gritty, “adult” SW…O_o

    I won’t go see this one. I’ll wait for rental (this is probably a great rental). Simply because I really, really hated the prequels. The ideas in the prequels were interesting, but the execution of those ideas was all botched. But that’s just MO.

  • Chris-E

    Accounting Ninja, I’m tired of hearing people complain about Star Wars being marketed to kids. I’m sure you had SW action figures & stuff. You say “just for kids” isn’t an excuse for a simple story, but animated shows, especially ones on TV, need a kid audience to make it. Therefore kids need to understand what’s going on so it’s dumbed down a little.

    Sure, the original films were made for general audiences and had more depth and drama, but why can’t parts of Star Wars be geared specifically to kids or adults, etc. I doubt there are enough 35 year old guys living in thier mom’s basements collection SW stuff to make up a large enough viewership for this show to be successful if kids are confused by it. Maybe you should turn on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon and see how bad some kids shows really are.

    Lucas is suposedly wotking on a live action show that will have violence and more grit and drama. It may be an inappropriate show for little kids, so The Clone Wars allows them to join in the fun! Where is the fault in that?

    Everyone is all into The Dark Knight right now, but Batman has survived many incarnations too, many of them really lame. Sure, TDK is good drama, but it’s meant for adult audiences. batman has had cheesy TV shows, good animated shows, silly and childish animated shows and comic books geared towards all ages. TDK is also a PG-13 film (borderline R) and it’s not something I can take my 3 year old to. The Clone Wars is childish, because it’s made for kids. Anyone trying to say this somehow ruins the films needs to get real. It’s allowing

  • Accounting Ninja

    Something can still be “marketed to kids” and still be great. Look at Miyazaki’s films. Look at Pixar. *I* am just sick of “well, it’s for kids, what do you expect?” attitude somehow excusing bad kids’ films. (Not talking specifically about Clone Wars, I said I hadn’t seen it. But I have seen the Cartoon Network Clone Wars plus all the movies.)

    I actually still watched Cartoon Network up until maybe a year ago, when all the good shows left and all that was on was tripe. Now, I rarely watch it…

    Not saying everything has to be for everyone, though. But just because it’s animated and for kids doesn’t mean it escapes my critical eye.

  • Chris_E

    Well, I think the real issue is that people are comparing Clone Wars to the other SW films, and not similar animated shows, so it can be an unfair assesment. I certainly don’t expect to see someone burned alive in this show like Ep III 9although there were a few decapitated bounty hunters presented to Jabba in CW). This is meant for kids and as a kids show I think it’s great. As a Star Wars movie it is sub-par due to the simple and childish nature of it, but still there is worse stuff released every weekend than this. I just feel perspective is needed with this. I think it’ll look amazing in HD on TV and since this film is actually 3 episodes of the show and we know they’re making 97 more episodes there’s plenty of room for them to add some depth and create more interseting stories. Like many shows there’s going to be some good episodes, maybe a few great ones and a fair share of poor ones. TV is kind of hit an miss especially when you embark on that many episodes.

  • MaryAnn

    Lucas is suposedly wotking on a live action show that will have violence and more grit and drama….

    Everyone is all into The Dark Knight right now

    I hope I live to be 100, so I can see some hungry young filmmaker reimagine *Star Wars* as a dark, gritty war drama half a century from now…

  • Chris-E

    MAJ, Lucas has been working on his live-action show since before Ep III was released. That was why Daniel Logan wasn’t back for ROTS as Boba Fett (so he says). I dont think The Dark Knight has anything to do with the direction he’s going with the show, but I’m sure it’s encouraging!

    Rumor is the show will highlight the crime world of the saga so there’ll be a lot of bounty hunters and some seedy stuff, plus even more Jabba as “The Godfather” of SW crime. He is NOT directing the show, only writing the stories which are being re-written by a staff of dramatic writers in Australia.

    The reason The Clone Wars was released in theaters is because WB demanded a theatrical release from Lucas if they were going to put the show (and future live action show) on Cartoon Network and TNT. Since Lucas paid for 100 CW episodes already he needed the distribution deal.

  • MaryAnn

    I was quoting someone else, Chris-E. And I’m sure that Lucas would have taken no inspiration from *Dark Knight* even if he could have — that’s why I suggested that we’ll have to wait a long time before someone else can take *Star Wars* in a truly dark direction.

  • Chris-E

    MAJ, your prior post must have had a glitch before becuase it looked and read differently the last time I visited.

    You might not need to wait 100 years to see a darker SW. Lucas is going to have multiple directors for the new show and doesn’t appear to be afraid to let them do their thing. Filmmakers like Simon Pegg have shown interest in writing and directing episodes and rumors are that Samuel L. Jackson is looking to direct Lucas’ “Red Tails” feature. Perhaps he’ll get his feet wet with the live action show first?

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, the coding was screwed up.

    As long as Lucas is involved, in whatever capacity, I find it hard to believe that *Star Wars* will get genuinely dark in any way.

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