You know, never let it be said that George Lucas is shy about marketing opportunities or self-promotion. A few years after running his prize franchise into the ground with the prequels, now we get The Clone Wars (which should have been the title of Episode II), which further mines territory that no one cares about any longer except for pre-teens who are seeing the movies for the first time. Really, do we NEED further examination of the time period between episodes II and III? Isn’t the fanbase far more interested in what happened to Anakin AFTER he became Darth Vader?
Technically, this is a sequel to the Clone Wars mini-series from Cartoon Network a few years back, rather than a proper re-interpretation of characters who don’t need any further interpretation. And really, it’s a franchise for kids now, which I think generates a lot of the bitterness and cynicism among the older fans who grew up and watched Lucas take their movies away from them. But is it at least worth watching?
As noted, this is one of the seemingly endless “untold stories” of the Clone Wars, with Generals Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fighting on behalf of the Republic against the evil Separatists (kind of like the Bloc Quebecois but with less French), although the politics in these movies are so convoluted and dull that you might as well just call one side "the good guys" and the other "the bad guys" and be done with it. The important thing is you’ve got the Jedi on one side and Dooku and his robots on the other side. The twist this time around is that Anakin has been tricked into training a Padawan learner named Ahsoka, and boy is she spunky and adventurous! She’d probably be played by Miley Cyrus or one of the chicks from High School Musical in a live-action movie, which is another source of the backlash against this thing, as they’re pretty obvious in their attempts to pander to a certain chunk of the population.
The movie itself breaks down into three fairly distinct parts (because it was originally intended as a backdoor pilot for the current TV series, naturally) which have just enough connection to each other to hold together as one movie, if nothing else. The first part sees Anakin (or “Skyguy” as too-cute-to-live Ahsoka dubs him) getting his new student while engaged in a life-or-death struggle against Dooku’s troops on some planet for some reason or another. I’m finding it harder to care at this point in the franchise, to be honest. It’s also harder to invest anything emotionally when one side is a nameless and faceless horde of clones and the other is a group of wise-cracking cannon fodder androids, and I think that’s also due to the new younger demographic. The stakes are much lower when you know nothing truly bad is going to happen. Not to say there weren’t some good bits here, as the giant battle was kind of cool and Obi-Wan’s "surrender" to the apparently-Scottish enemy leader provided a couple of chuckles, but essentially it added up to 30 minutes of exposition and meaningless action.
Part two sees Jabba the Hutt’s son captured by unknown forces (the answer is no great shock, fear not), resulting in Anakin and his new Mary Sue, er, student, going on a rescue mission. And wouldn’t you know that Jabba Jr. is just the cutest little thing ever and triggers Ahsoka’s mother instincts? Apparently this mission is of vital importance because of vague supply routes on the outer rim as they struggle to find high stakes without doing anything offend to the family friendly nature of the movie. The villainous wasn’t particularly menacing here, either, and could have really used a good slaughtering by Anakin to reinforce his continuing change instead of the GI Joe last second escape they went with instead. The final part of the movie sees them journeying to Tattooine to deliver the baby Hutt to Jabba while Dooku attempts to flim-flam Jabba (who would have to be the stupidest gangster in the galaxy to buy any of the crap being fed to him here) into siding with the bad guys instead of the good guys. That was all fine, but then they went and shoe-horned Padme Amidala into the movie by making her into a hero as well, introducing us to (and I wish I was making this up) Jabba’s flamboyantly gay uncle Ziro the Hutt. Like, seriously, you could have just taken that entire side-story and just dumped it into the trash, but then the movie would only run 70 minutes, if that.
But really, story problems and stupid new characters aside, the biggest issue I have with this thing is that after 100 minutes, NOTHING HAPPENS. Even if it was just a cynical ad for a TV show, you’d at least like to have your time rewarded with some interesting new bit of information about the Star Wars universe or resolution for the characters, but it just kind of ends and immediately fades from your mind. The movie itself is shot much more theatrically than the previous animated series, but with none of the heart, as all the character models seem plastic and almost like action figures brought to life. Just in time to sell action figures, I’m sure. Commander Cody and Commander Rex are pretty cool and might have been a more interesting way to explore the franchise with, but mining the shallow depths of Obi-Wan and Anakin: The Early Years yet again is only good for a minor distraction. However, pre-teen boys will eat this up with a spoon, so I’ll give them full marks for hitting their new target audience dead on. (Rating: **1/2)
Audio & Video
Quality of the movie aside, you can’t fault the DVD transfer. Digitally animated and transferred in anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen, this is a beautiful DVD with no signs of flaw in the picture and lots of brightly colored environments to show off the TV you’re watching it on. Things like facial details are very well done as well and make this an impressive disc. The audio is presented in Lucas’ standard Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, and again I have no complaints to offer here. Laser fights and space battles whiz around in the surrounds and the subwoofer booms at exactly the right times without being overpowering. A treat for the eyes and ears. (Ratings: ***** Video, ***** Audio)
The studio only sent me the single-disc edition, which has nothing but the audio commentary from the producers on it. And again, it sounds like it was done for young viewers, talking about nothing more in-depth than how George Lucas came up with the idea of having Anakin’s nickname be “Skyguy” before I got sick of it and switched it off for good. (Rating: **)
This was never really intended as a theatrical release and it shows — absolutely the least of the Star Wars movies, had it been a different franchise intended for kids only it would have been an OK piece of throwaway sci-fi, but as something carrying this brand name, it’s unacceptably mediocre. Only recommended for kids.
Tags: Anakin Skywalker, Clone Wars, Darth Vader, George Lucas, SmarK Rants, Star Wars