After the unmitigated disaster that was Revenge of the Sith, my expectations for this, the second series of Clone Wars, were low indeed. After all, and by some margin, the best addition to the Star Wars canon, after the first two movies, are the Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 video games. However these stories, especially the tragically abridged second part, are too adult in theme to work in the context a PG rated Animated TV series. So, how can a 15 minute per episode cartoon ever hope to put right the wrongs of Sith and build from the, even worse, Attack of the Clones? The answer is, with some considerable success.
Clone Wars takes place a short while after Clones and concentrates on the relationships between Anakin and Kenobi. We travel with them in an action orientated adventure to try and capture the singularly poorly named General Grievous. In amongst this main story is a closer inspection of the abduction of Senator Palpatine from Coruscant.
Okay, so that plot outline is short, but the amount of action and detail elected from those scenarios is amazing. The attack on Coruscant towards the end of the disc is superb and easily outstrips any of the action sequences in Sith or Clones. Yoda gets to show us just what the light side of the force is made of hurling destroyer droids and troop deployment ships about like confetti. The other Jedi also have more screen time, and a mighty good job too. I have always thought that some of the other Jedi characters could have added some fire to an otherwise plain Star Wars Curry, and Clones proves the point. Indeed, if there is a downside of Clone Wars S2 it is that one can see how lame the actual movies are in comparison. The acting is actually better, the humour actually works, direction less constricting, the stories better developed and faster paced.
Did I say “faster paced”? That really doesn't adequately describe the pacing. Clone Wars flies along like the Millennium Falcon has had some speed mixed in with its super unleaded and is being chased by the Death Star itself! You are hit one all sides by none stop action that is at once compelling and at other times simply breathtaking. There is a scene where one Jedi flies into space to join in the fight above Coruscant, shown as a POV shot. What look like stars become capital ships and, as you zoom in, more and more appear the further you fly in the maelstrom - smaller ships surround the bigger ones and smaller ships around them and fighters around them. This is a simple idea, but it offers a scale of conflict completely missing from any other Star Wars movie.
It is no surprise, given the woeful quality of the newer movies that the creators have culled story cues from the original trilogy to give their bridging animation some Star Wars grounding. Parallels with Empire are strong, especially a scene involving a cave with some cave paintings. It is remarkably effective and brilliantly designed; the final tableau a chilling portent to the future. There are even some rather blunt dialogue choices that fit in with the original trilogy. “What an incredible smell you've discovered!” and “Impressive, most impressive,” are both used and sure to raise a smile to the Star Wars fan.
Speaking of which, the most surprising aspect of Clone Wars is the humour. Buoyed by little reference to Anakin turning to the dark side, there are plenty of lighter moments that made me laugh out loud. At the very beginning, troopers alight a transport each one producing a bigger weapon to the point where the last one has a quad cannon that looks like it belongs on a Millennium Falcon! Or when Grievous is chasing after the chancellor and his escort of Jedi through Coruscant, they eventually come to a dead end and a lift. They patiently wait as sound of pain and suffering from down the corridor permeates the atmosphere, making one Jedi break his cool and he starts jabbing incessantly at the lift button.
Not all of the content works, though, with nearly all faults arising because of that fast pacing. There are some cases where I wished for a longer, more detailed scene than the clipped monosyllabic one shown - the one where Yoda and Mace discover the plans of the invasion is a case in point. Some of the interactions between Anakin and Kenobi are also overly short. What should be flowing dialogue is often reduced to the vocal equivalent of Morse Code.
A special mention has to go to the design of the show. There are certainly some eastern influences, here, especially in the depiction of eyes and the exaggerated angular sweeps of the characters. This works really well, reminding me in some parts of Mulan, giving Clone Wars a fresh personality from the movies and fits in well with some decidedly oriental fight scenes.
All in all, a remarkable animated TV series that ultimately works better than the recent movies.
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