Star Wars: The Clone Wars Review
George Lucas, what on earth goes on in your brain? After tinkering needlessly a stupid amount of times with your original classic trilogy you then created a new, shiny but inferior set of prequels and completely missed the point of Star Wars - failing to give us the fun and adventure evident in those older movies. So what now Mr Lucas? Oh yeah, you plan on botching up the old classics by re-doing them with your gimmicky effects. Joy. I can't wait. And in the meantime you're working on a live-action TV series that isn't gonna work. Great. Why don't you spend more quality time with that blow-up Jar-Jar Binks doll? Surely that would be better than interfering with all the decent ideas that your concepts crew come up with?
The biggest fault of the new prequel trilogy - in my humble opinion - was the fact that it skipped over arguably the most important era in Star Wars history: The Clone Wars. Hinted on in the original classics, it was the World War of the Star Wars timeline, and to skip over it was a terribly decision on Lucas' part. Why not just skip an hour of pod-racing, combine Episodes 1 and 2 by incorporating the first film into a prologue (or flashback) in the second movie, and then dedicate an entire middle instalment to the most thrilling, most action-packed and violent era in the Star Wars history? Oh, cause you like pod-racing? Fantastic. Jar-Jar is calling.
Ever since this really, really bad decision, The Clone Wars has been developed upon in as many ways as humanly possible - without actually making a live-action movie about it - instead giving us comic sagas, an initial couple of TV season's worth of cartoon shorts (by that clever guy behind Samurai Jack, Tartakovsky), and finally a Lucas-approved animated TV show that kick-started with a theatrically released movie entitled, hmmm, The Clone Wars. Although clearly not as much fun as the Samurai Jack-styled alternative, the new Clone Wars still gave us a wealth of possibilities within this interesting period in Jedi history. But just how much did Lucas interfere with the new show? Or did he leave the writers and crew to give the fans some of what they truly deserved from this, the most exciting time in Star Wars history?
The Jedi are stretched thin over the galaxy, once fabled peacekeepers, they have now been reluctantly forced into leading troops as Wartime Generals in the far reaches. It's all part of a devious plan by the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious to destroy them once and for all and usher in a new era of Sith. Sidious is, of course, also the Republic representative Chancellor Palpatine, but his Sith tendencies have yet been undiscovered, and all the while he has been playing both sides against each other to further his master-plan. On the one side he has used his power as a Dark Lord to create a Separatist group who are dedicated to destroying the Republic. He has charged his apprentice, Darth Tyrannus (aka Count Dooku) with leading this force, and given him several Generals to lead the troups - including the nasty Jedi-killing cyborg General Grievous. On the flipside, as Chancellor Palpatine, he has stirred the Republic into becoming a serious military contender, dispatching his infinitely disposable cloned troopers into battle as led by the Jedi Generals. There aren't that many Jedi left, and they were never intended to be used this way in War.
The Clone Wars kicks off at the end of Attack of the Clones, and is due to conclude in Revenge of the Sith, covering the same 3-year period of time as the previous TV show, Tartakovsky's Clone Wars. Lucas has commissioned a minimum of 100 episodes, and the first 22 comprise this Season 1 Box Set. The 'pilot' was the theatrically released Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated movie which largely focussed on Jedi's Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Anakin's new apprentice Ahsoka Tano, and their confrontation with the evil Count Dooku, the vicious Hutt (as in Jabba) gangster clan and new Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress during the early days of the 'Wars. The series, and thus the first season, continues in this vein, focussing occasionally on these characters, but also on the wider Star Wars universe, following various familiar individuals (from those aforementioned to Clone Troopers, those two bumbling droids, the Kim Bauer of the show - Senator Padme Amidala, and of course Lucas's favourite, that idiot Jar-Jar Binks).
There are several story-arcs on offer, and it appears that the majority have been done in chronological order, allowing for several feature-length escapades which make for the most interesting stories. Despite the enjoyment of the odd clone-orientated episodes, the best are clearly those that focus on the Jedi (and the worst the ones that focus on Padme or Jar Frakking Jar. Aside from Anakin and his new apprentice Ahsoka, there are a couple where Anakin teams up with his master Obi-Wan, as well as appearances from fan favourites Aayla Secura (the strangely alluring blue Jedi), Kit Fisto (the underwater green Jedi), Plo Koon (the one with the breathing mask) and Luminara Unduli. Yoda and Mace Windu also pop up for a bit of action, bookending the season, respectively. On the Sith side we have a few Dooku episodes and some scowling from the assassin Asajj Ventress (as well as an appearance from the Bounty Hunter / fallen Jedi Aurra Sing), but the best bits are always those with Jedi-killing cyborg General Grievous.
Highlights from the season include the early arc which sees the Jedi having to stop Grievous' planet-destroying ship, The Malevolence, the decent arc featuring the capture and ransom of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Dooku (which is let down slightly be being overlong and featuring another idiotic appearance by Dumb Jar), an interestingly political episode about Peacekeeping on a planet that is killing all foreigners - irrespective of allegiances, as well as an episode on the new Separatist weapon (previously revealed in the comics) which kills all organic life but leaves machines intact. The last major arc about trouble on Ryloth is also pretty damn good, as well as the season finale, Hostage Crisis. My personal favourite sees Kit Fisto and his former padawan go up against General Grievous on his home turf, where not only do we get to see some quality sabre action but we also learn a little more about the origins of Grievous.
The animation and style of the production really does do justice to the Clone Wars material, the characters looking superb in their CG rendition (occasionally even better than during the theatrically released pilot, particularly when the upgrade the animation style about midway through), and some of the new individuals (and species) really coming to life in their rendition here (particularly the hostage-taking bandits and bounty hunters peppered throughout - although the Irish monkeys are a little random). The lavish new planets look amazing, the exteriors perfectly rendered, and some of the space sequences have been shot for high-intensity action. If there was one marginally disappointing aspect, it's the fighting. Clearly I have been spoilt by Tartakovsky's comic-styling, which offered an exaggerated look at the Jedi's skills, both with and without their lightsabres. Here things are much more realistic, and consequently slightly less engaging. Still, the epic sabre confrontations between the likes of Obi-Wan, Kit Fisto and Anakin combating Dooku, Ventress and Grievous, are all still pretty thrilling.
Taken as a whole, this new animated TV series was a clever move. It may not offer up a huge amount of depth into the characters, nor is it particularly consequential in the grand scheme of things (we all know how it is going to end, which characters cannot die before the end of the season etc.) but it does expand the best era in the entire Star Wars universe, The Clone Wars, giving us political machinations, massive space battles, assassination attempts, hostage and ransom situations and basically plenty of Jedi/Sith action. Quality.
The First Season includes 22, 22-minute episodes, 7 of which come in their 'Director's Cut' forms (although I haven't seen the original cuts so I cannot comment on the difference.) The episode listing is:
2. Rising Malevolence
3. Shadow of Malevolence
4. Destroy Malevolence
6. Downfall of a Droid
7. Duel of the Droids
8. Bombad Jedi
9. Cloak of Darkness
10. Lair of Grievous
11. Dooku Captured
12. The Gungan General
13. Jedi Crash
14. Defenders of the Peace
16. The Hidden Enemy
17. Blue Shadow Virus
18. Mystery of a Thousand Moons
19. Storm over Ryloth
20. Innocents of Ryloth
21. Liberty on Ryloth
22. Hostage Crisis