Clone Wars animated series (TV, 2008)

A review of The Clone Wars animated series from Death Ray 16, published in 2008. I enjoyed it, so I must sit down at some point and watch the rest. In this review I am quite hard on my fellow nerds, something for which I will not apologise.

Directors: Dave Filoni and various

Starring: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane, Nika Futterman, Ian Abercrombie, Corey Burton, Terrence Carson, Catherine Taber, Anthony Daniels

There’s a whiff of inevitability about this CG animated Clone Wars series. Ever since The Phantom Menace, when Lucas decided technology could finally match his vision, he’s been gradually edging out living actors until ta-da! No real people at all.

The Clone Wars animated movie had the predictable savaging from nerds and geeks who feel variously that Lucas has “raped their childhood” (Sheesh! stop with that, okay? [Note from 2013: I was being more light-hearted in my censure of this than I felt, in actual fact, I hold this to be one of the most digusting phrases I’ve ever heard, especially when applied to something so inconsequential as a cartoon. It makes me very angry]). They’re wrong. The Clone Wars movie was jolly good fun. Yeah, even the baby hutlet. It was actually a pretty good plot, full of the kind of treachery and double-dealing you’d expect from a crime family of space slugs. It made a damn sight more sense that some of the storylines in the live-action movies (we still wonder why the Jedi don’t question who ordered the clones. Answers on a postcard, please), in any case.

Look at it: Jabba’s attachment to his son and Zero’s campery were not duff notes, as others might have it. According to Star Wars‘ expanded universe of comics, books, games et al, Hutts are family oriented. They are also hermaphroditic, considered male unless pregnant. However, a few regard themselves as out-and-out female, while others sit in between. The story was true to the lore established in the universe, and works dramatically well.

That’s an interesting thing about The Clone Wars. It marks the closest fusion yet between the expanded universe and “proper” Star Wars. The endless churn of the expanded guff, and Lucas’ cavalier attitude towards it, makes the periphery of this long ago, far away galaxy unattractive. It’d be easy to sideline The Clone Wars as yet more of the same, destined to be rendered irrelevant. And yet you genuinely feel that you are watching the real deal. This is not the Ewoks cartoon. Furthermore, it follows on respectfully from Genddy Tartovsky’s 2D series. That the ships and locations are not much less real looking than those in the live action surely helps, but there’s also something about the pace and the plotting and the frantic action of it that seems all of a piece with the movies.

That’s the new movies, by the way. And that’s no bad thing.Yeah, all you Lucas naysayers, the films weren’t bad. Especially the second and third. If you want to send us hate mail, the address is at the front of the magazine.

There are two serious problems with Lucas’ later work. One is borne out of an awkwardness with real people. He’s no great director, his actors look enervated. His dialogue trite. His other problem is one of fatherhood. Early  Star Wars are the films of a young man telling a big story. But when he started to adopt children (the first in 1981), his storytelling began to become infantilised. Sure, he always dealt in simplistic, black-and-white themes, but they were epic. He’s said a few times over that Star Wars is for kids. But Lucas makes the mistake in thinking that films for children must be childish. The Clone Wars is no different. One of the series’ most annoying elements are the Battle Droids, who are even sillier than they were in the live-action movies. Who’d design a merciless killing machine with a comedy  personality? Come on! Totally undercuts the menace.

However, a lot of geek wailing is self-indulgent pish. Star Wars means so much to so many different people; what they want is as individual as they are. No-one is going to be happy.

If you look past Jar-Jar and whatnot, there is still an epic tale of war and betrayal in the new movies, utter cinematic magnificence. We forget that Star Wars: A New Hope viewed through adult eyes is a different experience to viewing it through the eyes of nostalgia. [Note from 2013: By this I mean, it’s pretty bad, from a certain point of view].

The Clone Wars series is the best of the “new”, perhaps because Lucas is only supervising it, though that seems harsh. It’s never boring, there’s loads of action, stupid jokes – droids aside –are in a minority. It’s well plotted and well paced. The mechanical banter between Anakin and his Padawan Asoka is no substitute for the charm of the original trilogy, and the themes are smaller. We all know what’s going to happen with Vader, but it manages to pack in some surprisingly effective lessons – faith in oneself, what it means to be a person when you are a clone. And not in a “let’s all laugh at Snarf Thundercats manner”, either. This is a subtle, for a cartoon.

Though they predominate, there’s a welcome shift from Skywalker and Kenobi, with individual episodes so far focussing on Yoda and Plo Kloon. Future stories promising Kit Fisto and Clones-only plots (intriguing. They all have Dick Van Dyke cockney accents, mind).

If you can forget “Roger, roger” and stop bitching about Wookie honour claws or whatever, if you can access your earlier self and forget what you think you want from Lucas, you will see that this is one of the best cartoons ever. It  brings galactic civil war to the small screen in a big way, and, with more than 100 episodes planned, that’s more than enough to make the six year-old at the controls of Starship Guy whoop with glee.

Did you know?

The Clone Troopers in the series often refer to their “lasers”. Wrong! The weapons are energised gas blasters. Lucas wanted people to be able to see the shots, and you can’t see lasers – too fast.


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