After much trumpeting and fanfare, the 2008 animated chapter in George Lucas's ongoing "Star Wars" saga reached theaters, and it did so to a disappointing box office. Did Lucas's audience find some of the luster taken off the series by the previous three live-action installments, plus a prior animated TV show on the subject? Did audiences find the idea of an animated theatrical release of their favorite sci-fi movie series somehow demeaning? Or did they just find "The Clone Wars" boring?
Maybe a little of each. Now, the movie has the distinction of being the first "Star Wars" to reach Blu-ray, and you'd think at least the high-definition picture and sound might do something for it. However, as the saying goes, you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.
Ironically, any number of folks, myself included, thought that Lucas's prequels already seemed cartoonish enough and that his two lead actors for Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala were as wooden as any animated characters. I've also heard people say that Lucas seems to prefer working with CGI creations to working with real actors. Perhaps "The Clone Wars" was a natural extension of the man's filmmaking preferences.
In the case of "The Clone Wars," though, Lucas was the executive producer, not the writer or director. Dave Filoni directed the movie; Henry Gilroy, Steve Melching, and Scot Murphy wrote it; and Catherine Winder produced it. These people have worked mainly in TV, and for most of them "The Clone Wars" was their first big-screen experience. I also understand the movie was an introduction to the 2008 animated "Star Wars" television series, so I suppose it all works out.
The story takes place somewhere in the middle of the "Star Wars" prequels, and what little plot the movie has revolves around General Anakin Skywalker and General Obi-Wan Kenobi attempting to rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt. Jabba asks the Jedis for help in getting his son back, and the Jedis need Jabba's help against the rebellious Count Dooku and his droid army. So it's a tit-for-tat situation. And there is very little more to it than that. Everything else involves running, shooting, chasing, flying, and fighting. The action never lets up. Yet it's such repetitious and unnecessary action, much of it there only for the very sake of action itself, that it quickly becomes wearisome. What's more, Anakin is a pure-hearted hero, the quintessential good guy. There is no indication anywhere in the story that he will shortly turn to the Dark Side and become one of the most evil people in the galaxy.
The characters, the spaceships, the buildings, and the costumes are so familiar that it looks like we've seen it all before; and, of course, we have seen it all before in live action and in the older 2003-2005 animated TV show. Still, the filmmakers go out of their way to make the CGI animation appear as different as possible from anything we might have expected. The look of the characters, for example, is blocky and chiseled instead of particularized. There are no individual strands of hair on heads or in beards but a solid mass that a sculptor might have carved from stone. The result is that the animation comes off looking strangely square and a lot cheaper than, say, a DreamWorks or Pixar animation would look. Maybe that's the point. This movie introduces us to the television series, on which, understandably, the filmmakers must cut costs. Nevertheless, this is a major motion picture, and I should think that audiences paying big bucks for the privilege of watching it deserve better.
Moreover, the voice characterizations fail to individualize the participants. Matt Lanter as Anakin, James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan, Tom Kane as Yoda, Ian Abercrombie as Chancellor Palpatine, Catherine Taber as Padme, Kevin Michael Richardson as Jabba sound almost interchangeable. The filmmakers did manage to get a few old names back--Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, and Christopher Lee as Dooku--but they show up only for a few minutes.
So, is there anything new here? Well, yes. We get Ashley Eckstein voicing a young woman, Ahsoka Tano, a Jedi in training assigned to Skywalker. She is his padawan, by which I assume she is his student. I assume, too, that the filmmakers intended her solely to attract a younger audience because she's continually wisecracking and breaking rules, the kind of rebel that filmmakers suppose kids enjoy. She calls Anakin "Sky Guy," and he calls her "Snips." Cute. There is also a new villain, Asajj Ventress, voiced by Nika Futterman, who has little to do but look and sound menacing. About the only new voice with any individuality is that of Jabba's uncle, Ziro the Hutt, voiced by Corey Burton in a Truman Capote-like drawl. At least it's different.
Nor is the new background music particularly special. Composer Kevin Kiner comes up with perfectly competent mood fillers and transitions that, nonetheless, lack the breadth and drama of John Williams's original score. Indeed, whenever snippets of the old Williams score do pop up, they remind us all the more what we're missing.
I had the feeling after sitting through "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" that I was watching the pilot episode of the new "Clone Wars" television series. The whole movie has a made-for-television feel about it, with little plot and almost nothing but redundant action. It becomes tiresome very fast.
The Warners engineers use a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 codec for the high-definition Blu-ray transfer. Their efforts pay off in capturing the movie's 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio and probably most of what was on the original print. The colors appear intentionally subdued to give the film a dark, noirish look, and, despite the high-def reproduction, detailing is slightly on the soft side, again probably on purpose. There is nothing about the video that pops out at a viewer, nothing that calls attention to itself. The picture quality is like the CGI animation itself: sort of wooden and blocky and nondescript.
The sound is at a consistently high volume level, so it's hard to gauge the dynamics. Everything sounds the same: loud and in your face. You get the choice of regular Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sonics, both of which generally do their part well, yet impact from both tracks seems oddly lacking in spite of a good, deep bass. The rear channels convey a proper sense of musical ambience along with reproducing a few aural effects such as spaceships careening overhead and explosions and such. The TrueHD does seem a tad smoother to my ear, but not by much. Regardless, don't expect either track to amount to much more than pure noise, because there isn't much variety to any of the sound, little subtlety or nuance.
This Blu-ray Edition contains the feature film along with all the extras found in the standard-definition Two-Disc Special Edition and then some, many in high def. First up is what appears to be the same audio commentary found on the SD disc but this time supplemented by picture-in-picture inserts. So rather than just listening to the participants, we can see them, too. It's called "A Creative Conversation" with director Dave Filoni, producer Catherine Winder, writer Henry Gilroy, and editor Jason W.A. Tucker.
After that, we find "The Clone Wars: Untold Stories" (HD), a twenty-five-minute documentary on the filmmaking, with plenty of background material. After that is a ten-minute featurette, "The Voices of the Clone Wars" (HD), on the voice talent involved. Then, there's an eleven-minute featurette, "A New Score" (HD), dealing with Kevin Kiner's music for the film. Following that is a gallery of concept and production art (HD), followed by six Webisodes (HD), little making-of featurettes totaling about twenty-one minutes with chapters titled "Introducing the Clone Wars," "Epic Battles," "The Clones Are Coming," Heroes," "Villains," and "Anakan's Padawan." Next, there are four deleted scenes: "Cargo Bay," "Platform Droid Fight," "Rancor Pit," and "Through the Tanks," totaling about eleven minutes. New to the Blu-ray disc is a game, "The Hologram Memory Challenge." The directions say that if you win, you get a sneak peek at three minutes of the television series. It doesn't say what you get if you lose; presumably, four minutes of the series.
Things finish up on the Blu-ray disc with two theatrical trailers; a video-game trailer; forty-six scene selections; bookmarks; a guide to elapsed time; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. On a second disc, there's a standard-definition digital copy of the movie compatible with iTunes and Windows Media devices.
I guess we should have all seen this coming as far back as 1983 in "Return of the Jedi" when Lucas had teddy bears saving the galaxy. To say that I was as disappointed as anyone in this juvenile, animated "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" motion picture would be an understatement. It has practically no story, practically no characterizations, practically no character interaction, and practically nothing but nonstop fighting. The movie bored me about twenty minutes in, and nothing got any better. The funny thing is that during that first twenty minutes, I thought I just wasn't understanding it, and I felt kind of dumb. Turns out, there wasn't anything to understand. There is almost no plot to the movie, just a lot of shooting and running around. Very busy. Very noisy. Very loud. Very monotonous.