Sunday, August 17, 2008

Movie Review: Star Wars - The Clone Wars (2008)

I just got back from seeing the newest offering from George Lucas's film empire. No, not the Galactic Empire, but Lucasfilm. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was immediately struck by the number of kid-oriented advertisements and trailers they showed in the "pre-show entertainment." For whatever reason, I honestly did not expect it to be geared toward a younger audience.

Even before the opening scene of the movie, I noticed some glaring differences between this film and the intro scenes of the previous six. There was no 20th Century Fox Fanfare; as a matter of fact, no Fox at all, it seems. Instead, the intro sequence sported a big WB logo, followed by the customary Luasfilm logo that I can best describe as a "left-to-right chrome sweep." Go watch any recent version of a Star Wars movie if you don't know what I'm talking about. Then of course, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." Yeah! That's what I'm talking about!

But then the opening note of the Star Wars theme sounded different. They changed the tempo of the theme song, and instead of the usual grand minutes-long text scroll setting the scene, a big Star Wars: The Clone Wars logo simply appeared and faded to the background. The text intro was replaced by a narrator who sounded like a radio newscaster, overlaying a montage of battle footage from all around the galaxy.

After seeing all that, I knew that it would be a different kind of movie than what I was used to. That's not such a bad thing though. I understand that it was not as big-budget as the original six so I knew to expect at least a few things to be different.

Basically, The Clone Wars is typical Star Wars fare. At least in terms of the prequel trilogy. Since the movie is entirely CG (computer generated animation), anyone critical of the overuse of CG in the live-action prequel trilogy would either be really disappointed or would have to suspend their disbelief. I'm not in that camp, and I got what I expected. The animation was very smooth, detailed, and interesting to watch. I've been thinking since I saw its first trailer that the characters look like those in the Dreamworks movie Antz. After seeing The Clone Wars, my opinion has not changed.

Well, if you're going to go all CG, there's no point in getting all the original actors to play their parts, since they would probably be too expensive. Well, except Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus), and Samuel L. Jackson (Shaft). Oops, I mean Mace Windu. The rest of the voice actors did a superb job. Ian Abercrombie (not Ian McDiarmid but probably older) played Palpatine/Darth Sidious. James Arnold Taylor, who has dozens of other voice credits to his name, including Wooldor Sockbat from "Drawn Together" and Tidus from "Final Fantasy X," voiced Obi-Wan Kenobi. Want more useless knowledge? Taylor also did Obi-Wan's voice in the 2005 Clone Wars cartoon miniseries, the Star Wars Episode III video game, and in the best-selling Star Wars game of all time, Star Wars Battlefront II.

A guy named Matt Lanter did the voice for Anakin Skywalker, and he was pretty spot-on, as was Tom Kane as Yoda.

The story, as mentioned above, is pretty straightforward and standard prequel trilogy fare. I am not a big fan of the prequel movies, but I went in with the expectation that nothing will top the original trilogy. Basically, a certain vile gangster's son is kidnapped and the Jedi are called upon to rescue him. But the captors are not who we think they are. Anakin gets a padawan learner and we get to see how he fares as a teacher. Space battles, clone vs droid battles, and lightsaber duels ensue.

Compared to the prequels, The Clone Wars was pretty good. Words and actions didn't seem as "forced" (no pun intended) as they were in the prequels. Jedi acrobatics and other stunts seemed a lot more natural. The story was easy to follow. Sometimes a little more complexity in the storyline can help a movie, but I didn't think the straightforwardness of The Clone Wars hurt it in any way.

There was a certain little infant in the movie that probably put off certain older viewers, but I'm kind of a sucker for stuff like that. Yeah... so cute! But I liked it anyway. Couldn't get enough of that.

I had two gripes about the movie. And minor spoilers follow, though I'm not going to reveal anything that wasn't already in screenshots or trailers you've probably seen. My first complaint is about Anakin's new Padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano. She's described as a "youngling," which I would assume means that she's either in her early teens or preteens. She's what you'd call spunky, energetic, rebellious, or in the words of Yoda, wreckless. Now, I understand that this is a different galaxy we're talking about, but I've never met anyone in her age group that acts like her or is as smart with battle tactics or is as good at fighting as she is. Force-attuned or not, I just don't find it believable that a kid can be as strong or as clever as she is. I may not be in the target demographic for that character, but I am in the target demographic for Star Wars, and I don't really care for her. Oh, and the problem with adding a new character in between Episode II and Episode III (technically, between Episode II and the 2005 Clone Wars cartoons, if you've seen those) is that she's never mentioned again. I'm guessing the forthcoming cartoon series might shed some light on it?

Still, she's not as useless as Jar-Jar.

The other problem I have is the dialogue. The exchanges between Ahsoka and Anakin were amazingly cheesy and out-of-place, and the action during those scenes just barely saved those scenes. Again, I know she's a kid, but you gotta get serious some time. Every time one of those stupid Battle Droids opened his metallic trap I cringed, because about 95% of their dialogue was over-the-top cheese, and they acted like 5-year olds rather than programmed killing machines. Thank goodness for the Super Battle Droids and the Destroyers, who just keep their mouths shut and fight. Many times when someone tried to be funny, it just sounded juvenile.

Again, it seems they were targeting kids, so I guess the dialogue was fine in that respect: all the kids in the theater where I went were enjoying themselves.

Overall, despite the two issues I had with the movie, I still found it an enjoyable Saturday Sunday morning show with plenty of action and lightsaber fighting to go around. It's definitely more family-oriented than Episode III, which can be good or bad, depending on who you are. I would recommend Star Wars: The Clone Wars for fans or non-fans, but it may be more enjoyable for non-fans than, say, the most hardcore fanatics. If you're somewhere in between, you'll probably like it. I give it a score of 6.5/10.

Oh, and it made me want to go home and play Star Wars Battlefront II, but I had to write this review instead.

*******

Trailers I saw with the movie that caught my eye were Bolt, a CG Disney movie about a movie superhero dog, and City of Ember, about a post-apocalyptic town.