The Clone Rangers ride again!
Of course, one of the main and most enduring mysteries has surrounded a few brief mentions of "The Clone Wars". The Prequel Trilogy showed us the ATTACK that began this era of fighting and the insidious Order that ended it all the hard way. The Clone Wars themselves remained stories primarily untold until now.
The 2003 - 2005 Animated Series Star Wars: Clone Wars began immediately with the final scene of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and ended precisely where Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith kicked off. The Lion's (or Jedi's) Share of the three year period between Episodes II and III is to be told in a new computer animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (note the "The") and to ring in said series: a brand new Theatrical Movie.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (the film) is a companion piece to the Prequel Trilogy, but is not part of a trilogy itself. However, its epic scale, excellent animation and impressive story more than warrants its big screen release.
Taking place between the first and second episodes of Star Wars: Clone Wars' 2005 Third Season (found on the Volume 2 DVD), Star Wars: The Clone Wars explodes into battle (with a news announcer-like voiceover replacing the opening crawl). The Clone Wars are at their most fierce. Anakin Skywalker (here voiced by Matt Lanter) is now a Jedi Knight, but has yet to face the final "Mirror" Trial. He and Obi-Wan Kenobi (voiced, as in the previous series, by James Arnold Taylor) are leading the 501st Legion of Clone Troopers in cleaning up a separatist infestation on a disputed world (aren't they all)?
Let me tell you, the fighting is fierce! More than any other Star Wars entry, we see the heat of battle with Clone Troopers ducking for cover and being picked off just as they bravely push forward. The attention to detail in these scenes is remarkable.
Light years away, Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson) has learned that his infant son Rotta (David Acord) has been kidnapped by unknown forces and every bounty hunter he sends after the Huttlet returns to Tattooine in pieces. Jabba's next plea goes out to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian Abercrombie) in the hopes that the Clone Army, led by the Jedi might save his only child. Why would the Republic aid a Vile Gangster like Jabba the Hutt? Simple, he controls the outer rim space routes that are vital to the war effort. What's more, if they are not successful in rescuing Rotta, the Villainous ex-Jedi Count Dooku (actually played, as in the live-action films, by Christopher Lee) and his armies of the Confederacy of Independent Systems (the opposing faction in the Clone Wars) just might deliver the Huttlet and procure those same Space Routes for his own purposes.
Against their better judgment, Jedi Masters Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson, yep, they got him too!) and Yoda (Tom Kane from the Clone Wars cartoon) allow two Jedi Knights to be sent to both rescue the baby and negotiate with the big daddy. And guess which two are chosen for these duties. No, really, guess.
To make matters more complicated, Yoda sends a surprise along with his new orders in the form of a young new Padawan Learner named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). To their surprise, Ahsoka is not Obi-Wan's new Padawan Learner... she's Anakin's. As 3PO would say "Oh... my goodness!"
With the Republic sending out their big guns, you've got to know that the Separatists will have an ace-in-the-hole of their own when it comes to this mission. Enter Dark Side Apprentice Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman), the frightening, tattooed female with the twin red blades whom we last saw in Star Wars: Clone Wars Second Season (see the Volume 1 DVD). Naturally with our two most famous Jedi along with both Count Dooku (also known by his Sith name Darth Tyranus) and Ventress herself, a few spectacular Lightsabre Duels are promised and more than delivered.
The cast list goes on, somehow never quite becoming overloaded. R2-D2 is there, of course, as is C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and the heroic Senator (and the true love of Anakin) Padmé Amidala Naberrie (Catherine Taber). On the flip side of the coin are those pesky Battle Droids (Matthew Wood, also the voice of the not-pictured General Grievous). Somewhere in the mysterious middle is the painted visage of Jabba's own Uncle Ziro the Hutt (Corey Burton). Here Ziro simply radiates excess with his Mardi Gras makeup, feathered adornments, drugs and Laissez-faire-accented English (or should I say "Basic"?) speech. His jazzy theme and lackadaisical speech evokes memories of New Orleans, though his criminal empire is centered right there on the Republic home world of Coruscant.
One of the more interesting aspects of this film is how screen writers Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Scott Murphy (working from Uncle George's story) work toward both humanizing and individualizing the Clone Troopers. In the 2003 - 2005 series, Clones were treated much like the opposing army's droid soldiers: as cannon fodder. One memorable episode saw the death of an entire platoon of clones taken much less seriously than the destruction of Anakin's R4 unit. Here one of our main characters is a Clone Trooper. Captain Rex (voiced, as all the troopers are, by Dee Bradley Baker) is shown to be among the more sympathetic and developed characters, every bit as unique as his identical brethren (of which there are a lot, including the way-cool Commander Cody in a near-cameo). This succeeds in making the battle scenes all that much more poignant. These aren't faceless drones we're watching, but fleshed-out characters with friends and fears all their own. Naturally this adds an extra chill to the execution of "Order 66" in Episode III.
And that's another noteworthy facet to this film. It's hard not to note that this army we're rooting for will, at the flick of a communicator, one day become the Imperial Stormtroopers and our hero will one day become their even more terrifying leader Darth Vader. The subtle hints and suggestions here add a depth to this story and help this swatch of the tapestry link all that much better in quieter ways.
This is only one example of the attention to detail shown in this film. Director Dave Filoni does a fine job of keeping the varied plot threads clear and helping each character to feel as real as possible. The animation (this is the first ever release from Lucasfilm Animation) is right up there with that of Wall*E and Ratatouille... that is with the understanding that the characters here are not meant to look exactly like the actors who portrayed them in the related live-action movies. The character design here is modeled after that of the previous Clone Wars series which, in turn, had its basis in the styles of Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack. The photo-realism here is incredible. The characters look almost like Action Figures come to life with the sands of Tatooine interacting with them as if they were living plastic in many cases. This may or may not be what every viewer wants to see in a Star Wars film, but it's most assuredly a treat for the eyes. (Incidentally, this animated film was distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. George Lucas had intended to intern at the Warner animation studios in College, but was "forced" to work with Francis Coppola instead.)
Best of all, the story is exciting and gets better the longer it goes on. Although this is, in part, a springboard for the new Television Series, this one does not end in some lame cliffhanger with a "same bat-time, same bat-channel" enticement. When the final credits roll (accompanied by new music by Kevin Kiner, based on themes and cues from a credited John Williams), there is a distinct feeling that one has really just watched a Star Wars Movie. How often does the opportunity to see a Star Wars Movie on the big screen arise?
Gritty battles, harrowing dogfights in space, thrilling chases, killer light saber duels, lots of surprises and, of course, THE FORCE help make this one an exciting and worthy entry into Star Wars Canon. Nor is this film toned-down for the kiddies. There is hard-hitting violence, suggested decapitation, smoking and at least as much excitement and scares as the live-action releases. Further, it leaves the audience satisfied with what they've seen, yet still ready for more. Four and One Half Stars for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, yet another great chapter in a great and expanding series. The saga of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away promises to still have a long way to go for a long time ahead.
Clone or Source...
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