Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars' belongs on TV

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nStar Wars:

The Clone Wars

Rated PG. 98 minutes.

Animation.

Cast: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane, Nika Futterman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee.

Director: Dave Filoni.

I love "Star Wars" and have watched the original trilogy and the prequels more times than I'd care to count. That said, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" isn't a must-see, but for the most ardent fan. It's not terrible; it just lacks that sense of amazement and anything-can-happen spirit of the other six films (or five if you hated "Phantom Menace").

"Star Wars" creator George Lucas all but painted himself into a corner. He had plenty of room to explore the universe in the original trilogy — "A New Hope," "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" — and proceeded to do so with mixed results in the prequels "Phantom Menace," "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith."

But Lucas already tapped into that span of time between "Clones" and "Sith" with the phenomenal animated series "The Clone Wars," which matched and, in some cases, exceeded the standard the prequels set. The problem is that the first half of the cartoon "The Clone Wars" ends in a cliffhanger, which is wrapped up in the second half. The ending of the second half leads directly to "Revenge of the Sith," leaving little room for stories not already covered.

From the onset, you know nothing of the possible consequences for the pivotal characters: Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), the brash young Jedi who eventually helps destroy the Jedi as Darth Vader, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Anakin's mentor and best friend who hopes to keep Anakin's temper and emotions in check.

To add some fresh element to the film, done in an almost caricature computer-generated format, screenwriter Henry Gilroy gives Anakin an apprentice, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), whose lack of respect and attitude makes her a more fitting sidekick to the devil-may-care Han Solo than a rigid member of the Jedi order.

Anakin and Ahsoka are tasked with finding the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt. Failure will result in the evil Trade Federation gaining control of an important space route. No problem if this is too complex a plot point; the characters repeat this tidbit throughout the film.

Gilroy seems confused about the identity of his target audience. Is it for the longtime fans who won't flinch at seeing characters' heads placed on a stretcher? Or the little kids who laugh whenever Jabba's son, affectionately dubbed "Stinky," belches?

"Clone Wars" is the kickoff for a new computer-animated TV series and plays out like an introduction to a larger story. The concept works on the small screen, but as a feature film audiences pay to see, it just doesn't have the same quality one would expect from a "Star Wars" film.