Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Bridge To Revenge Of The Sith, The Clone Wars Volume 2 Leads Right In!

The Good: Some interesting imagery, Decent story, Good lead-in
The Bad: VERY "cartoony," Continues to weaken the Light Side conceptually
The Basics: With a strong story independent of Star Wars lore, the Clone Wars animated series fails to fit into the bigger picture, but is entertaining.

One of the best critiques I ever heard about Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith (click here for my review!) was that the climactic battles of the film basically implied that the Dark Side of the Force is more powerful than the Light Side. Having been raised on The Empire Strikes Back (click here for that review!) this did not so much bother me on the theological level as it did on the conceptual level based on what is explained about the Force in the original Star Wars trilogy. Yoda tells Luke Skywalker that the Dark Side is not stronger or more powerful, just that it is a quicker way to tap into the Force.

Which leads us to Star Wars: The Clone Wars Volume 2 on DVD. This disc caps off the animated Star Wars series that was shown on the Cartoon Network (click here for my review of the first volume!) to bridge the time between Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith. Here we see Anakin Skywalker on his last tests as a Padawan and his first experiences as a Jedi Knight of the Republic fighting beside Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Clone Wars. While Anakin and Kenobi are on the outer rim liberating a planet of primitive wolf-creatures, Coruscant comes under siege. The villainous General Grievous attacks the capital to abduct Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, slaughtering Jedi as he goes.

Perhaps the most ridiculous moment of this series is when we see Yoda, deep in meditation suddenly shocked awake by sensing the armada of ships descending on Coruscant. One would think that from a meditative state where he is basking in the Force, Yoda would have a greater attenuation to the gigantic fleet of Dark Side forces literally right above his head. This leads us to the greatest problem in The Clone Wars that continues up into Revenge Of The Sith. Suddenly the forces of the Light Side of the Force are utter morons. Somehow, an army of three Sith and the crappiest robots since the Flash Gordon era manage to hold their own - and ultimately defeat - the established army of Jedi Knights and the best trained army of clones the galaxy has seen. Only a loser could watch The Clone Wars and Revenge Of The Sith and then feel good about rooting for Luke Skywalker in episodes 4 - 6.

What the Clone Wars illustrates is that the Jedi don't deserve to bring any sense of order or protection to the galaxy because, ultimately, they do not. The Jedi forces from the Republic jump around and in this volume of the Clone Wars, they run around. A lot. In fact, a good portion of the Coruscant story has Jedi running away from General Grievous. And what we learn here is that three well-trained Jedi (granted one is hampered by carrying the geezer) can't take out a single robot who was clumsily trained by Count Dooku (who, let's face it, should have been called by his Sith name Darth Tyrannous, the moment his true identity was revealed).

The flip side of this is the programs other serious weakness. This show feels like a cartoon. Up until the last shots of the program, which are designed to meld into the beginning of Revenge Of The Sith, this does not have the look or feel of any of the Star Wars movies. It feels like a cartoon. Not an animated series (which connotes some level of quality), but a cartoon, which as one might suspect is more geared toward children and entertainment.

The prime example of the way The Clone Wars feels superlatively cartoony is in the action. The Jedi take on impossibly large targets and overwhelming odds without flinching, without any problems. I know this might seem a contradiction based on what I just said about the Light Side being weak and stupid, but it's the other end of the spectrum. When the Jedi aren't being hampered by the lamest robots this side of the 1950s, the Jedi are taking on thousands of them at once. Even in Attack Of The Clones, Jedi managed to get shot and killed by the lame battle droids. By the logic of The Clone Wars, production of the droid armies has increased thousand-fold while the most powerful Jedi - like Mace Windu - seem to have had a similar increase in strength.

The net result is that The Clone Wars simply does not fit. It's awkwardly sized on either end. Either the Jedi are so weak they cannot defeat the mildly annoying villains who they cannot seem to sense or they are so strong as to be able to single-handedly take on thousands of the robots at a time. There is no middle ground here. And either version fails to reconcile with the established lore of the films, up to Revenge Of The Sith.

The only thing The Clone Wars does that effectively uses the animated nature of the series comes in foreshadowing Anakin's change is a beautiful scene on Nelvaan. Anakin has a vision brought to him by the tribal elders of his impending fate and the sequence uses animation well to illustrate its point. It's a clever and meaningful sequence. Also, the program flashes back to a young Anakin and Qui-Gon Jinn, which would be near impossible to do with live action.

To be fair, after the initial "sigh, this is SUCH a cartoon" reaction, The Clone Wars Volume 2 tells a decent story of growth for Anakin and it does lead quite well into Revenge Of The Sith. It's fun to watch this right before the much darker final chapter in the prequel trilogy. It does set it up rather nicely.

Ultimately, I am only recommending this for fans of the Star Wars franchise. It's not great television, it's not great animation, but it is a nice piece in the puzzle for fans who grew up on the prequels. And for those who love the original trilogy, but are dubious about the prequels, this is not for you. It's more entertainment than substance.

For other Star Wars reviews, please check out my takes on:
Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars - Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars - Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi


For other science fiction television reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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