Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just Enough To Keep Me Interested: The Clone Wars Season One Is Science Fiction Fun.

The Good: Decent animation, Some cool, adult plots, Moments of character development, Bonus features.
The Bad: Repetitive plots, Still geared toward a younger audience.
The Basics: The Clone Wars Season One is a fun animated series that alternates between obvious bottle episodes and sweeping serials that bring the viewers back for more!

It is worth saying right off the bat that I loathed The Clone Wars (click here for that review!), the cinematic animated adventure that launched Cartoon Network's The Clone Wars television series. Since then, I've had nothing good to say about the show as I've watched DVDs drip into the marketplace with a few episodes each from the series, but not the entire season. I've also been annoyed at the retailers who stock Star Wars toys for focusing so much shelfspace on Clone Wars toys as opposed to the newer Star Wars figures. But, for all my kvetching, I had not seen a single episode of The Clone Wars until my library got in The Clone Wars - The Complete First Season.

This four-disc set features all twenty-two episodes of the computer animated series and after taking a few days to watch the whole thing, I found myself unprepared to enjoy it. But, the truth is, I did. The basic concept is that when the Clone Wars begin at the end of Star Wars Episode II and they rage through the galaxy until the opening shots of Revenge Of The Sith, that there is a whole wealth of stories to be explored which illustrate how this war changed the tenor of the Republic to make it possible for it to become the Empire so easily. As a result, The Clone Wars Season One continues where the film left off and focuses on the various struggles of key Republic and Jedi characters as they battle the forces of the Separatists, under the leadership of Count Dooku.

Yoda makes a journey to meet with the Toydarian king to prove the value of Jedi fighters and keep them in the Republic, but Count Dooku sends Asajj Ventress to keep him from making the meeting. While Yoda rallies his small force of clone troopers to repel superior battle droid numbers, Ventress tries to convince the king to join the Separatists. Around the same time, General Grievous launches attacks on Republic ships - led by Plo Koon - using an advanced energy draining weapon. Anakin Skywalker and his padawan, Ahsoka, head to his last known location to rescue him, mostly because Ahsoka has a personal stake in the mission. Unfortunately, as Anakin and Ahsoka work to thwart Grievous, Padme Amidala finds herself in the path of Grievous's superweapon and must be rescued!

Other missions include a new Clone unit finding themselves working without Jedi to keep a base intact and a mission where Padme is captured and must be rescued by Jar Jar Binks! As well, Anakin loses R2-D2 due to Ahsoka's reckless nature and he begins to take seemingly unreasonable risks to get the little droid back . . . until it is realized that the droid has battle plans and tactical readouts for all of the Republic missions! The tide of war looks like it might be turning quickly, though, when Count Dooku is captured and Anakin and Obi-Wan are sent to pay a ransom to a bounty hunter who has him! But the Separatist forces have some nefarious tricks up their sleeves, including an insane doctor who has brought back a lethal virus (and made it airborne!) and bounty hunters intent on getting Ziro the Hutt out of jail!

The Clone Wars is a very erratic series in that it does not seem to know quite who it is targeting. Each episode opens with a news brief that sounds like it is from a 1920s newsreel and a quote with a moral about war and loyalty and the like. But then, episodes range from either the obvious - "learn to rely on your friends if you want to survive" to the disturbingly graphic - many of the Separatists are bad people who shoot characters in the face at point blank range or are happy to slay innocents. In other words, many of the episodes are meant to teach kids morals, others are too graphic for children and will be appreciated by the adult fans who made Star Wars into a multibillion dollar franchise.

That said, the animation in Season One of The Clone Wars is homogeneously wonderful . . . once one gets used to it. Unlike the films, which use computer generated animation to create virtual characters that look real, The Clone Wars is entirely animated and the style is three dimensional, but blockish. Characters like Padme are a little less recognizable, but Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, and Dooku are easily recognized by the fans. As well, one may go into the series without having seen the film The Clone Wars and pick the show right up. In fact, the only episode that truly references the film is the final one and the reference is implicit: Ziro the Hutt. All one would have to figure out is who Ahsoka and Ventress are and that's pretty easy (especially if one has seen the prior installments of The Clone Wars from years before - see the links below!).

The plots are generally good and capture the realism and complexity of war. There are casualties and this helps to keep the sense of danger high, though the primary characters who the viewer knows must survive into the third film mortgage some of the emotional intensity (it's almost ridiculous to put Padme into dangerous situations for exactly this reason . . .). But many of the plots are riddled with problems. Infiltrators are especially obvious in this series and there is a string of episodes where there are spies compromising missions, so the viewer gets bored with the concept and can figure out pretty quickly who the spies are.

As well, the supplemental characters often create conceptual problems. When Grievous is tested by Dooku by having to deal with trapped Jedi, Kit Fisto's former padawan pops up. The moment he does, the viewer has a pretty good idea which way the wind is blowing for the character and, unfortunately, The Clone Wars does not have much in the way of surprises for us there. Instead, the surprise is more that the show treads so consistently toward the obvious. Even so, the journey has some real fun to it. That fun ends with each appearance of Jar Jar Binks and the terribly lame treatment of the Separatist Battle Droids, who have personalities in this show, but they are all idiots.

Even so, the writers are smart enough to play with the seeds of character development to help move the characters along. Anakin Skywalker continues to show both signs of greatness and a tremendous temper. This is a smart bit of foreshadowing and it works. Outside Anakin and Ahsoka, though, there is little character development. Dooku and Grievous are still treacherous, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan and Yoda are still wise and C-3P0 and Jar Jar are still annoying. At least all are portrayed realistically for who they are supposed to be.

On DVD, each episode comes with a behind the scenes featurette that explores how the characters and story were developed as well as tidbits on the making of the episode. Many of the episodes also have extended director's cuts which allow viewers to see the complete episode as the writer and director intended it to be (as opposed to how it aired). I recommend those full versions as they flesh out the stories better.

I was a naysayer until I gave The Clone Wars Season One a fair chance and now, truth be told, I'm actually psyched to see where it goes next. It is entertaining science fiction, at the very least and those looking for nothing more than that will find this a pleasant diversion.

For other works in the Star Wars franchise, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars - Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Volume 1
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Volume 2
Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars - Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi


For other science fiction movies/television, please visit my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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