Friday, October 8, 2010

Vignettes In Lightsaber Battles: The Clone Wars Volume 1 Underwhelms.

The Good: Fun, Fleshes out the Star Wars Universe
The Bad: Little character depth, Somewhat silly scale
The Basics: A fast-paced, somewhat nonsensical journey in the Star Wars universe elaborates on the Clone Wars with mixed results.

In the Star Wars universe, there is a gap of about two years between the films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. In an attempt to fill that gap, the Cartoon Network and Lucasfilm created an animated series called The Clone Wars which is available on DVD in two volumes. This is not to be mistaken with their current Clone Wars push; yes, originally the same company tried to market essentially the same premise and failed except with the true die-hard fans.

Volume One of The Clone Wars is a series of twenty episodes which play continuously as a movie that is just over an hour long. The plot is fairly simple. As the Clone Wars progress, the Jedi Knights and the Clone armies are engaged in battle across the galaxy with the Separatist Forces of Count Dooku. Over the course of several campaigns, it becomes clear the Jedi are winning, though the Droid Armies of the Separatists have a few new surprises. They include a powerful character who has the ability to regenerate and a new Sith. While Obi-Wan deals with the former, it falls to Anakin Skywalker to deal with the latter. And at the end of all this, a new menace emerges, by the name of Grievous.

The Clone Wars is a nifty little project and the nicest thing about it is that it's fun. It's fun, it doesn't require a lot of thought and there's a wonderful sense of movement throughout the piece. Battles go on, people move around, there are a lot of animated explosions, it's not terribly highbrow or challenging. But, it is fun. And while some have criticized the Samurai Jack animation style, I think there is some charm to it here. All of the characters are clearly recognizable and it certainly does not detract from the stories.

But, the truth is, there's not much in the way of a story to begin with. It's war, these are mostly just battles. People get shot at, no one important or recognizable is harmed or killed. Indeed, the entire piece plays as a battle without any serious consequences or ramifications for either side. When one watches this from beginning to end, one is left with the sense that both sides are more or less where they started from. And the story takes abrupt detours, like when the main battles that Anakin and Obi-Wan are fighting are replaced with an undersea episode with a battle on Mon Calamari or Mace Windu rescuing a planet from a giant stomping machine.

Beyond the lack of a real plot is the fundamental problem of a lack of character development. Certainly, Anakin's fight with Dooku's new Sith apprentice is meant to illustrate his use of anger and it does. The problem is, we've seen it before and more effectively. In Attack of the Clones, we see Anakin slay the Sandpeople. There, his anger is almost justified as he is killing in revenge for the death of his mother. In his battle with the Sith apprentice, there is nothing so personal, no stake that makes is meaningful.

In the minutiae it's irritating that everyone still refers to Dooku as Dooku. Now that he has been exposed as a Sith lord, why isn't he referred to as Tyrannus? Sigh. Some things just make no sense, I suppose.

On the big front, though, what makes The Clone Wars so fun is also one of its main detractions. Everything is bigger in this animated series and that is very cool. However, if one wishes to make the fantastic leap that Mace Windu may single-handedly take on a thousand Super Battle Droids, one is forced to wonder how he could not take out Sidious quicker in Revenge of the Sith. Or better yet, if Windu can take on so many droids, as he does, why are the Clone Wars going on so long? Bankers and droidmakers have finite resources, no matter how extensive. Figuring that a pretty high number of droids were lost in Attack of the Clones, why aren't the Jedi simply sweeping through systems the Separatists have taken and using their mind woosh to wipe out the droids and then moving on?

In short, the thing that makes the animated series fun and inventive makes it impossible to take it seriously in the context of the larger series. When one watches Yoda crashing massive starships with his mind, the entire opening sequence to Revenge of the Sith becomes utterly pointless. After all, with such abilities, would the Jedi not have been able to simply crush the Separatist Fleet by using their mental powers to crash the starships into one another? And the Jedi do outnumber the Sith by a pretty significant margin, so . . .

In the final analysis, volume one of the Clone Wars is somewhat absurd, best for fun, but not for trying to fill in the gaps between the films in the Star Wars saga.

For other Star Wars endeavors, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
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 television program reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

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

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