**½/**** Image A Sound B Extras C-
by Walter Chaw Something tickled the back of my brain as I was watching Genndy Tartakovsky's "Star Wars: Clone Wars", a series comprising twenty vignettes clocking in at roughly three-minutes apiece (save the last, which runs close to eight minutes) meant to bridge George Lucas's Episode II and Episode III: I realized that even though the action rises and falls twenty-three times, that no characters are developed beyond a sketch and a pose, and that the show is essentially the connective tissue between programs on the Cartoon Network, "Star Wars: Clone Wars" is every bit as good as--and sometimes better than--Lucas's current trilogy. (Lucas himself recently admitted that his prequels are approximately 40% substance and 60% filler. I think he was being generous--the first two films combined with the first half of the third film have enough substance for maybe one passable 90-minute feature.) But with most of the sport taken out of pounding on mad King George for twenty-some years now (starting with Ewoks and letting Lando live and ending with midichlorians and the Jedi turning out to be pantywaists and hypocritical assholes), all that's really left to say is that Tartakovsky's "Star Wars: Clone Wars" is what it is. And what is that, exactly? Twenty three-minute vignettes from the creator of "Dexter's Laboratory" and "Samurai Jack" that, set in the new Star Wars universe, come off a lot like a "Dexter's Laboratory" and "Samurai Jack" hybrid.
Only Anthony Daniels reprises his voice work for the animated "Star Wars: Clone Wars", though Mat Lucas does a mean Hayden Christensen (mopey and flat), Tom Kane does a great Yoda, and James Arnold Taylor, like his live-action counterpart, Ewan McGregor, steals the show as charismatic Obi-Wan Kenobi. What the series lacks in substance it more than makes up for in energy--but that energy comes at a cost. The Jedi, as Tartakovsky sees them, aren't the vulnerable little girls of Lucas's prequels, but rather near-omniscient warriors capable of dispelling armies of battle droids with a wave of the hand. An attack on the Jedi Temple is dissuaded by a trio of Jedi padawan who can levitate building-sized rocks, while Anakin and Mace Windu (Terrence Carson) are such extreme badasses that it handily quashes any suspense as to the outcome of each conflict. But since we know that these characters won't be injured (and when do we get to discuss the selective sanctimony of Lucas cutting Bai Ling out of Episode III for posing in PLAYBOY but sparing Natalie Portman despite her full-on naughty jiggle routines in Closer?), there's no tension, anyhow, so why not do as Tartakovsky has done and just go crazy? To that end, the battles are huge and stylized, and the Force is employed in ways actually cunning and interesting. (Obi-Wan uses it to close a door in Episode III. Maybe he should have used it to extinguish his best friend?) "Star Wars: Clone Wars" is 69 minutes of Anakin being a brat, of introducing General Grievous, and of stuff blowing up real good. Watch them in any order, it really doesn't matter: this is the ultimate video entertainment for the iPod Shuffle generation.
Fox unleashes "Star Wars: Clone Wars" on DVD in a sparkling 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's truly showcase material. Not so, alas, its accompanying Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack, which packs a dense amount of information into the eventually overcrowded front channels. You'd think the inventor of THX audio would have blessed this little project with a 5.1 mix--the battle scenes all but demand it. Tartakovsky, meanwhile, contributes a blow-by-blow feature-length commentary peppered with "we thought this would be cool" and "that's really cool" and "we tried to make things really cool." So it's basically worthless, but at least it's short. While I was somewhat charmed to hear Tartakovsky refer to stuff as "bad guy fighters," that wears off quickly. A second yakker, called the "Hyperspace Commentary," offers more of the same while skewing towards methodology--here, Tartovsky trainspots CG, for instance. "Bridging the Saga" (7 mins.) finds Lucas talking about how important "Star Wars: Clone Wars" is to his mythology BUT, since you never actually see the war in his films, you now hold in your grubby little mitts an animated series to fill in those vital gaps--you lucky bastard, you. Lastly, a Behind the Scenes featurette (4 mins.) is a bit more technical, if still fairly standard fare.
The thing with this entire project is that there's no substance to it--it's completely self-explanatory every step along the way from development to execution, and it neither deals with subtext nor suffers any sort of analysis after the fact. Its success, then, is the story of the prequel trilogy's failure; nothing from nothing is nothing. (Let's hear Yoda do the syntax tango with that one.) A trailer for the Episode III videogame betrays more fidelity to the spirit of the original trilogy than the film itself does, a trailer for Star Wars Republic Commando looks appropriately groovy (as opposed to almost every other Star Wars game ever made) as a Halo clone, and a playable demo of the same on your Xbox console confirms its grooviness. These plus the very cool "Star Wars: Clone Wars" teaser trailer, extensive stills and storyboard galleries, and the THX optimizer round out the presentation. Originally published: May 20, 2005.
69 minutes; Not Rated; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Fox