Review: “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”

There are feelings “Star Wars” fans have grown accustomed too in the past decade – disappointment, shame, disgust and embarrassment. Even with the bar having been lowered by the vacuous, overblown prequels though, “Clone Wars” takes things to crass new lows that fans may as well give up.

Hard to believe that ten years ago you couldn’t criticize anything about the original trilogy without bringing down a rain of hellfire from even casual fans. These days even the hard-core geeks walk into anything “Star Wars” related with trepidation and skepticism easily overtaking their excitement and anticipation. As only a casual fan of the series myself, my appreciation for the original trilogy has only increased in time – unlike the prequels which I literally haven’t watched since their theatrical release.

“Clone Wars” reminds me why. Simplified in story yet ramped up in pace even further for hyperactive kids, what’s here many have already compared to Saturday morning cartoons and video games of the late 90’s – an unfair claim as even those have subtext and cleverness notably absent here. Dialogue and scripting is even more devoid of human emotion than the prequels, and far less balanced – the main gist of the story is made for the pre-teens but some political elements are overly complicated even for adult fans.

The animation is lackluster as well. Characters are drawn in a surprisingly old fashioned polygonal style with realistic eyes strangely blending with hair and faces stiffer than dried epoxy. Awkwardly combined with visual effects robot armies and backgrounds that are closer to the caliber of the live-action movies, and you get an uncomfortable mix that makes this universe already feel far more artificial than ever before.

To add some fresh elements, Lucas and crew inject two female Jedi apprentices. Anakin gets Ahsoka Tano, a spunky raccoon-like trainee that no doubt tries to make this appeal to a broader demographic (not to mention throw in an the beginnings of an awkward teen romance subplot into the mix). Dooku on the other hand has an evil albino vampire lady with a voice that sounds like Kate Mulgrew from “Star Trek: Voyager” attempting to portray some sort of ageing sexual vamp.

Neither can overcome the essentially redundant setup and tired story of overheated land and space battles going on all over while Anakin rescues Jabba the Hutt’s son who has been kidnapped. One quickly understands the sole reason for the story here is to have a baby Hutt character which serves two purposes – it legitimately allows juvenile humor to come into play, and it adds another toy in the “Star Wars” line-up that the kids can buy this Christmas.

Upsides are very few. Nostalgic fans may warm to the odd hints of the score, various throwaway references, or try to figure out which actors provide their voices to their animated counterparts. Others will be downright offended by the portrayal of another Hutt as a Truman Capote-esque figure complete with flamboyant purple coloring and camp mannerisms akin to a villain in some early 80’s Clint Eastwood movie.

Only for the kids, who themselves will get quickly bored with this unengaging story, the movie reminds us that this franchise lost its sheen some time ago. If the quality of this ‘pilot’ is endemic of both the animated and live-action series yet to come, even just part-time fans like me really can’t be bothered anymore which makes one wonder how the full on ‘Wars’ nerds will react.