It’s tough to tell why there hasn’t been much buzz for the latest offering from Team Lucas. It might be that there wasn’t a huge advertising campaign for it. Maybe it’s another victim of the box office vacuum left by The Dark Knight. Maybe fans still find it difficult to gear up for the Star Wars universe after the aftermath of episodes I, II, and III. Whatever the case, that lack of excitement actually matches the tone of the film near-perfectly.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars features a lot of familiar faces – those faces just happened to be animated this time around. Anakin (voiced by Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) have got their hands full with battles breaking out between The Republic and The Separatists, but amongst the throngs of clones and battle droids, Anakin’s job get tougher when his padawan shows up. Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) is young, rash, and neither she nor Anakin are ready for her training. As the battle rages between the two of them, they are charged with rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s kidnapped son in order to secure his favor and permission to use the crucial routes through the outer rim to give them the advantage in the war.
The main problem for this film was pacing. The battle sequences are incredible, innovative, and fun to watch, but they are almost always going on. The audience barely gets any relief from the war to reflect on what they’ve seen. Even though a lot of character development gets handled within the fights (and from the previous installments to the canon), the feel of the film is ultimately flat, the depth of the story difficult to find beneath the barrage of heavy artillery fire.
Ahsoka does as much as she can as a character to disrupt Anakin’s world, and their story really is the story of this film. Unfortunately, other characters fall to the wayside, completing mostly unimportant side tasks or promising to show up and inexplicably never showing up. Sticking the basic issue of pacing, without a subplot to create a dynamic story, the film bogs down heavily in the relatively small task of getting Jabba’s son back. Despite a massive rebellion threatening civility in The Republic, it seems all hands are on deck for that task even though most of their actions have little effect on the outcome. This includes a cameo from Senator Amidala (voiced by Catherine Taber) in a scheme to aid Anakin that seems to come from nowhere.
That scheme includes one of the most annoying characters since Jar Jar Binks plagued the screen with his presence: Jabba’s uncle Ziro the Hutt (voiced by Corey Burton). Why Ziro seems to be Rip Torn wearing a Phyllis Diller the Hutt costume about to take the main stage at the Bird Cage is never explained, but it takes a generous moment to know whether their was a massive continuity error in Amidala’s calling him Jabba’s “uncle.” His sniveling, far-too-over-the-top flamboyancy sticks out like casting Liberace as Lawrence of Arabia.
Another character misuse comes in the form of the evil Asajj Ventress (voiced by Nika Futterman). If I can continue using outlandish comparisons – Ventress appears as if Voldemort and The Lawnmower Man had a daughter and fed her gravel and rage until they realized she could use The Force. She’s a terrific villain, truly frightening at some points and handles a fight with Obi-Wan like a pro. So of course, the filmmakers push her aside near the end ala Darth Maul to give the lifelessly dull Count Dooku (voiced by Christopher Lee) top spot as baddie. Despite being bearded and lying constantly, he’s barely threatening and is even handled easily in a fight with Anakin. Essentially, The Republic is being threatened by someone’s manipulative, yet hilariously polite, great-grandfather.
Aside from the grand distractions, the film does have some good things to offer. Somehow, the filmmakers found a solid balance of having intense action sequences while remaining kid-friendly. It’s those battles – especially the opening street skirmish with giant, Wellsian battle droids and the completely vertical fight as Anakin and clone forces scale the fortress where Jabba’s son is being held – that keep the film on an even keel. A few of them last a bit too long, and, yes, there are too many fights, but they are amazing to watch.
Also great is the relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka. Some will find her character obnoxious – easily imagining her frustrated parents dropping her off at the Jedi Temple and speeding away as more daycare than Knight Training – but her spark works fairly well when paired with the too-rash Anakin. It’s a great example of a teacher learning from his student and a student coming into her own.
When I spoke with director Dave Filoni and producer Catherine Winder at Comic-Con, they mentioned that they saw Ahsoka’s character as a way to draw in a younger, female audience. It’s unclear as to whether this film will actually succeed in that goal. Having a strong female protagonist and a badass female villain could appeal to younger, female viewers. but the sheer amount of battles might be a turn off. Perhaps they’ll focus more on those characters and less on digitally blowing things up in the television series that’s been produced alongside the film.
Oddly enough, without knowing about that series’ existence, this film is difficult to understand. It spends a lot of time on one task that probably would have been completed within minutes in any other Star Wars film, tries to develop the relationship of two characters while constantly having to run back to the smaller stories going on, and has the kind of resolution that should ominously signal a sequel is on the way. A film sequel might be in the works, but it’s more likely that Star Wars: The Clone Wars serves more as a supplement to the forthcoming television show. It had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, that label of ‘supplement’ seems more appropriate for it than ‘stand alone film’ does.
The Upside: You’ll get tired of the fighting eventually, but while they work, they are breathtaking. Also, No Hayden Christiansen is an upside all on its own.
The Downside: A lot of noise and laser blasts for not much pay off. It’s a Star Wars film for kids, so, big kids are out of luck.
On the Side: Sadly, for the first time, Frank Oz isn’t the voice of Yoda.