At The Movies: Star Wars — The Clone Wars (2008)

starwarsclonewars2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

★★★☆☆

2008 • 98 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures

Can you hear it? The slow, subtle turn of fandom’s head back to Marvel? The sound of dust being brushed off Captain America shields and hankies being stuffed into knapsacks against the impending Bucky Barnes feelings?

Well, if you can, I can’t, dear reader. Despite all the signs that the wind and your tumblr dashboard is starting to change direction to a different Disney property, I remain almost composed of Star Wars. After the glorious high of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems that my fever for that franchise will never abate. This is liberally aided by the fact that Star Wars, as a film series, is composed of four quality films and three exquisitely choice bad movies, satisfying my entire cinematic palette in one go. It is only the Expanded Universe’s decanonization that keeps me from running full tilt into it.

To soothe this ravenous appetite, I decided to finally embark upon Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I’d thought about picking up The Clone Wars—the only Star Wars property currently streaming on American Netflix—over the holidays, but my dreams of introducing my nephew, Wolfboy, to Star Wars were shattered when he declared The Clone Wars “too scary” and went off to to his favorite movie, the existential horror show that is Cars. I mainlined holiday cooking shows instead. But it was only a matter of time. I’ve heard such good things about this television series, about how it gives Anakin Skywalker more time to develop from frustrated young Jedi to Sith Lord and gives Obi-Wan a quasi-romantic interest in a Mandalorian duchess named Satine. (Yes, she’s named that for the same reason you think she’s named that.)

So imagine my surprise when this much-praised series dropped viewers into an episode about Yoda hanging out with some clone troopers without much reference to the actual protagonists or, as I progressed, even properly introducing Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s padawan. After some research, I discovered that Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ first few episodes had actually been bundled into a film of the same name and given a theatrical release. I’d completely missed this at the time, since it was 2008 and I was probably really busy updating my LiveJournal icons and screaming about Heroes.

Naturally, this bundling was handled with all the grace and delicacy of a latter-day George Lucas joint. The Wikipedia entry for the film has a section about the film’s development that attempts to make Lucas’ sudden decision to turn a few episodes into a proper film seem inspired and eccentric, instead of terrifying. Walking into it after dipping my toes in the series proper, it was obvious to see where the seams had been blurred to turn a three episode or so arc about Jabba the Hutt’s son being kidnapped into a film. As a film, Star Wars: The Clone Wars—well, I’m pretty sure I’d have felt weird seeing this in the theater, and not just because the film does not open with John Williams trying to blast people’s faces off with sheer volume.

But as an extended introduction to a new show, it works. As advertised, we get to see Anakin Skywalker both as a dashing hero and as a troubled man. Rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s son naturally brings Anakin and Ahsoka to Tattooine, where Ahsoka tries to light-heartedly talk about Anakin’s childhood while Anakin is clearly dealing with the fact that his last trip to Tattooine ended in him committing massacre. While The Clone Wars is marketed more specifically towards children than the trilogies themselves (each episode starts with an aphorism related to its story), it does touch on darker material reasonably and neatly. That can result in some tonal whiplash—the opposing battle droids are meant to be comedic relief, but that sometimes means they end up being a strange brand of existential horror instead—but by actually exploring Anakin’s character instead of hitting milestones, it’s already head and shoulders above the prequels.

Of course, it has its problems. Padmé turns up in the last third, only to be kidnapped by the much bigger problem—the ultimate villain, a screaming queen of a Hutt named Ziro the Hutt. Lucas strikes again; Ziro was supposed to speak Hutt until Lucas decided he should sound like Truman Capote. Which is Lucas and the prequels all over, pulling in specific inspirations without contextualizing them, either in the Star Wars universe or our own—see Watto’s accent and Dex’s Diner. Sounding like Truman Capote turns Ziro into an uncomfortable stereotype, despite his interesting visual design.

I just hope it’s not a sign of things to come, but more experienced Star Wars fans know that outcome better than I do. Here’s to finding out.

I watched this film on Netflix.

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