It would be nice to think that the infusion of new blood into the Star Wars franchise, in the form of director Dave Filoni
and screenwriters Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, and Scott Murphy, would reinvigorate the series and correct the shortcomings of some of the previous installments. It would be nice to think that the introduction of animation to the mix might create new opportunities for the storytelling aesthetic. It would be nice to think a lot of things, but this latest installment suffers from all of the less appealing qualities of its predecessors and benefits from few of their strengths.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars takes place in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and somewhere in the middle of the Clone Wars television series that appeared on The Cartoon Network from 2003-2005. A newsreel style introduction (unfortunately reminiscent of Starship Troopers) explains that the eponymous conflict between the Republic's Jedi-led clone army and the Separatist droid army led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is well underway. While Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) fight a campaign on a distant planet, Anakin is saddled with a pupil, the Padawan Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) who quickly proves herself to be plucky and impetuous in a way that's supposed to be endearing but is actually grating. (You're going to call Anakin "Skyguy?" Really?) Article continues below
No sooner have Obi-Wan and Anakin completed their mission than they are assigned to rescue the kidnapped son of interstellar gangster Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson) in hopes of winning his favor, which is crucial to the war effort. All is, of course, not as it seems and the pair are soon drawn into a dark conflict with Dooku, his deadly apprentice Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman), and lots and lots of droids. Excitement fails to ensue.
Part of the problem is the chronically flat dialogue, which has plagued the series ever since Lawrence Kasdan stopped having any input on that front. It's hard to tell how much of the voice acting seems deflated because of the uninspired lines, but it's equally dead. The CG/anime mash-up animation works remarkably well for rendering droids and spaceships, but seems awkward on the glassy-eyed human and humanoid leads, making the performances seem even more wooden. The graphics in the upcoming The Force Unleashed video game look more compelling.
Where stilted acting and hammy dialogue are nothing new for the series, a lack of vision is. Though some sequences still dazzle, such as a vertical battle up the side of a mountain, overall the look and scope of this installment is outmatched by the 2D animated series that preceded it. The action in that show displayed a far greater degree of imagination and appropriated the anime style more cleanly.
This installment also manages to omit interesting characters while adding unnecessarily annoying new ones. General Grievous, put to formidable use in the prior animated series, is absent, while a new member of the Hutt clan is introduced to baffling effect. Ziro the Hutt (Corey Burton) is Truman Capote in Hutt form and is about as good an idea as that sounds.
In watching The Clone Wars, one is filled with the overwhelming urge to grab George Lucas, thank him for his immeasurable contribution to the science fiction canon, and ask him politely to cut it out already. This will not work, however, as The Clone Wars is scheduled to become a 3D animated TV series this fall. Oh, the midichlorians...