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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

A galaxy divided! Striking swiftly after the Battle of Geonosis, Count Dooku’s droid army has seized control of the major hyperspace lanes, separating the Republic from the majority of its clone army.

With few clones available, the Jedi generals cannot gain a foothold on the Outer Rim as more and more planets choose to join Dooku’s Separatists.

While the Jedi are occupied fighting a war, no one is left to keep the peace. Chaos and crime spread, and the innocent become victims in a lawless galaxy. Crime lord Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped by a rival band of pirates. Desperate to save his son, Jabba puts out a call for help—a call the Jedi are cautious to answer…

Director: Dave Filoni
Producer: Catherine Winder
Executive Producer: George Lucas
Writers: Henry Gilroy, Scott Murphy, Steven Melching
Cast: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane, Nika Futterman, Ian Abercrombie, Anthony Daniel, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine Taber
Composer: Kevin Kiner
Release Date: August 15, 2008

Mark Newbold and Adam Lamping

The Republic is at war! Supreme Chancellor Palpatine has committed thousands of Clone Troopers to the war against Count Dooku’s Separatist Alliance. As planets choose sides, the galaxy is divided and only the valiant efforts of the Jedi generals hold the fracturing Republic from tearing apart……..

It’s something we likely never thought we would see – a brand new Star Wars film on the silver screen, but just over three years after the release of Revenge of the Sith and the end of the saga we’re all back, with the release of The Clone Wars.

And it’s a very different beast. No 20th Century Fox logo, no scroll up, no John Williams classic Star Wars theme. This is all designed to introduce us to the worlds and characters of the Clone Wars, the three year conflict that engulfed the galaxy and threw the Star Wars universe into chaos and darkness for over two decades…

Of course, we shouldn’t really be here at all. It’s only down to the impressive work of Dave Filoni and crew, who impressed creator George Lucas so much with their efforts that Lucas thought the fans deserved to see the quality of work writ large on the big screen. BUt thank goodness that Lucas was as impressed as he was, because Filoni, Catherine Winder and the Lucas Animation team have delivered one of the best action films for a long time in The Clone Wars.

You want pure Star Wars action – check
Great new characters – check
Pulse-racing set pieces – check
Hutts with lisps – check

You name it there’s a good chance the production team have taken your wishes, thrown it into the pot and pulled out a shiny new perspective on it.

AL – As the crowd waited patiently for the lights to go down, they were suddenly greeted by members of the UK Garrison who, dressed as various characters from the Clone Wars, filed into the auditorium and stood in front of the screen whilst the cinema manager welcomed everyone. This was quickly followed by a surprise appearance by Anthony Daniels who spoke briefly of his experiences recording The Clone Wars (also thanking certain members of the audience for paying his salary for the last 30 years!) before enlisting the services of everyone in the cinema to ‘Use the Force’ to start the film.

After a couple of failed attempts, the movie began, starting with the Warner Bros. intro and then the Lucasfilm logo, which was accompanied by what sounded like comm chatter between troops, and then ‘A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy, Far, Far, Away….’ led into The Clone Wars logo and the re-worked main titles.

MN – From the very opening of the movie there is a different feel to it. Remember, not every Star Wars production has started with the 20th Century Fox crawl – Battle for Endor was an MGM release, but it is strange to be sitting in a darkened cinema room and not hear the familiar strains of the Fox fanfare blast out.

AL – Much has already been said about there being no opening crawl and the replacement narrative seemed to give the movie the feel of the Saturday-morning serial that George Lucas has often been quoted as being a source of inspiration when he first began writing his space opera many years ago.

MN – “But soon enough we are away, the Clone Wars logo fading into the starfield and a newsreel-style introduction telling us that we are at the sharp end of the Clone Wars. Jedi Knights are fighting everywhere and are stretched by the forces of the Separatist army, and only two Jedi Knights can be spared to go on a vital mission- Kenobi and Skywalker.

With the opening scene kidnapping of Rotta the Hutt, the Huttlet son of Jabba himself, the stories prime thread is set in place. Whoever rescues the heir to Jabba’s throne will have his gratitude, and access through Hutt space, which is invaluable in efforts to secure or take the Outer Rim Territories.

A scene which has been shown via the official site and the widget – The Battle of Christophsis – is right at the very start of the film, and on the big screen is is awesome. Loud and in your face, the scene not only shows the respect with which the two Jedi generals Kenobi and Skywalker are held, but also their tactical naivety. It seems that Clone Troopers are almost as expendable as Battle Droids, despite certain troopers developing their own unique characteristics and starting friendships with the Jedi.

It’s at this juncture that we are introduced to The Clone Wars newest character, Ahsoka Tano. From the off she is clearly a challenging character for Anakin to deal with. Believed at first to be Obi-Wan’s new apprentice, Anakin – or Skyguy as she calls him – is aghast at learning that this youngling is to be his new pupil. She’s headstrong, argumentative, disrespectful and forthright, and almost as reckless as Anakin. And she is an absolute joy to watch.

AL – With the scene set, it was straight into the action, and the not-uncommon sight of Obi-Wan and Anakin facing seemingly insurmountable odds as they attempt to hold their position against the opposing Separatist army and it is during the course of this battle of wits that we are introduced to Ahsoka Tano, much to the surprise of Anakin and Obi-Wan, if not the audience. There’s no doubt that Ahsoka is likely to be much-revered in some quarters of the viewing public and much-reviled in others. To quote Han Solo, “she’s got a lot of spirit”, and Ahsoka’s interaction with Anakin raised a smile on more than one occasion, giving him a taste of his own medicine when it comes to back-chat. The affectionate use of pet-names suggests a growing mutual respect as the relationship is solidified following a number of challenges where the young Padawan proves her mettle. The rest of the movie focuses primarily on the exploits of the newly-formed team and their quest to thwart the attempts of certain Sith Lords to tip the balance in favour of the Separatist movement, but is interspersed with brief sub-plots involving other familiar characters that ultimately tie in to the main story.

MN – There are a huge number of plus points to this film. The Separatists are handled brilliantly, Dooku seeming a much bigger threat than he did even in the live action films. The Battle Droids suit this setting better than they did the live action arena, and the size and strength of the Separatists seem to be pretty overwhelming. If the TV show continues this show of strength it will be easy to see why the Republic was practically on its knees by the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around.

The voice cast is excellent, even though Kenobi sounds a bit like Ringo Starr at times, and hearing Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee in their own roles was a very smart move, as was saving Mace and Yoda for some kick-ass moves in the TV show and not employing them here.

The star battles are a thrill to watch. Filoni clearly has a great eye for framing, and some of the fleet imagery is stunning, as is the dogfights. Although, if Star Wars can’t get great space battles right, no one can.

Seeing Jabba the Hutt and the underworld elements creep into the plot is also a welcome inclusion. The Phantom menace clearly showed Jabba being of great importance and wealth, but the prequels stayed away from that plotline. Indeed, while the originals strayed far away from the Skywalker story with Han Solo’s problems, the prequels did no such thing, and Jabba had little importance in the life of Anakin. Not so here, and to see and more vitally hear the booming voice of Jabba is a smooth choice.

Oh, and for you 501st people out there the inclusion of R2-KT should rightfully make you all very proud.”

AL – In terms of the animation, the angled look of the original Clone Wars cartoon has been replaced with a more refined aesthetic, which while eschewing photo-realism, still manages to maintain a sense of humanity (wooden beards aside) and captures the Star Wars look and feel surprisingly well, with the colours at times reminiscent of the shadowed hues of Episodes II and III that bookend the film and series. The attention to detail is exceptional and there are more than a few nods to the existing Star Wars universe that the fanboys are really going to appreciate. On top of that, the Lightsaber fights are out-of-this world, no doubt largely due to no longer being confined to the limitations of the human body whilst the space battles are equally impressive and could easily slot into the live-action with minimal adjustments.

MN – “If there is a misstep anywhere it’s with the big guy above, Ziro the Hutt. He’s a big player in the Hutt world and he wants a piece of his nephew Jabba’s fortune for himself. Based on Coruscant, he’s clearly doing well for himself and has a prominent place in the underworld, but not only does he make a stupid error by capturing Padme Amidala, he completely gets caught out by Padme and Threepio, bringing the Republic swiftly to his door. However, above and beyond that there’s…the voice.

Hutt’s speaking basic is a very cool concept, started back in 1996 in Shadows of the Empire when Prince Xizor ordered his underling Jabba to ‘Speak basic‘, but the choice of voice given to Ziro is frankly off-putting, and the only creative choice – out of many, many thousands that the makers had to make – that widely misses the mark. It telegraphs Ziro’s intentions from the off and detracts from what is a stunningly well designed character. The markings covering Ziro look fantastic, much like the stripes on a Bull rancor. Shame that the voice doesn’t match up.

AL – It would be unrealistic to claim that the film was perfect, but any gripes are relatively minor. The choice of a vocal style and/or accents has been criticised in the past and it would be fair to say that there is still room for improvement in this area, with one of the new characters sounding a lot like Cartman from South Park. When it comes to humour, slapstick is still very much the order of the day, with the battle droids being on the receiving end of many of the jokes, but in the majority of cases, this seems to be a lot less contrived than was seen in the prequel trilogy.

MN – As we left the cinema and began our mooch around London I spotted this bus driving up Oxford Street. Very cool, while The Clone Wars has kind of crept in under the radar in this summer of blockbusters, it’s great to see things like this reminding everyone that Star Wars is forever!

AL – Suffice to say that The Clone Wars is a great addition to Star Wars canon that will appeal to kids, and providing they can suspend their sense of realism for 90 minutes, adults as well.

Originally published on Lightsabre.co.uk on Sunday 10th August 2008.