Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
In many respects I'm the guy watching the bandwagon drive off down the street, wishing it out of sight with a tiny, sarcastic wave of the hand. Even though the original Star Wars trilogy in large part made me who I am, I waited until the prequel trilogy hit the brewpub theater before taking a chance, and I passed Clone Wars by completely. Yet I'll admit to pretty serious fanboy rush when the Clone Wars Two-disc Special Edition hit my desk. By way of disclosure, however, you've probably guessed I'm not a big fan of the prequels, and if I must jump on a bandwagon it would be the Lucas-bashing express, which is why I'm pleasantly surprised to say that in a sense, Clone Wars is the perfect distillation of Lucas's 'vision,' and quite enjoyable to boot.
"Years ago you served my father in the clone wars," says Princess Leia in an offhandedly pivotal way, sending old Ben Kenobi on another damn fool mission. The statement also sent George Lucas on a damn fool mission to ultimately milk a single idea for decades and dollars unending. This movie premier, tying in to a new animated television series, is the result, and one wonders how much mileage can Senor Skywalker get out of this period sandwiched in between Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith? Probably plenty, and it will all probably be worth it. The Clone Wars movie follows Obi Wan, Anakin, and his Padawan Ahsoka through various battles and a convoluted kidnap/ recovery mission involving Jabba The Hutt's little baby Rotta (AKA Stinky). You see, most people will read the last sentence and throw up their hands in defeat, but it's not as grating as it sounds.
My theory is Lucas lucked out with Star Wars, (due respect to effort and talent of course) nailing the cultural and cinematic zeitgeist of the late '70s in a way he wasn't even aware of. And then he couldn't let go, and he noticed how well kids responded to his 'vision,' and set about working and reworking the same idea, wrenching it into a brainless, bizarre political/ military cartoon. And the money still poured in! If anything, he's lucked out again; instead of ending up with a grubby, overworked lump, he's got what Return Of The Jedi probably should have been, an actual cartoon filled with lightly sketched characters, tons of breathless battles, and awesome robots, spaceships and aliens. Lucas and crew are finally free to do what they do best, wrap a bit of Joseph Campbell-meets-Eastern-pedantry into dazzling, tasty morsels that will keep adolescent jaws agape and won't sound like nails on the chalkboard to adults who still want to enjoy the ride.
Clone Wars still has plenty of we're-outflanked-but-must-seize-control-of-the-shipping-lanes nonsense to help short-circuit your brain. And plotting innovations along the lines of shutting down a shield so the heroes can attack (hey, it worked in episodes four through six) won't be very exciting for anyone over ten years of age, but these missteps are kept to a minimum. Even cutesy stuff like the baby Hutt, juvenile droid humor, and Ahsoka - a chippy, adolescent girl in training to be a Jedi - constantly referring to Anakin as 'Sky-guy' are less annoying than you'd think. Why? Because Ahsoka actually represents something of an interesting character. She's fun to spend time with, interesting design makes her a joy to watch, and her riot-grrl persona, while a decade too late, is the most realistic thing to come out of Skywalker Ranch since Luke first whined about picking up some power converters.
But mostly, Clone Wars is gripping battle after battle, with breezy battlefield chatter to keep your eyes from totally glazing over. Total CGI makes the Star Wars universe seamless; no longer should viewers decry lifeless battalions of CG robots marching through an airless green-screen world, it's all CGI now. Pulsing canons and glowing lightsabers are free to inhabit their own reality, and of course wooden acting is no problem when living humans aren't in the equation. If anything, the acting in Clone Wars is worlds better than that in the prequels; something about the imaginative process Clone Wars voice-talent uses leaves more room for basic dialog to breathe. Despite having an abrupt, dullish ending tailor made to lead you to your TV screens for the series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars finds that tiny slot Lucas didn't know he was looking for, it's an excellent cartoon that works hard to atone for some pretty risible prequels.
Presented in 2.35:1 letterboxed widescreen, to preserve its original theatrical 'scope' aspect ratio, this DVD of course looks spectacular. Colors are rich and saturated, the image is super-sharp, crisp and clear, and a dual-layer format means no compression artifacts. Two slight pauses during viewing almost makes this look like a triple-layer disc - I guess my DVD player was just having a hard time keeping up.
Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Audio in English, French and Spanish is fabulous as well, though far more than I need. A fairly unique and at times rocking score sounds awesome, while audio effects are enveloping and invigorating. There's a slight disparity in volume between dialog and the rest (especially with quiet-talking Yoda) so I spent some time riding the volume control, which is my only (minor) complaint.
This Two-disc Special Edition is not of the fake variety, even though a Bonus Digital Copy of the movie is listed as an extra, it's not the sole occupant of disc two, you'll instead get a download code included in your packaging. Speaking of which, the flipper keepcase comes with a cool Lenticular Slipcover (I'm usually against slipcovers as unneeded extra packaging, but this one is fairly neat). A Commentary Track with director Dave Filoni, producer Catherine Winder, writer Henry Gilroy and editor Jason W.A. Tucker is typical of Lucas brand extras, with lots of explanation about what's going on, what it means to the Star Wars universe, and how great, exciting and innovative everything is. While the product is indeed great, the commentary isn't exactly thrilling. English SDH Subtitles also accompany the feature.
Starts with a 25 minute featurette The Clone Wars: The Untold Stories which is pretty much a long-form EPK for the movie and series together, with numerous clips and interview snippets. The usual whiff of Scientology-esque will-to-power pervades this featurette, with most subjects speaking as if through talking points, most of which not only explain what the entire Star Wars ethos is about, but also consistently reinforce how great it all is. For instance, Ahsoka is not just a new character, she's an 'exciting new character,' it's almost like they're advertising cereal or something. The Voices Of The Clone Wars goes behind the scenes of voice-over recording for ten minutes, revealing the principal actors as sound-alikes mostly, actors with plenty of talent and enthusiasm, especially multi-character specialist Tom Kane. A New Score talks with composer Kevin Kiner about staying true to John Williams and the Star Wars 'experience' while crafting something new, so to speak. It's fun to see the orchestra cranking things out during recording sessions. A self-navigated Gallery Of Concept and Production Art has about 40 small stills best viewed on a 50-inch or larger screen. Webisodes are 20 minutes of making-of featurettes that go in-depth about specific aspects such as Clone reality. 11 minutes of Deleted Scenes represents more battles-battles-battles, all of which are just as good as anything seen in the final cut. Finally three Trailers (two for the movie and one for the video game) round out the second disc.
For a tie-in/ premier of an animated television series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars stands alone fairly well, meaning you don't have to set your Tivo after watching the movie if you don't want to. A grand-scale cartoon filled-to-the-brim with dazzling battles, dorky humor and dry battle plans hiding simple messages, it's basically the perfect vehicle for George Lucas's vision. That said, Star Wars purists will probably hate it, but if you've been longing to understand just what the auteur has been thinking all these years, this is your chance. Kids-at-heart, grab some popcorn and get over yourselves, The Clone Wars is the Saturday morning experience it's meant to be. Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com