Star Wars: The Clone Wars
As (what it should have been) a direct-to-DVD or first six episodes of a TV show: B-
Context is everything. One could look up at some generic painting while eating a Salisbury steak at a diner and think how nice it looks. Yet throw that same picture up on the wall of a museum and it'll instead draw frowns and confusion at just why it's there.
That's kind of the situation with the new "Star Wars" movie and the reason for the decision to give it two letter grades. This is a horrible film. If it were a TV show (which it apparently is going to be) then it might not be that bad. The show should debut this fall and this film was actually, according to Entertainment Weekly, kind of an afterthought. Star Wars creator George Lucas was so impressed by the TV show they were developing that he gave the go-ahead for a feature-length movie to launch it.
"Clone Wars" is set between "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." It begins with Anakin and Obi-Wan (neither voiced by their film actors) leading a clone army on some remote planet. As they're strategizing master Yoda sends Ahsoka Tano, a young female Jedi to be Anakin's padawan learner. The three Jedi must defeat the droid army on the planet so they can move on to their next mission: rescuing Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son. An alliance with the powerful Hutt gangster family is necessary in the war against the separatists.
It really isn't a film. There isn't even a protagonist. Who's the hero of the film that the audience roots for and lives through vicariously? It doesn't show how a character struggles and evolves. It's just a series of battles and action set pieces that lack any kind of tension since the filmmakers haven't bothered developing the characters. And even though those fight scenes are moderately entertaining, the film faces the same problem of the much better "Kung Fu Panda," namely that action just isn't as exciting when it's animated.
Do Lucas and company think that the audience is going to care about the characters just because they established them in the prequel trilogy? The Anakin, Obi Wan, and Yoda of "Clone Wars" aren't really the characters of the films. They're just shadows of them. Removed from the gifted actors that bring them to life you've just got the cardboard cut-outs spouting the silly dialog of Lucas's scripts.
The film's only saving grace is the fact that it's set within the Star Wars galaxy. Any time within Lucas's creation is always a treat. The film is kind of the crumbs that have fallen onto the floor. It might not be as good as the meal but Star Wars fans will take what they can get.
Jarring moments of silliness also intrude on the film just as they did the prequel trilogy and the new "Indiana Jones." Ahsoka Tano is nowhere near as annoying as the abomination Jar Jar Binks but she can be irritating the way she calls Anakin "Sky Guy." Worse, though, is the depiction of Ziro the Hutt, Jabba's relative that lives on Coruscant. If the film hadn't gone out of its way to declare Ziro to be Jabba's uncle then the audience would have assumed he was a female. The flamboyant Hutt has strange tattoos or makeup and talks in an effeminate way. I guess everyone has a gay uncle even if you're a giant slug with a pet rancor living in a galaxy far, far away.
Further evidence that the film should have been a direct-to-DVD effort lies in the quality of the animation. This summer has seen the stunning animation of "Kung Fu Panda" and "WALL-E." "Clone Wars" cannot compete. The animation is reminiscent of the cut scenes in Star Wars video games from five years ago. This is TV-level computer animation that's only on the big screen because Lucas now has the power to make and distribute any film he wants.
In "Ratatouille" the film's antagonist, Skinner, has started a line of TV dinners based off of the recipes of famous deceased chef Auguste Gusteau. That's kind of what "Clone Wars" is. If the original "Star Wars" films are classic dishes prepared by a master, then "Clone Wars" is a mass-produced, low-quality imitation that you reheat in a microwave. And it's fine to eat a TV dinner every now and then. If you're going to, though, don't pay $8 for it. Generally when I'm eating my $1 Salisbury steak TV dinners on my break at work I feel I'm getting my money's worth. And that's about as much as one should pay to see "Clone Wars."