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April 8, 2004

{     Star Wars: Clone Wars     }    

This "microseries" is handily the coolest thing to happen to _Star Wars_ since, well, _Star Wars_. In two minute bursts _Clone Wars_ has as much, if not more, action than any battle scene from the two most recent movies. _Clone Wars_ takes place immediately after _Attack of the Clones_ and before _Episode III_ and fills in the gaps between the two movies. Love 'em or hate 'em the cast of _Attack of the Clones_ returns (with a few notable new faces on both sides). While the actors from the movies do not provide voices, there are some very capable sound-alikes on the cast. Yes, Anakin is still a whiny pussy, but he has precious few lines to ingratiate himself. In fact, this entire series is nearly devoid of dialogue the buzzing sounds of lightsabers and the chirp of laser blasts are much more predominant than speeches. As far as I know, this is considered "canon" to the _Star Wars_ series, unlike all of those "Expanded Universe" comics, action figures, video games, and novels. Characters and technology seen initially in this series may well appear in the next movie in the trilogy. Or they may well not, it's best not to try and second guess Lucas. For all we knew _The Phantom Menace_ was actually going to be a good movie. Stylistically speaking, this is also one of the most striking _Star Wars_ products to date. An impressive amount of control for this project was handed over by Lucasfilm to _Dexter's Laboratory_ and _Samurai Jack_ creator Genndy Tartakovsky. _Clone Wars_ most closely resembles the latter than the former. The series is rendered with minimal lines and flat colors, though it is still unmistakably _Star Wars_. There is a strong sense of movement and urgency throughout each tiny episode. While _Clone Wars_ is definitely set in "a galaxy far, far away" it does not feel like any _Star Wars_ product ever created because of the input of director Tartakovsky. When the Army of the Republic sends their forces to some desolate wasteland, towering metropolis, or undersea kingdom they send a metric fuckton of ships and men against an equally ridiculous opposing force. Ships speed across the landscape in a chaotic blur, firing obscene amounts of artillery and exploding in fiery bursts. Missiles spiral towards no target in particular in a vein similar to such series as _Robotech_. Laser blasts still make the familiar "thwap" sound we know and love, but at a much faster rate than any _Star Wars_ ship thus seen. Everything in _Clone Wars_ is accelerated. I mentioned the engaging style above, but I wanted to touch on newcomers Assaj Ventress and Durge who make their first appearance in this series. Assaj is a dual bladed Sith apprentice taken under the tutelage of Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus. Unlike namby-pamby Sith lord Darth Maul from _The Phantom Menace_, Assaj is genuinely threatening. With her pale complexion, black eye makeup, and rail thin physique she looks like a refuge from heroin chic that would kill you as soon as look in your general direction. She's certainly my favorite character in the series, and is on my top 5 list of best _Star Wars_ characters of all time. Durge is a massive armored behemoth with a few surprises (watch episodes 9 and 10). Resembling a futuristic Black Knight he tears through lines of Clone Troopers with glee. Durge is almost as good a villain as Assaj, using more gadgets than either of the Fetts in lieu of mystic shit powers. It wouldn't be _Star Wars_ if you couldn't buy action figures, and _Clone Wars_ gives you two options. . . if you consider one of the lines to be a genuine option at all. Target has exclusive rights to sell the animated line of figures designed precisely to the style of the cartoon series which are available right now (in store only). Another line more in keeping with the current crop of Hasbro toys is starting to ship, though most of the currently available toys are just repackaged _Attack of the Clones_ figures in the new _Clone Wars_ packaging. New figures based on the series should be out within the next few months, but if you have any sense at all you'll buy the animated line. Not convinced? Compare and contrast "realistic Assaj":http://cargobay.starwars.com/webapps/cargobay/item-detail/9276/12474 with her "animated counterpart":http://cargobay.starwars.com/webapps/cargobay/item-detail/12923/12506. Need further proof? How about "realistic Durge":http://cargobay.starwars.com/webapps/cargobay/item-detail/9274/7773 versus "animated Durge":http://cargobay.starwars.com/webapps/cargobay/item-detail/15485/12530. Look, friends don't let friends buy subpar action figures, I'm just looking out for you. Check this space for a full review of the entire series of animated version action figures by yours truly or my man "AB":http://crowndozen.com/authors/giantdrunkenrobot.shtml in the very near future.

     » Watch the series on cartoonnetwork.com
     » It's also on starwars.com, along with photos of related merchandise

Comments

I neglected to add a paragraph regarding the Jedi battles, also quite unlike those seen in the movies. Heavily influenced by Asian fighting styles, Jedis in Clone Wars fight like a cross between a samurai and a kung fu master. With bored expressions on their faces they deflect countless laser blasts while cooly using their force powers to destroy their largely robotic foes. Jedi Knights in this series use their mystic abilities to decimate their foes in creative ways. In more than one instance Obi-Wan throws his lightsaber, embedding it in the torso of some malcontent, and retrieving it with his mind just in time to decapitate the battle droid that just appeared behind him.

Posted by: benjamin at April 8, 2004 7:53 PM

It's been weird watching George Lucas struggle to bring his imagination to the screen with Episodes I & II, often falling prey to visual glamour over solid storytelling. It's like he's so consumed with showing you something you've never seen before that he doesn't give a fuck how it's contextualized (bad acting, poor scripts, even worse dialogue).
Clone Wars Animated boils the formula down to it's basics- unique setting, interesting characters and dramatic conflict- relying on the incredible visual style of Genndy Tartakovsky to carry it all. The best thing about it is that there's no uncomfortable CGI insertion, no crappy prosthetic makeup to make an extra look "alien", no hammy green-screen acting and absolutely no limit to what can be shown on screen.
Take a character like Kit Fisto, who is as dorky as his name would imply in Lucas' Episode II. Floppy prosthetic tentacles and a big Hollywood grin make him look like a douchebag despite the fact that he's supposed to be an ass-kicking Jedi. Check him out in Clone Wars Animated and he's a feral amphipbian fighting machine, a fierce monster with a heart of gold who is unquestionably an alien and definitely not some fucking guy in a mask and a robe playing with a lightsaber in front of a giant green tarp.
I think Star Wars has found it's home in animation, and I hope that a liscencing agreement can be forged that lets us view our beloved universe this way well after it's creator is done fucking it up.
This series is important in another way too- it gives us a chance to see that animation doesn't have to always be kid's stuff. We have a real problem understanding that in America, and subsequently the majority of our animation suffers from themes that do little to elevate it beyond kindergarten level.

Posted by: Adam at April 12, 2004 4:19 AM

Yo man, you may be down with this nu-school shit but Droids and Ewoks will always be the dopest animation of the Star Wars universe!
And that scene with Boba Fett from the Christmas special back in '79- that shit was the bomb!
All this Powderpuff Girls shit gives me a headache! Where my ewoks at? All my furry little homies say "Jub, Jub!"

Posted by: jedi_fan23 at April 12, 2004 4:24 AM

After reading this I downloaded all the episodes and watched them back to back - wow! These really are great stuff. #3 is like counterstrike meets star wars. I have to agree with Adam in that this genre fixes all the problems the big budget movies have. Many of these episodes are much cooler than some of the coolest scenes from the movies. For me this redeems a franchise that seemed to had lost its way for a few years.
I also found the episodes with commentary - I only watched a couple so far but they seem interesting...
BTW - The link on Cartoon network seems to have been taken down - no doubt they are launching the dvd. A search on google for "clone wars" brought up a page linking to all the episodes. May the force be with you.

Posted by: Socialpest at April 18, 2004 12:11 AM

CN sure yanked that site in a hurry. It was so elaborate too. They had character, vehicle, and planet descriptions, some really boring commentary by the creator (that will surely appear on the DVD), and at least one flash game I never bothered to play. I'd fix it if I could remember my username and password to log in.

Posted by: benjamin at April 20, 2004 12:21 AM
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