Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 5/4/08
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky

This is exactly what the faltering "Star Wars" franchise needs, and addresses many of the failings and missed opportunities of the last three films. "Clone Wars" is a series of three minute cartoon shorts that focus on the events between "Attack Of The Clones" (2002) and "Revenge Of The Sith" (2005), when the Jedi Knights of the Old Republic are battling the Separatist's droid armies. Director Genndy Tartakovsky ("Powerpuff Girls" and "Samurai Jack") keeps the action coming at a dizzying pace, and it's clear that the series was made by fans for fans. While the "Star Wars" prequels were certainly entertaining and pretty to look at, I always felt disappointed by them. "Clone Wars" addresses that by showing us exactly what we want to see, and is brimming over with style and creativity. It basically makes "Star Wars" cool again. While I don't always agree with the art direction, the animation is superb and the action is breathtaking. The fight choreography is excellent and the 3D rendered flight sequences are super smooth. It's also refreshingly violent, and stormtroopers get killed at an alarming rate. The most disorienting thing is the voice acting, which sounds like a bunch of celebrity impersonators. The acting is quite good, but it just doesn't sound right. However, T.C. Carson's take on Samuel L. Jackson is very convincing. Interestingly, Anthony Daniels lends his voice to C-3P0 and even he sounds a bit off. It all takes a while to get used to.

The main story arc in Volume 1 concerns an assassination plot against Anakin Skywalker, carefully engineered by the Sith to enrage him and bring him closer to the dark side of The Force. His opponent is a dual lightsaber wielding female Sith, and she's quite wonderful. The series also contains two other female Jedis, which is something that the films failed to explore properly. We also get to see Mace Windu being the ultimate bad-ass that he failed to be in the movies. His two chapters play out like an episode of "Aeon Flux" (1993) in their presentation and intensity. Very impressive. The series is full of jaw-dropping moments like this, including speeder bike jousting (!) and star destroyers floating in the ocean like aircraft carriers. Astonishing and utterly delightful.

Volume 2 is a bit disappointing in comparison, and much like "Aeon Flux," it suffers from the inclusion of additional dialog. The episodes are longer and more self aware and self referential this time around. Sadly, it tries to outgeek itself with clever in-jokes instead of just delivering the goods. Anyway, Volume 2 follows the events that lead up to the beginning of "Revenge Of The Sith" with Chancellor Palpatine being kidnapped by General Grievous. Anakin is knighted by the Jedi Council and faces his inner demons when he is chosen to liberate a race a beings whose planet is being plundered by Separatist forces. It's corny, intense, and cliché all at the same time, and strays too far from canon for my tastes. It also reeks of being a giant marketing tease for ROTS, and shows us glimpses of Senator Amidala's hair buns, C-3P0's new gold coverings, and the attack on the Wookiee's home planet. Qui-Gon Jinn also appears in a brilliant cameo that sadly goes nowhere. Highly enjoyable, but not as groundbreaking as the first series.