Star Wars: The Clone Wars Series (2009-2013)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/18/16
Producer: George Lucas
Cast: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Tom Kane, Corey Burton, Jim Cummings, Anthony Daniels

Contains 108 episodes

Never before have I been so conflicted and frustrated by a TV series. On the one hand, the space battles are spectacular, the fight scenes are superb, and the art direction and visual style are beautiful. It does a great job of handling all of the things that make "Star Wars" great. But the characters are awful and the writing is painfully juvenile and horribly inept. You get the distinct impression that George Lucas is purposely trying to piss people off with this series, and watching it evokes a frustrating mixture of anguish, elation, and despair.

The series takes place between "Attack Of The Clones" (2002) and "Revenge Of The Sith" (2005), and focuses on the escalating conflict between the Old Republic and Count Dooku's Separatist movement. Jedi knights Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), Obi Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), and Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) are central to the story and have numerous adventures protecting threatened planets, dealing with pirates, negotiating politics, investigating terrorist plots, escorting VIPs, chasing bounty hunters, fighting Dooku and the Sith, and engaging General Grievous's endless supply of dim-witted battle droids. Even though the characters are annoying and the writing is downright insulting, the production values are excellent and the voice acting is superb.

While the vast majority of episodes are offensively juvenile, there are a handful that are extremely good. The series starts out with the same Jar Jar Binks styled slapstick and diaper humor that defined "The Clone Wars" movie, but it hits a tipping point after the first fourteen episodes and radically changes its tone. It's as if the filmmakers got together mid-season and decided to stop pandering to pre-schoolers and inject some "Star Wars" DNA back into the show. As a result, the second half of season 1 and the first half of season 2 are much darker and edgier, more serious and emotionally intense, and considerably more violent, and that's when I started to actually enjoy what the show had to offer. Unfortunately, it goes back to being semi-silly towards the end of the second season, and that's the groove that it maintains for the rest of the series. The series progressively injects more classic "Star Wars" elements along the way, including a young and ambitious Admiral Tarkin. By the second half of season 5, the Old Republic has essentially turned into The Empire, with Death Star styled architecture, classic Stormtrooper designs, Boba Fett styled Mandalorian armor, and classic TIE Fighter inspired ships. Darth Vader's Imperial March even sneaks into the soundtrack towards the end, which is extremely effective and very menacing. The last few episodes are quite breathtaking, and the final episode ends on a satisfying note of impending doom for the discredited Jedi Council and the crumbling Republic.

The series ended abruptly and was cancelled in 2013, shortly after Disney bought the "Star Wars" franchise and developed their own animated series called "Star Wars Rebels." Fortunately, the series attempts to make the transition and tie up loose ends with an unofficial sixth season called "The Lost Missions." Overall, "The Clone Wars" is an extremely uneven series that's all over the map. If you can put up with the immature writing and misplaced humor, the action scenes can be quite rewarding, and that rare exceptional episode can remind you of why you fell in love with "Star Wars" in the first place.