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"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" Is a CG-Film Only a CG-Audience Could Love

by on August 15, 2008

The other day the phone rang, but I let the answering machine get it. The “caller,” it turned out, was an automated system from one of the big box stores. Their machine and our machine spent a merry few minutes trying to talk to each other, what with the one badgering the other to press a number (any number!) while the other waited patiently for the one to quit jabbering so it could hang up.

While still only a padawan, Ahsoka has already surpassed her master at teenage whinging.

Now if only someone would build a computer that could watch CG-animated junk like Star Wars: The Clone Wars for us: As The Clone Wars appears to have been generated without human input, such an invention would close the circuit. George Lucas could go on getting rich(er) off the Star Wars universe, and the rest of us could go do something more fun and constructive, like … Oh, I dunno. Watch bananas ripen.

The Star Wars universe long ago turned into nothing but a merchandising scam, and The Clone Wars continues Lucas’s habit of producing movies that play like cut scenes from a video game. Problem is, it’s more fun to watch someone else play “Knights of the Old Republic” than it is to watch this movie.

The story is set either just before Revenge of the Sith or somewhere during Episode III’s first hour. Pirates have kidnapped the son of Jabba the Hutt, and because the Republic needs access to the Hutt clan’s space lanes, the Jedi take the job when Jabba asks them to rescue the Huttling. Of course, it’s a trap laid by Count Dooku and the Separatists, and before it all ends a couple of plots-within-plots have been exposed. But in the meantime it’s up to Obi-Wan and Anakin and Anakin’s new padawan, Ahsoka Tano, to get the little slug-turd back to his father in one piece.

This storyline, though, is just the merest pretense on which to hang a couple of quests and set pieces for the inevitable LucasArts spinoff games. All you need to know is that it starts with a long, tedious, and apparently pointless battle between a beleaguered clone army and a Separatist droid army; it then shifts to Anakin and Ahsoka leading a clone battalion into and then out of the fortress-monastery where the baby Hutt is being held; and it ends with a running fight between Dooku and Anakin in the Dune Sea of Tatooine.

In the few moments when the light sabers and blasters are not in use there is some wooden dialogue (badly delivered by the actors), consisting mostly of bickering between Anakin and his new sidekick. It is during these dreadful “character moments” that you will realize you are stuck watching a video game: they are as tin-eared, repetitive, and exposition-heavy as a cut scene. I lost count of the number of times Ahsoka told Anakin that the baby Hutt was sick and likely to die and that they had to get it back to Tatooine; and I tried shutting my ears every time Anakin or Obi-Wan or Yoda counseled “patience” in some situation or other, because “patience” was something I myself had soon run out of. None of the characters change or grow or develop; and there is only one moment—when Anakin has to abandon his faithful clone-trooper lieutenant—that something like a hard choice gets made. Instead, it’s just a lot of running around while people keep reminding each other of what they’re supposed to be doing, like Blackberries gone berserk.

Sadly, any one “LEGO Star Wars” cut scene is ten times as entertaining as all of “The Clone Wars.”

There are some striking visuals—a lot of the ships and robots are convincingly grotty, and a few of the alien creatures are pretty spiffy while still retaining a caricatured look. Jabba, for instance, is about as handsome as any giant slug could be. But the humans—especially the ones with beards—look like they’ve been carved from wood; which is appropriate, because they’re an inexpressive bunch. No one has any personality, except Ahsoka, who’s got her whiny California tweener mall-rat act down so cold you’ll be rooting to see her sliced in half only five minutes after she’s introduced.

I doubt my reaction is atypical: I caught the very first showing of Star Wars: The Clone Wars in a screening packed with kids and their parents, and the entire auditorium was dead from the first moment to the last. This was, I suppose, proof that the kids were sufficiently wrapped up in the goings-on, and the film does feature a lot of color and movement to distract the very small. But there were no whoops, no cheers, no laughs, and no excitement. It was like being in a roomful of robots, programmed to exchange money for tickets and dutifully watch the latest production by their cyber-siblings. I don’t know who Lucas thinks he’s making movies for these days, but he seems grimly bent on the task, like one of his battle droids searching out and shooting every last survivor. I’d gladly ask the computers at my bank to auto-deduct part of my paycheck and send it to him if only he would stop.

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