Star Wars: The Clone Wars [2008]

Starring: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Tom Kane, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee & Anthony Daniels
Directed by: Dave Filoni

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: August 2008
Running Time: 98 minutes

Synopsis: As more star systems get swept into the Clone Wars, the valiant Jedi Knights struggle to maintain order. Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan learner Ahsoka Tano embark on a mission that brings them face-to-face with Jabba the Hutt. Plotting against them is evil Count Dooku and his agent, Asajj Ventress, who would ensure that the Jedis fail. Meanwhile, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi lead the clone army against the forces of the Dark Side.

Even though I’m a huge Star Wars fan, there was something about The Clone Wars television series that didn’t quite grab me the first time it came out. Perhaps it was because it was animated and aired on a Disney channel that I automatically assumed that it was “for kids only” and not worthy of my time. It wasn’t until a decade after its release that a combination of factors made me change my mind. Firstly, I was intrigued to try out Star Wars: Rebels, the successor to The Clone Wars series, but felt it was better to start from the beginning to avoid confusion. Secondly, when Disney wiped the Expanded Universe continuity slate clean after buying out LucasFilm in 2014, The Clone Wars was one of the only projects aside from the core movies to survive the purge, further solidifying its place as official Star Wars canon. Finally, it was after reading the excellent “Lords of the Sith” and catching plenty of references to The Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows that I thought it was time for me to dive straight into Star Wars’ rich animated universe.

Released in cinemas in 2008, Star Wars: The Clone Wars acts as a pilot for the television series as well as a standalone film set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Initially planned to run as the first four episodes of the TV series, the story was stitched together to become a feature-length movie and as a result, there is a very clear four-act structure to the narrative as viewers can almost see the joins between each ‘episode’. The movie does a great job at giving viewers a better look at the scale of the Clone Wars as the Jedi fight alongside the Clone Troopers against the Separatists. It also helped me understand Palpatine’s Machiavellian nature as he manipulates events on both sides to manoeuvre things to his own benefits. It also gives viewers a better understanding of Count Dooku’s role as the leader of the Separatists – something that felt ill-defined in Attack of the Clones. Here, the character is better developed and the rivalry between him and Anakin, which culminates in Revenge of the Sith, seems to be well established.

The biggest plot development to come out of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the introduction of Ahsoka Tano, a young Jedi-in-training who becomes Anakin’s padawan. The character serves two purposes – firstly, she offers levity in the more serious moments and is a child role model for the target audience to identify with, plus she also allows Anakin to grow into his role as a Jedi as he takes responsibility for another. She is a great character, and a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe. I love her colourful design, and I’m glad that the producers made her into a Twi’lek – highlighting the alien nature of Star Wars through a non-human Jedi. The film focuses on developing her as a character, and she teaches Anakin a few lessons along the way.

The animation style is absolutely gorgeous, using a heavily stylised 3D animation that avoids realism and capturing the actor’s likenesses in favour of an anime-esque look. It actually feels reminiscent of claymation at times, giving viewers the sense of a physical world despite using animation. I am surprised that George Lucas was in favour of a purposefully unrealistic approach, given his notorious tinkering with the original trilogy to increase the realism. The voice artists do a great job at replicating the original actors with Anakin and Obi-Wan sounding extremely authentic. They sounded exactly like Hayden Christensen and Ewan MacGregor did in the roles. There’s even some cameos from Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Daniels, but in all honestly, the voice-over cast are so good that it is very difficult to pinpoint which voices are performed by the original actors and which aren’t.

The plot itself lacks the complexities of the other Star Wars movies, but I did enjoy seeing how Palpatine and Dooku attempted to manipulate Jabba the Hutt into blocking the Republic from using the outer rim trade routes. The inclusion of Jabba’s son was an odd choice, especially since it automatically conjured up the image of Jabba mating with a female Hutt in order to produce his son. Yuck! The sequence with Ziro the Hutt was also an unusual decision, as the character was extremely annoying and badly voiced. It seemed very “Saturday Morning Cartoon” in tone and I couldn’t imagine it appearing in live action – it was a bit too Jar Jar Binks for my liking. However, the scenes with Asajj Ventress were tremendous and extremely tense and she’ll make an interesting (and expendable) villain for the series in lieu of Dooku and Palpatine.

Preceding the likes of Rogue One and Solo by almost a decade, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a great example of a standalone Star Wars ‘story’ and a brilliant precursor to the animated series. While there are some moments that don’t quite ring true and feel cartoonish in tone, the film does manage to provide essential moments in continuity that make it worth watching. The sequence of Obi-Wan and Anakin fighting the Separatists on Christophsis demonstrates the scale and the brutality of the Clone Wars far better than any sequences captured in the movies, and while the search for Jabba the Hutt’s son is the weakest element of the film, it does demonstrate the scheming nature of the Sith Lords. Filled with plenty of potential, and appealing to adults and children alike, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a solid addition to the Expanded Universe and the perfect bait to lure you into watching the TV series. I have already ordered Season One of The Clone Wars and look forward to seeing more adventures from the same team.

Score – ★★★ ½

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Amazon UK

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