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Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) movie poster Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Theatrical Release: August 15, 2008 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Dave Filoni / Writers: Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Scott Murphy

Voice Cast: Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi, 4-A7, Medical Droid), Dee Bradley Baker (Clone Troopers, Captain Rex, Cody), Tom Kane (Yoda, Narrator, Admiral Yularen), Nika Futterman (Asajj Ventress, Tee-C-Seventy), Ian Abercrombie (Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious), Corey Burton (General Loathsom, Ziro the Hutt, Kronos-327), Catherine Taber (Padmι Amidala), Matthew Wood (Battle Droids), Kevin Michael Richardson (Jabba the Hutt), David Acord (Retta the Huttlet), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku)

Buy Star Wars: The Clone Wars from Amazon.com: Two-Disc Special Edition DVD • 1-Disc Widescreen Edition DVD • Blu-ray Disc


Nine years ago, a new Star Wars movie seemed like a dream come true. The Phantom Menace (1999) prompted ticket lines a month in advance, shattered box office records, and dominated news for months. Fast-forward nine summers and the arrival of another new entry to the franchise,
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, was met with fan base resentment, widespread apathy, and perfectly forgettable earnings. Just how did we get here?

Many will point to the prequel trilogy. The backstories George Lucas crafted for his revered universe of the 1977-83 trilogy were plenty criticized. Most leveled against Episode I and most deserved on Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), the charges ran the gamut and lamented wooden acting, kid/toy/game-friendly creations, feeble scripting, and a general fussing with the religiously-studied order of the original Mark Hamill/Harrison Ford blockbusters.

There was also disapproval of how creator Lucas and his namesake company Lucasfilm treated his original trilogy and its fans. Withholding official DVD releases for years, needlessly tinkering with movies already widely deemed perfect, eventually relegating the original cuts to low-quality bonus feature status... The various near-hits issued without a definitive collection to please the faithful yielded perceptions of a money-grabbing maestro more concerned with his changing visions than the adoring people that made him a multi-billionaire. If you think I'm exaggerating, you need only to check Amazon.com's listing for last week's latest original trilogy box set for an average customer rating of 2.5 stars out of 5 (compared to 3 on the concurrent prequel collection). A new movie coming just years after the saga closed could only contribute to that prevailing sentiment.

Though Ewan McGregor isn't back in "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", his looks and Scottish accent are. This movie opens with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker warding off unclear droid attacks. Headstrong Padawan Ahsoka Tano holds Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son Retta while Anakin pilots their flight. Those preferring the film's nicknames, these are Snips, Stinky, and Skyguy.

Even if you can chalk up the previous paragraph to hard-to-please fanboys and the chicness of Internet negativity, there were still other reasons for Clone Wars' flop. There was its medium: angular, stylized computer animation inspired by Japan's anime and manga works. There was its talent, or lack thereof; its writers, director, and voice cast credits
Get a life-size Yoda wall graphic you will
consisting of inexperienced TV workmen and few associated with any of the live-action films. Most of all, there was its title and the indeterminate existence it underscored.

The first "Clone Wars" mention came in a question asked by Luke Skywalker (Hamill) of Alec Guinness' Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars. Since then, the intragalactic battles were featured and title-referenced in Episode II and then became the subject of Cartoon Network's three-season 2D-animated short series "Star Wars: Clone Wars" (2003-05). Though well-received, that program never had a fragment of the impact of what most people think of when hearing "Star Wars." The "the" added to the title and change in animation style hardly made much distinction.

I'm certain that many people stayed away from 2008's Clone Wars film because they assumed it followed a show they never saw. In fact, the movie Clone Wars takes place somewhere in between the second and third seasons of TV's "Clone Wars" (also between Episodes II and III) and itself set up a new Cartoon Network television series that debuted early last month. Its title: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Has Lucas just run out of original subtitles? At this point, my guess is that the general public neither knows nor cares.

When Master Yoda talks, much larger Jedi are all ears. No ordinary catfight... the bald Mistress Ventress uses one of her two red lightsabers to make a point to her fallen opponent Ahsoka.

Clone Wars the film opens with the familiar: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...". Then because either it doesn't want to disenfranchise the illiterate or it can't wait to get going, it forgoes the trademark text scroll and instead doles out its exposition aurally in the style of the 1960s "Batman" series announcer. We're immediately thrown into some action, a move that had me not knowing what exactly to make of it or how to follow.

Gladly, that doesn't last long. After the prologue subsides, a story emerges that is clear, investable, and rather straightforward (for Star Wars, at least). It centers on Anakin Skywalker, the young Jedi hero who has not yet succumbed to the Dark Side per his well-established fate. Reluctant to take on a Padawan apprentice, he reconsiders when his life is saved by Ahsoka Tano, a headstrong young lady who, despite the orange skin, white face paint, and headdress, talks like a ditzy California girl. Anakin and Ahsoka become our leads when the Jedi Council assigns them to help sort out a pressing matter.

That matter involves the kidnapped baby boy of one Jabba the Hutt, the menacing blob of a kingpin. Anakin and Ahsoka travel to the planet Teth, where they face plenty of opposition from droids. There are also much bigger fish to fry, namely Mistress Ventress and her master Count Dooku, who have malicious plans to advance their separatist cause while bringing trouble to the Republic.

Count Dooku (voiced by and resembling Christopher Lee) consults the little holographic woman he holds in his hand. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Jabba the Hutt's gay uncle Ziro, a character George Lucas decided to model after Truman Capote. Coincidentally, his name matches the number of points most gay viewers will award the representation.

As I said, Clone Wars overcomes its busy, unsettling start. But it is still plagued by a full slate of problems, many of which contribute to that initial shock. The visual style is among the more offensive. Clone Wars looks and sounds like a computer video game. That in itself isn't bad especially considering ever-improving graphics, but it's at odds with the universe being depicted, the format occupied, and the stunning artistry of all prior theatrical Star Wars. The only reason the movie appears to have been made in this way is to be economical. Estimates place the production budget at $10 million. Compare that to the reported $130 M spent on Kung Fu Panda and the $180 M used on WALL•E, and it becomes clear why the animation here lacks so much of the detail, fluidity, polish, and aesthetic worth of its big screen competition. In short, it explains why Clone Wars isn't pleasing to the eyes, something once unimaginable for this franchise.

Lucasfilm could have sunk much more money into this production, but doing so would have elevated the visual and technical to heights far loftier than those of the featured storytelling. Putting cheesy dialogue into the mouths of blocky, unrealistic CGI characters doesn't make it any more natural or tolerable. Without Hayden Christensen's delivery directly to blame, Anakin still comes across as a lame, unlikable character. His foil Ahsoka, the creators' shameless plea for female support ("Look, girls, someone like you!"), is even weaker, though some fault belongs to voice actress Ashley Eckstein (who you can just tell has a recurring "That's So Raven" credit in her past). The attempts to grant Anakin and Ahsoka with a kind of Han/Leia rapport fail with a thud; their corny banter is hopeless.

Then there are their nicknames for each other. She calls him "Skyguy", which leads him to dub her "Snips" (short for "Snippy", which to her is more acceptable than "youngling"). They're not the only ones; R2-D2 -- who shares his some of his minimal screentime with a double -- is "Artooie" and the "Huttling" they have to find and rescue is dubbed "Stinky." That kind of juvenility, along with its implication of skewing younger than the live-action Star Wars films, seems to invite pardon. But this is the kind of kid's film that features a flamboyantly gay uncle and a casual beheading. That puts it in a class by itself and, without serving even a generic morality as a greater good, I think we need to judge it harshly.

Very few of the prequels' actors return here to voice the characters retaining their clearly signed-away likenesses. Samuel L. Jackson voices Mace Windu for his two whopping minutes of screentime, while octogenarian Christopher Lee holds onto his Count Dooku at greater length. Anthony Daniels, who seems to never let go of C-3PO, also handles his droid's limited role.

Buy Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Two-Disc Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 11, 2008
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Black Keepcase with Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Single-Disc Widescreen Edition
and on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Clone Wars appears exclusively in its 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. Though there are plenty of issues to take with the visuals, all of them pertain to the animation style discussed above. The DVD's picture quality is free of troubles, as is to be expected of something made on computers and digitally transferred.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite active in certain stretches -- predictably, those with saber swinging and laser blasting action. It's a little more reserved on the whole than what you'd expect of the Star Wars brand.
But again, being a digital transfer, there's no reason to think this isn't a perfectly accurate representation of filmmakers' intentions. It really is a fine mix, marked by crisp dialogue, clean music, and lively effects.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The only bonus feature found on the single-disc version and Disc 1 of the Special Edition is a feature audio commentary with director Dave Filoni, producer Catherine Winder, writer Henry Gilory, and editor Jason W.A. Tucker. The discussion focuses too much on specifics and not enough on the big picture. It's all about movements, shots, details. That's probably the type of thinking that got the film in trouble. Worth noting, the ideas attributed to "George" include most of the film's worst. The speakers never identify themselves and the men aren't easily distinguished, which makes the included subtitle track transcript valuable. Still, don't go out of your way to listen; its few interesting moments are spent referring to the other Star Wars movies.

In addition to a digital copy of the film, the Special Edition's second disc provides 80 minutes of video bonuses.

This little green character wasn't in the movie, but it's not a deleted scenes. It's "The Untold Stories", also known as a lengthy preview of the TV show. Voice actors Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker) and James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) act out a scene together. In "A New Score", composer Kevin Kiner is happy to sit next to George Lucas, even if the flannel-clad creator looks ready to get up.

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Untold Stories" (24:50) is not, as you might hope, a comprehensive documentary that puts the wars in perspective and increases your appreciation for the feature. Instead, it's just a long promotional look at the new television series, with creators talking about their guiding principles before devolving into a series of glimpses at individual episodes,
each opened with a piece of fortune cookie philosophy and proceeding with clips and confident crew comments. It actually decreased my interest in the show, something I doubted was possible.

"The Voices of Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (10:00) severely overestimates the talents of the cast. Director Filoni sings the actors' praises as if they're the first to use their imaginations or voice multiple characters. Still, it's nice to see the faces behind the voices aspiring to big name actors. Even if deals more with the series than the movie.

"A New Score" (10:40) looks at Kevin Kiner's music, which adapts John Williams' themes and adds some original sounds of its own. Kiner's comments are joined by footage from orchestra and creative sessions. Again, the focus is on the TV series, a montage of which wraps up this attentive piece.

Though she's hardly in the film, Padmι Amidala claims two design stills in the Gallery. Fedora-loving director Dave Filoni talks in front of clone soldiers in one of the six Webisodes. Disc 2's main menu provides a living look at Tatooine.

A Gallery holds 42 stills, providing a mix of location designs, matte paintings, character model sheets, maquettes, and weaponry and vehicle concept art
and blueprints. Its variety, modest size, and fast navigation are enough to merit a look.

Next come six Webisodes (20:55) that allow Filoni to discuss the movie, the set pieces, the TV series' clones, the character of Anakin, the villains, and Ahsoka. The set's most general making-of content, these are aided by the fact that they deal with this movie and all the live-action ones with clips and comparisons. Of course, as the name indicates, these are available online, thus reducing (but certainly not eliminating) their value here as the DVD's best extra.

Four Deleted Scenes (10:50) are presented in full animation that's on par with the film's low standards. Of course, the deletions offer action sequences not character development or story. Most notable are new battles with a Rancor and large droid; the other two feature brief additional heroics by Anakin and Ahsoka.

Finally, we get a pair of tonally divergent 2-minute theatrical trailers for Clone Wars and a 1-minute promo for the videogame. Disc 1 opens with a 90-second promo for the new "Clone Wars" TV show. Presumably reflecting Lucasfilm terms, no non-Star Wars previews are found on the set.

Star Wars is big enough to get Warner to break its streak of static menu screens. Each disc's main menu features a living environment while the familiar John Williams theme portions and new variations play. Some submenus are non-animated and silent, others aren't; and either way, you're treated to some transitions.

The Clone Wars adds to Warner's November of lenticular DVD slipcovers. Moving this one lets you change whether you see Anakin and troopers or dual-lightsaber-wielding villain Ventress and battle droids. The keepcase artwork below uses Anakin and is otherwise identical to the outer cover. It's worth noting that Warner has given this film the same top and bottom gold banners of Fox's Star Wars film DVDs. Inside the case is a unique code for installing Disc 2's free digital copy of the film.

The explosion from a detonated deflector shield serves as backdrop to the bickering master/pupil relationship of Ahsoka and Anakin. Look out, Amidala! Good and evil engaging in a climactic lightsaber duel... you've never seen this before!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Despite its look, the off-putting opening, and the public's cold reception, Star Wars: The Clone Wars isn't a terrible film. It's not a great one and not in the same league as even the weakest of the prequel trilogy. Still, it's coherent, watchable, and even attention-sustaining.
The weak budget animation, corny dialogue, and inability to capture the franchise's winning tone (an excess of action shuts out heart) all add up to disappointment. But the mythic appeal of the original Star Wars triumphs probably leads some to overstate Clone Wars' shortcomings. I've certainly seen considerably worse animated films that cost a lot more to make.

Only Star Wars completists and those really into "The Clone Wars" probably need to own this film. They probably already bought it on Tuesday and now have it near their Holiday Special bootleg and that Wilford Brimley Ewok movie. As far as buying, the 80 additional minutes of bonuses make the Special Edition the more attractive release, although much of it could have fit alongside the movie and a lot of it feels like promotion for the TV series. The cool lenticular cover and exclusive videos justify the $5 price difference if you're already spending $16 or so.

If your passion is moderate enough to have let two days pass without buying this, then let me advocate a low priority rental or a TV viewing.

Buy Star Wars: The Clone Wars from Amazon.com:
Two-Disc Special Edition DVD / 1-Disc DVD / Blu-ray Disc

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Reviewed November 13, 2008.

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