August 21, 2008

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars (PG)
George Lucas pulls out the light sabers once again for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated tale of the galaxy far far away that is also a commercial for a new set of action figures and a new series this fall.

We are here in a time between the movies ó between Attack of the Clones and ďI love the way that your love loves meĒ and Revenge of the Sith and ďAnakin killed the younglings!Ē Anakin (voice of Matt Lanter) is still a Jedi ó a bit on the ďmy poo donít stinkĒ side but basically good and, despite being two-dimensional, more fully formed than Hayden Christensenís Anakin. He and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) are in the beginning days of fighting the clone wars (and the clones are, if Iíve got this right and frankly I might not because itís all rather boring, the good guy storm trooper types fighting with the Jedi as opposed to the stick-figure robots of the General Grevious/long-beaked drone variety). The bad guy side is led by Sith helper Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and ultimately led by Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian Abercrombie), who is playing both sides of this civil war.

(By the way, Iím SPOILER ALERT-ing nothing here. So, read at your own risk and also, take that, Lucas.)

While Obi-Wan is tasked with fighting off a walrusy thing that sounds like Sean Connery, Anakin and his new Padawan intern gal Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) are sent to turn off a weapons field, which they do using pluck, recklessness and way too much of my time, thus cementing their master-Padawan relationship. When that job is done, Yoda (Tom Kane) sends Obi-Wan to negotiate with Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson) for use of his trade routes and in exchange Ahsoka and Anakin have been sent to rescue Jabbaís son Rotta the Huttlet (David Acord), who has been kidnapped. But there are wheels within wheels and soon we learn that the kidnapping plot is infinitesimally more complex than it first appears to be, thus giving us a chance to meet Ziro the Hutt (Corey Burton), Jabbaís uncle.

In every Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas has thrown in a character who takes it too far. One character who takes the already stretched thin suspension of disbelief and snaps it. Youíve got your Ewoks, youíve got your Jar Jar and in this movie you have Ziro the Hutt, a character who looks and sounds like what would happen if you rendered Truman Capote as a large slug. Heís purple, he has a kind of effeminate Southern drawl, he has Vegas showgirl feathers on the side of his head.

What. The. Hell.

Blaming the crapitude of this movie on poor Ziro is not entirely fair, though. Before we get to him we have the Huttlet, a sad attempt to render the Hutts cute enough for a plush toy. We have a needlessly tangled bunch of alliances that I canít even begin to pretend to care about. We have dialogue that might as well be ďinsert threat here,Ē ďinsert threatening response to threat here,Ē ďinsert line before explosion here.Ē We have extra bad guys (because, I guess, you have to have somebody who can be killed and isnít already locked in to surviving until Revenge of the Sith) whose roles and motives in the whole management tree of evil are never explained. We have the plucky Anakin sidekick Ahsoka, who we know at least doesnít figure into the climactic Anakin battle and so seems irrelevant even as sheís introduced. We have the maddening sense that this is going nowhere, since the movieís only real goal, plot-wise, is to set up the TV series, to run on Cartoon Network this fall.

We have, basically, two 30-minute episodes (working out to like 40-some minutes of actual show) stretched over nearly an hour and 40 minutes. There are stretches that are painfully slow and, while I donít hate the animation as Iíve heard that some critics do, I donít know if itís capable of sustaining a kidís attention during slow talky stretches.

And itís the children that I think of here. Not me, I know George Lucas will fail me, I know what it is to watch Greedo shoot first. Iím worried about the kids, the elementary school boys who play Star Wars and are eager to see a movie full of battles and different kinds of soldiers and some sweet light saber action. Will they be disappointed?

Actually, probably not. As bad as this movie is, itís not nearly as bad as The Phantom Menace (low bar but still). And, as wooden as the characters are here, theyíre not as bad as the human actors in the new trilogy (again, not high praise but something). I donít like this movie but Iím not going to watch the series, was never going to watch this series.

This movie is made almost entirely for a generation who likes the shooting and the light saber fights and the action figures but doesnít have the fondness for the original three movies that those of us who had Millennium Falcon lunch boxes do. This generation will ignore the convoluted story, forget the filler dialogue as itís being spoken and focus in on the set piece battle scenes, scenes designed so boxily they could be kids playing with opposing sets of toys (which are now for sale, vehicles sold separately). For this six- to 10-year-old demographic, assuming they can keep still during the at-least 25 minutes of needless story-construction, I think they might be just happy to ride the ride. And because they will watch (and buy the toys and the video games) the rest of us sadly have to suffer. D

Rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking. Directed by Dave Filoni and written by Henry Gilroy, Scott Murphy and Steven Melching (from characters and story by George Lucas) Star Wars: The Clone Wars is an hour and 38 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros.