Seven Days of Star Wars: Day One – The Clone Wars

 

Seven Days of Star Wars
Day One

 

The_Clone_Wars_film_poster

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
(PG, 98 minutes, 2008)

Today kicks off a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

For the first entry in the series, I’m looking back on the most recent theatrical release, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is set between Episodes II and III.

I caught this in theaters during first run, but not opening weekend, and I still regret selecting it above My Sister’s Keeper. The following television show was phenomenal, but the feature is something I’ve only seen twice. If you’re new to The Clone Wars, I recommend jumping into the series first. Come back to the movie after you have the first (and maybe second) season under your belt.

That’s not to say that the movie is terrible. On its own, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a mediocre feature. The plot was fairly simple: The Republic and the Separatists are both vying for control over Hutt-controlled trade routes. In an attempt to gain an upper hand, Count Dooku kidnaps Jabba the Hutt’s son, which means that the Jedi are on the hook to recover the little Huttling.

The main problem with The Clone Wars feature presentation is that it wasn’t designed as a movie. The Rotta the Hutt story was originally three completed episodes (“Castle of Deception”, “Castle of Doom”, and “Castle of Salvation”), and the Battle of Christophsis story with the introduction of Ahsoka Tano was a completely separate episode. At a private screening, George Lucas suggested to director Dave Filoni (Avatar: The Last Airbender) that they should make them a feature. Sadly, it results in an uneven presentation with a lackluster story.

But, despite all of the negative points, there are some incredibly awesome things in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

 

Ahsoka Tano

The Clone Wars was a dramatic shift for the saga which, to this point, had never discussed Anakin having an apprentice. While some segments of fandom rebelled – ironically, Ahsoka is well-received in fandom over seven years later – I enjoyed the reasoning within the story: After the events of Attack of the Clones, the Jedi Council wanted to help Anakin overcome his attachment issues as Tano became more independent, and that she would also teach him to espouse a greater sense of responsibility. Obi-Wan appeared to be instrumental in bringing this to the Council as well.

Rex_and_Ahsoka

This begins the development of one’s the Prequel Era’s most dynamic and interesting characters. While I still like the Prequel Era, many of the main characters are constrained by the original trilogy of films. From the Original Trilogy point of view, we know where Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Yoda end up, and we also know that the days of the Jedi are numbered. Ahsoka, on the other hand, was a wild card, and her character arc added greater interest to her comrades and a greater depth to the Prequel Trilogy overall.

 

Tom Kane’s Introductions

Thematically, The Clone Wars takes a page from newsreels of the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War eras. Similar to the short films that Disney and Pixar are running before their features today – the practice itself being a throwback to the golden age of cinema – features during those wars were preceded by news from the front headlined by a bombastic announcer.

The Clone Wars replaced the standard opening Star Wars crawl, which provided a slice of background for the adventure to come, with introductions by Tom Kane (also the voice of Yoda in the series) in a caricature of the newsreel announcer. I was in love with this idea from the first time I heard “A galaxy divided!

 

Kevin Kiner’s Score

Kevin Kiner did fantastic work with the score in both the movie and the follow-on series. He kept the music in the Star Wars flavor while also keeping it light (for a cartoon show) and unique. He also steered away from simply repeating the themes from the movies over and over again.

Going hand-in-hand with the introductions, he reworked the Star Wars main theme into a brass heavy patriotic march, which kept the feel of the newsreel style and provided the energy to launch into tales of Jedi at war.

 

Battle of Christophsis

Some of the greatest innovation in Star Wars comes from the battle sequences. Before August of 2008, I had never considered Walkers being able to scale a sheer cliff, but then the AT-TEs did it at Christophsis. My mind was blown at first, but then all I could say was, “Of course they can.”

ATTE_scale_cliff

 

Tomorrow, I’ll continue walking back through time to 2005 and my favorite moments from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.

 

My Rating: 6.0/10
IMDb rating: 5.8/10

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Shelving the Star Wars Expanded Universe Makes Sense

I’ve been thinking about the recent shake-up in the Star Wars expanded universe, and it’s taken me some time to really sort out my thoughts both in relation to my emotions and good business sense. I agree with the decision, and believe that it makes sense to do it.

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Darth Maul and the Hollowness of Death

Entertainment Weekly recently posted an exclusive video that announced the return of Darth Maul to the Star Wars universe.  For those who either missed or refused to watch the prequels, Maul was a Sith Lord—the same kind of baddie as Darth Vader—who used a double-bladed lightsaber.  His first on-screen appearance was in The Phantom Menace in 1999.

In that film, a three-way lightsaber duel ended with Qui-Gon Jinn impaled through the chest and Darth Maul toppling into a deep shaft, deftly cleft in twain by the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Last January, viewers of the cartoon series Star Wars: The Clone Wars were introduced to Maul’s brother Savage Oppress (pronounced in typical Star Wars ­style as sah-VAHJ OH-press), who was a proposed apprentice to help Count Dooku overthrow his master and take control of the Dark Side of the Force.  At the end of that trilogy of episodes, viewers were told that Darth Maul was out there in the incredibly vague somewhere in the galaxy, and Oppress had to go find him.

So, apparently this means that Darth Maul does indeed live and, by some miracle, survived being cut in half by a lightsaber and falling several stories.  Insert exasperated sigh here.

Supervising director Dave Filoni told Entertainment Weekly that it makes sense in terms of Star Wars lore:

Fans will note that there is precedent for this kind of resurrection. “The Dark Side of the Force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural,” Darth Sidious says in Revenge of the Sith. Sidious and his master found a way to use the Force to cheat death—that’s how he was able to keep Vader alive after that little swan dive into a lava field. Couldn’t Maul have picked up on some of that too? Says Filoni, “He’s suffered through a lot to keep himself alive and implemented the training of his master to do so.”

There’s also significant financial interest for Lucasfilm in this move.  The episode(s) pertaining to Darth Maul will be aired in early 2012, and, by a cosmic coincidence I’m sure, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3-D is premiering February 10, 2012.  It goes without saying that I’m annoyed by publicity stunts written into entertainment to drive interest in a related property.  Anyone else remember the martial arts episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “Tsunkatse”?  WWE Wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a guest star, and both WWE and Voyager were on UPN.

This entire mess—and yes, I’m calling it a mess—brings Star Wars into the realm of pointless character resurrections to drive sales.  It also revives the eternal frustrations I have with Star Wars fandom.  Since Maul was by far one of the coolest and most bad-ass characters in the prequel trilogy, the news that he would return to the franchise was understandably received with fan praise.  At the same time, others started to look at how this affects the overall quality of the franchise and aired their opinions.  In response to critical fans, some blogs, including Star Wars Underworld, questioned the “fandom” of people with differing opinions.  While I appreciate a discussion on how they plan to resurrect a character and do it well, it’s certainly not the first time that the Star Wars social media sphere has played the card of questioning how someone can be a fan of something while being critical: the hosts of The ForceCast did it numerous times before I stopped listening to the podcast back in May.

While other subsets of science-fiction and fantasy fandom can somewhat easily accept both positive and negative criticism toward the franchise of their choice, some Star Wars fans tend to follow the line of reasoning that if “you’re not with with us, you’re against us.”  It’s all fun and games until you disagree with Uncle George and refuse to drink the blue milk, and I’ve already seen backlash from refusing to buy the Star Wars Blu-Rays and my decision not to support the 3-D re-releases.  Having intelligent discussions about the positives and negatives of a franchise is one thing, but I cannot support attacking each other for having differing opinions.

The bigger problem I have with this is an issue that has plagued comic book franchises for decades, and that is in the pointless death and resurrection of characters.  In real life, religious beliefs aside, death is pretty permanent.  In storytelling, death is a result of failure, the completion of a heroic journey, or the motivation to start that journey.  In a smaller subset, that death results in a significant change of character dynamics—such as regenerations in Doctor Who, or the evolution of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings or Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars—but those deaths still carry the impact of the end of a journey and how it affects the characters around them.

Simply put, to reverse a death negates that impact and cheapens the victory for the winners.

In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul’s death marked two important character changes:  First, it displayed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s maturity and readiness to be promoted from apprentice to Jedi Knight; second, it marked the beginnings of Anakin’s destined path.  The death of Darth Maul was a very important turning point for the Jedi themselves, as they discover that the Sith had indeed returned.

While I look forward to finding out how Filoni and company accomplish this feat, I am very skeptical about the Star Wars franchise as a whole at this point.  If Filoni proves me wrong and does this well, I will be quite amazed.  On the other hand, if this turns into yet another cheap comic book return—Superman wasn’t dead, after all, he was just resting—to sell tickets to yet another release of the Star Wars movies, then I’m done with The Clone Wars.  I have supported the show since it was announced, but for me, it would be that damaging, and since George Lucas has final approval on the show, the blame would lie solely with him.

Come 2012, we shall see.