Friday, August 29, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Told You Not To Make This, Did I

I guess in all fairness, the reviewer for a Star Wars movie should declare which side of the fence he's on, whether he thinks the Original Trilogy was the best thing since buttered toast and the Prequels were utter trash, or ambivalent to the fact that George Lucas is an expert at massaging the fat udders of cash cows, what with his special editions, tweaks and re-releases that continue to confound even his most loyal of fans.

I belong to the latter, and for one am willing to give this movie a shot, even though the general crowd decide to give this a miss and wait for the DVD, since after all, this has its origins in being a pilot episode for an upcoming animated series. In a theatre of less than 10 persons on a Friday evening, the response to this film does not bode well, even though it had inputs from the Lucasfilm Animation Singapore studio, and a whole host of Asian creative talent in its credit roll. I thought as a movie it still entertained, but somehow something was missing, that elusive X-Factor of the Force that makes this a Star Wars movie.

Perhaps it is the missing 20th Century Fox fanfare, given the change in distributor. One never misses the full regalia of the Fox logo unveiling itself, before the ubiquitous "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away", and the Title coming up close on screen to John William's majestic opening score, and the unique scrolling text summarizing the prologue. What we got instead was to start things off with Starship Troopers styled ra-ra, and a narrator (horrors!) taking over prologue duties.

Those were some of my initial petty gripe, as I slowly came to terms with the notion that while this is a different direction the animated film is (or films are) taking, it still had George Lucas executive producing it, and under his watchful eyes, it is still canon. Yes, it finds itself a rightful place within the established mythos, and I guess with a title like Clone Wars, there can be revenue generating episodes and installments that can continue like, forever. Not to mention the numerous ideas for characters and objects to get thrown about, linking to the ka-chings of cash registers from Legos to collectible figurines.

Story wise, it sits snugly in between Episodes 2 and 3, though I'm not sure where the initial Clone War animated episodes will fall into, though likely before this movie. In efforts to save cost in getting the numerous stars back to voice their roles, we only get 3 characters in Mace Windu, C-3PO and Count Dooku voiced by the original actors in Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Daniels and Christopher Lee. The rest got new voices playing them as best as they can, and frankly if you were to close your eyes, some of them came close, except perhaps for Matt Lanter who doesn't really sound as convincing as Hayden Christensen.

The Clone Wars continue deep in the galaxy, and both Count Dooku and Lord Sidious continue the expansion of their plot to take over the universe. This time it involves the Hutt family, and the object of tussle happens to be Hutt's infant son, as both the Jedis and the Sith / Trade Federation engage in a chess battle to scheme and counter-scheme for Jabba's trust (and deep stupidity and folly I might add) in order to gain control of supply chain type of advantage in the Wars. While the plot is kept simple to follow, it still managed to weave some genuine tension into the scheme of things, even though we know that certain characters have god-like invulnerability (due to their presence in Episode 3), but we aren't too sure of the fate of new characters, such as Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), Anakin's new padawan learner.

This time round it continues the focus on Anakin's development as Jedi Knight and now a master with a fledgling under his tutelage, so we see how one complements the other, even though both are equally as impetuous and reckless. Obi-wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) takes a back seat, although the opening action sequence continue the good rapport between teacher and student, before things go downhill as we all know in Episode 3.

Some might complain about the lack of sophistication in the quality of animation, but I guess this is something that the character designers had decided upon. There's a permeating and general sense of doom and gloom in how the picture always has this dark shade overcast on it, as if to continue to fortell the bad fortune the Jedis are getting themselves into, oblivious to obvious traitors in their midst, and even though with each small victory, continue to play to the sinister ploys of the Sith.

Those who hate the Prequels will continue to hate this piece of work just for the fact that it's based on the same timeline, but for me, I thought it managed to pull it off and came through convincingly despite the immense juggernaut of work that came before it, and firmly positions itself amongst them, just like how Ashoka relentlessly aims to prove her worth amongst the established Jedi generals in the Wars. I for one, am looking forward to any next installments on the big or small screens, even though I have a bad feeling about Ahsoka given her lack of presence in Episode 3. I hope I'm wrong.

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