Talking Movies [May the Fourth]: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day thanks to it acting as perhaps one of the most fitting and amusing puns ever devised (“May the Fourth be with you” in place of the traditional “May the Force be with you”). The first and most popular of what can easily become a three day celebration of the influential science-fiction series, the day stands as the perfect excuse for Star Wars fans to celebrate the beloved franchise in a variety of ways.

Talking Movies

Released: 15 August 2008
Director: Dave Filoni
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $8.5 million
Stars: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Nika Futterman, David Acord, and Christopher Lee

The Plot:
During the early days of the Clone Wars, the evil Sith Count Dooku (Lee) orchestrates a plan to turn notorious crime lord Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson) against the Galactic Republic by framing the Jedi for the kidnapping of his son, Rotta the Huttlet (Acord). While Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Taylor) battles to hold the line against the Separatist army, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Lanter) finds himself lumbered with an overly enthusiastic apprentice, Ahsoka Tano (Eckstein), in his attempts to deliver Rotta back to his father and expose Dooku’s plot.

The Background:
In 1977, George Lucas introduced the world to his “space opera” Star Wars saga and, almost immediately, birthed a phenomenon that inspired not just one generation but, thanks to multiple sequels and lucrative merchandising, numerous generations for years to come. Before selling his lucrative franchise to Disney in 2012, Lucas licensed the property out to multiple different multimedia ventures, including videogames, a slew of original novels, and a computer-generated animated series that looked to bridge the gap between his two trilogies. Impressed by completed footage of some early episodes, Lucas began developing a big-screen feature film to act as an introduction to what would become one of the most beloved and influential spin-offs of the mainstream Star Wars saga. Inspired by anime, Lucas urged his animators at Lucasfilm and Lucasfilm Animation to create a stylistic look rather than a realistic one, one that would be produced using similar techniques to a traditional live-action film. Although Star Wars: The Clone Wars made an impressive $68.3 million at the box office and led to the aforementioned animated series, the feature was met with largely negative reviews; reviews criticised the wooden animation, dull characterisations, and the line delivery, and the film is generally regarded as one of the worst Star Wars productions ever made.

The Review:
I feel it’s only fair to preface this review by saying that I never really watched The Clone Wars (2008 to 2020; 2021) when it aired; I’ve seen a few episodes, mainly from the first season, and caught it every now and then but I just wasn’t really watching many cartoons in that time. I had seen this movie, though, and don’t remember being massively impressed by it, which may have been part of the reason why I didn’t venture into the show until I heard Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) had shown up, but a major reason why I didn’t really want to watch The Clone Wars was purely because of my immediate dislike for the character of Ahsoka Tano, but I’ll get into that a little later into the review. The Clone Wars begins in a time of considerable galactic turmoil, as told to us through a homage to military recruitment videos: the battle between the Separatists and the Republic wages, with Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus leading the droid army (Matthew Wood) and seizing control of major hyperspace lanes to cut Chancellor Palpatine (Ian Abercrombie) off from the majority of his clone army (Baker). As a result, the Jedi Order has been forced to take a far more active role in the combat, which means that peace and order across the galaxy has suffered as a consequence, and directly results in the main plot of this film coming to pass as Jabba beseeches the Jedi order to rescue his kidnapped son from a rival band of pilots.

Jabba’s so desperate that he contacts the Jedi for help, who can only spare two guys knee-deep in conflict.

Although both Palpatine and Jedi Master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) are cautious of getting involved with a crime lord like Jabba, Palpatine reasons that rescuing young Rotta would greatly aid the war effort as Jabba controls the space lanes around Tatooine. With the Jedi routed by General Grievous (Matthew Wood), Windu is only able to spare Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Jedi Knight partner, Anakin Skywalker, to aid in the rescue. The two are currently knee-deep in battle on the planet Christophsis; their relationship is very much (and very fittingly) somewhere in the middle of Obi-Wan’s strained mentorship from Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Lucas, 2002) and his more peer-based camaraderie from Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (ibid, 2005). Anakin is clearly not the brash, pouty youth from Attack of the Clones and has been hardened by battle (something his nifty new eye scar is a helpful indication of), but is still growing into his role as a leader of the Republic forces. Obi-Wan is thus still a much-needed counterbalance to Anakin’s more impetuous nature; the two share a brotherly relationship based on mutual trust and confidence in each other’s abilities and strengths, but Anakin remains the more hot-headed and unpredictable of the two, though they do share some battlefield banter that helps to show that they’re completely at ease with each other in the midst of even overwhelming odds. Fatigued and having suffered heavy losses and in desperate need of reinforcements and supplies, both Jedi are stunned when, rather than receiving much-needed resources, they are greeted by Ahsoka Tano, a Youngling Jedi dispatched to deliver Jedi Master Yoda’s (Kane) message regarding the situation on Tatooine.

Anakin is unimpressed to find himself lumbered with the reckless Ahsoka as his new apprentice.

For Anakin, Ahsoka’s presence is more than a shock, it’s a downright insult as he feels like the Jedi are ignorant to the struggles they’ve faced on Christophsis and has little time for fledgling Jedi. Already indifferent towards Obi-Wan’s insistence that he take up a Padawan to help train the next generation of Jedi and learn something about himself in the process, Anakin is overly dismissive of Ahsoka after being forced by Yoda to supervise her training and their relationship is noticeably frosty due to his belief that an unprepared and undisciplined Youngling would only slow him down. His abrasive attitude is only exacerbated by her snarky nature, wide-eyed optimism, and overly friendly personality; she openly greets everyone with a plucky vigour and riles Anakin up no end by tagging him with the grating nickname “SkyGuy” (to which he counters by calling her “Snips”). Eager to offer her assistance and to gain the battle experience necessary to her training, Ahsoka jumps at the chance to break through the droid army’s energy shield; even though Anakin agrees with her suggestion in theory, he’s aggravated that she continuously speaks above her position and by her refusal to respect his seniority. Although her overenthusiasm means that she’s yet to learn her place in the pecking order, Ahsoka continuously comes up with viable suggestions that even Anakin is forced to agree with, but her inexperience and immaturity continually cause friction between the two and trouble for the plot; she’s handy with a lightsaber, that’s for sure, but blunders into obvious traps due to her recklessness and her abilities with the Force lack in the finesse that comes from time and practice.

Although Rotta is rescued, the Jedi are opposed by Dooku’s mysterious disciple, Asajj Ventress.

Still, Anakin comes to offer his begrudging respect and sees a lot of himself in Ahsoka; he agrees to take her on as his apprentice and she accompanies him to the Teth system to rescue Rotta while Obi-Wan travels to Tatooine to negotiate a treaty with Jabba. Jabba is understandably anxious to see his son returned to him; he’s angered when the heads of the bounty hunters he hired are returned to him and gives the Jedi only one Tatooine day to succeed, after which he fully intends to employ the services of Count Dooku and the Separatists. Rotta’s rescue is very much a trial by fire for Ahsoka thanks to the fortress where he’s being held being heavily fortified and defended by the droid army; still, the Jedi are able to secure the fortress and find the infantile Huttling, but Count Dooku is able to use the footage to frame the Jedi as having kidnapped the child. Indeed, it transpires that Rotta’s kidnapping was part of a grand scheme by Chancellor Palpatine, who secretly leads the Separatist forces as the malevolent Darth Sidious; Dooku acts as Sidious’s commanding officer and as the public face of the army, and here further distorts the nonsensical “Rule of Two” by having an apprentice of his own, Asajj Ventress (Futterman). A mysterious and vindictive Dark Jedi, Ventress doesn’t really get much characterisation or backstory; all we really learn about her is that she’s motivated by revenge against the Jedi, commands a great deal of respect within the droid army, and wields a double-bladed lightsaber, so again we’re left with a villainous character who looks, sounds, and fights extremely well but about whom we’re forced to do extensive reading or research to find out anything about. Still, Ventress’s appearance does result in a thrilling lightsaber duel that pits her against Obi-Wan; he exhibits a familiarity with her (I believe they fought in the original Star Wars: Clone Wars (Tartakovsky, 2003 to 2005) micro-series) and their battle is easily one of the few non-clone/droid conflict highlights of the film thanks to Taylor’s enigmatic performance as Obi-Wan and the slick presentation of the fight.    

The Nitty-Gritty:
Star Wars: The Clone Wars definitely stands out from other animated movies of the time with its visual presentation; character models are a bit stiff and rigid, not unlike the marionettes seen in Gerry Anderson’s productions, and yet surprisingly fluid when in action. The presentation kind of resembles a more grown-up version of the LEGO videogames and feature films, resulting in visuals that maybe aren’t as technically impressive or as detailed as other animated films but are surprisingly fitting for the Star Wars universe. It’s not a stretch to see these characters as exaggerated versions of their film counterparts, and the aesthetics and filmmaking techniques all perfectly evoke the atmosphere and presentation of the Prequel Trilogy. Even though some of the main cast don’t reprise their roles, their replacements are more than capable of bringing these characters to life and, in some cases, actually do a better job (Matt Lanter is able to bring far more depth and emotional complexity to Anakin thanks to the additional screen time and context given by the film and series). However, considering it’s an animated feature, there aren’t many unique or visually interesting locations on offer; we get the usual trappings like the Jedi Temple of Coruscant and the bridge of various Republic star cruisers, but Christophsis is a largely barren and war-torn cityscape and even Teth, where Ventress ambushes the Jedi, isn’t exactly mind blowing. Of course, for me the greatest is crime is the return to the desolate wasteland of Tatooine; sand planets and settings have never been all that visually interesting to me and I remain continuously disappointed by Star Wars’ insistence of returning to this location or trope again and again, but it’s especially egregious here, where the animatiors had the freedom to dream up new characters and locations and instead the filmmakers defaulted back to tried, tested, and tired trappings like Jabba and Tatooine.

War is at the forefront of The Clone Wars, more so than other Star Wars features.

The Clone Wars definitely feels like a natural expansion of Attack of the Clones in the depiction of conflict, its presentation, and the ominous nature of Darth Sidious’s looming threat. Being that The Clone Wars is set at the height of the titular conflict, war and battle are a central focus of the film; the battle on Christophsis is indicative of that, and stylistically very similar to the final assault on Geonosis from Attack of the Clones. Here, the full force of the droid army is seen in foreboding detail as their various different mechanical attack droids lay down a veritable wall of suppressing fire against the Republic’s forces but, as is often the case, the Jedi remain the x-factor necessary to turn the tide and cause a retreat. Naturally, the clone troopers play a big role in the film and are given a surprising amount of personality and distinctiveness considering that all have the same face and voice; their co-ordination and dedication to their cause makes them a near-inexhaustible force, but they are wisely made distinct and more relatable through slight colouring and hair variations and Obi-Wan and Anakin’s familiarity with Captain Rex (Baker) and Commander Cody (ibid). Interestingly, despite being portrayed as an overwhelming, inexhaustible, and constant threat and being responsible for many clone trooper deaths, the droids are also paradoxically played for comedic effect; during the campaign on Teth, the droid commanders bicker and suffer numerous pratfalls that I guess are there to ease the tension from the conflict but result in them just coming across as an inconsistent menace. It’s not all ground- and space-based combat, either; Obi-Wan outsmarts the Christophsis general, Whorm Loathsom (Corey Burton), by feigning surrender and Anakin and Ahsoka sneak their way past the army’s forces to destroy their energy shield, indicating that the conflicts are solved by strategy and intelligence as much as brute force and reinforcements.

Ahosoka eventually became a fan favourite, but she’s a pain in the ass to me.

So, I mentioned at the top that I wasn’t a fan of Ahsoka and that is largely because of her characterisation in this feature. Ahsoka is an annoying, smart mouthed little know-it-all who grates on my patience almost as much as she does Anakin’s. She’s inexperienced and overeager, constantly rushing head-first into conflicts without thought of the consequences, and what’s worse is how often her approach or observations get results! It was her idea that allowed the energy barrier to be lowered on Christophsis, she logically pushes Anakin to prioritise Rotta’s life over aiding Rex and the clones, she even saves Anakin’s life more than once with her reckless methods, and her passion to be an active combatant and gain the experience necessary to earn respect actually pays off as both Anakin and Captain Rex are impressed by her efforts. Her insubordination and overconfidence are trying; it’s more annoying than endearing that she constantly has to comment on everything, from Anakin’s techniques, to the teachings of the Jedi, to battle plans and her surroundings, and it’s pretty clear that she was written to be as aggravating as possible so that her potential and thematic parallels to Anakin could be all the more explicit. Anakin is on the cusp of becoming a Jedi Master but has yet to properly learn what it means to be a humble and considerate member of the Jedi order; his faith in his abilities has only increased as he has won and commanded more and more battles, and Yoda purposely lumbered him with an apprentice in an effort to teach him the greater aim of a Jedi beyond combat. Indeed, Ahsoka mirrors many of Anakin’s worst personality traits and is much like he was as a child and in Attack of the Clones, but without the anger that would later spell the end of the Jedi Order. Thus, Ahsoka shows Anakin how much he’s grown and gives him a taste of his own medicine; however, while I’m sure that Ahsoka became much more likeable and interesting over the course of many episodes and years, I have little interest in seeing that growth since I just don’t really enjoy her character in principal or in context and think the idea of Anakin having a hitherto-unheard of Padawan just raises more unnecessary questions (chief among them being where was she in Revenge of the Sith?)

The timely intervention of Padmé sees Jabba agree to a treaty, but darkness still looms in the galaxy…

After rescuing Rotta, and stabilising his fever, Anakin and Ahsoka are attacked and shot down over Tatooine by Dooku’s forces to curry favour with the bulbous warlord; Anakin battles Dooku on the sands of Tatooine with a decoy, but is forced to rush off when he sees Ahsoko is in danger. However, he goes right to Jabba’s Palace, forcing Ahsoko to prove her mettle against the robotic MagnaGuards; although he’s elated to be reunited with Rotta, Jabba orders the two Jedi to be executed. Thankfully, though, Anakin’s secret wife, Senator Padmé Amidala (Catherine Taber) makes a late-film arrival and discovers that Jabba’s uncle, Ziro (Corey Burton), conspired with Dooku to have Rotta kidnapped as part of an elaborate plan to seize control of Jabba’s territory for himself. Having learned of the truth, Jabba agrees to grant the Republic use of his trade routes and ends his hostilities with the Jedi, however this victory is tainted somewhat by the continued threat posed by the Sith lurking in the background. While the galaxy is divided by conflict and the Jedi are distracted by war and growing unrest across the many systems, Sidious is easily able to manipulate events in his favour; kidnaping Rotta, attempting to frame the Jedi, and causing disruptions and hostilities across the galaxy all contribute to his endgame, which is larger than any one battle or single loss. Consequently, even when the Jedi score a victory in battle or succeed in winning Jabba’s favour, Sidious remains undeterred in the larger goals of his machinations against the Jedi Order.

The Summary:
I don’t absolutely hate Star Wars: The Clone Wars; I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s the worst Star Wars film to ever be produced, but it’s not exactly the best either. I think, for me, a big issue with the feature is that it’s set during the Prequel Trilogy, which is not an era of Star Wars that I look back upon fondly. I know that, for a lot of people, the subsequent animated series really helped to redeem the Prequels by vastly expanding upon the lore, conflict, and characters portrayed so questionably in the films, but I don’t subscribe to this logic. None of the character growth from the series is reflected in Revenge of the Sith; it’s easy to assume that, between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Anakin was hardened by battle and grew into a more competent Jedi, and there’s certainly no indication that he learned any valuable lessons from an unnecessary Padawan. I get the idea of Ahsoko Tano as a fresh face for the spin-off and a thematic parallel to Anakin to help him grow, but I can’t get over just how weird it is to see Anakin taking on an apprentice when there was no mention or indication of this in the films. The animation is pretty good, though; I get why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I think it’s very fitting for the Star Wars universe, especially in recreating the presentation and essence of the Prequel Trilogy, and the scenes of conflict are all very well done. I think it helps that the whole film is computer-generated, which makes everything look a lot better than slapping actors on green and blue screens with a reckless excess like in Lucas’s films, and the characterisations really go a long way to fleshing Anakin and Obi-Wan out. The greater overall threat of the Sith plot sadly takes a bit of a back seat due to the odd decision to focus on rescuing a Huttling, but it’s a decent enough animated adventure to set the stage for the popular spin-off and probably worth a watch if you’ve never seen The Clone Wars before, though it definitely isn’t as exciting or engaging as the live-action films by any means.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

How do you feel about Star Wars: The Clone Wars? Did you enjoy the film or are you in agreement with the general consensus that it’s a poor effort for Star Wars? Are you a fan of Ahosko and, if so, what was it about her that won you over and how long did it take you to become a fan? What did you think to the rescue plot and the depiction of conflict in the film? How are you celebrating May the Fourth this year? What’s the worst piece of Star Wars media you’ve ever seen? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media, and check out my other Star Wars content!

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