Despite frequent claims that he wants to focus on developing small, personal projects, George Lucas continues to spend most of his time milking the once-beloved 'Star Wars' franchise for all it's worth. I may personally not be as negative on the last couple of prequel movies as some former fans, but there's no denying that 'The Phantom Menace' was an abomination against the filmmaking art, and that both 'Attack of the Clones' and 'Revenge of the Sith' had more than their share of awful moments. As if that weren't enough to tarnish our memories of the original trilogy, the Lucasfilm empire has also churned out seemingly thousands of mediocre video games and unreadable tie-in novels. And that's to say nothing about the endless supply of toys and merchandising memorabilia. The latest attempt to wring a buck out of the property comes in the form of an animated feature film, 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars'.
First things first, let's clarify what it is exactly that we're talking about here. 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' is not the same thing as 'Star Wars: Clone Wars', the series of traditionally animated cartoon shorts that Genndy Tartakovsky made for cable TV back in 2003, and which has been available on DVD for the past few years. Apparently, the "The" is supposed to make a huge difference. However, to really confuse matters, the CG animated film was originally conceived as the pilot episode for a new TV series also titled 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars', which is airing on the Cartoon Network as we speak. After seeing preliminary work on the project, George Lucas became convinced that the pilot was worthy of its own theatrical release. He was wrong.
Just like the previous 'Star Wars: Clone Wars', 'The Clone Wars' is set in the time period between 'Attack of the Clones' and 'Revenge of the Sith', and features the adventures of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi as they command an army of clone soldiers against the forces of the evil Count Dooku. At this juncture in time, Anakin is still on the side of good. The plot of this film has Dooku kidnapping the infant son of Jabba the Hutt and blaming the deed on the Jedi. Desperate to remain in Jabba's good graces so that he will allow them to travel through his territory en route to war, the Jedi assign Anakin to rescue the baby. Assisting him will be Ahsoka Tano, his Padawan Learner, which in 'Star Wars' lingo means "annoying whiny 'tweener."
The movie is entirely computer animated, yet designed in a style similar to the earlier work of Tartakovsky. Inanimate objects like spaceships and buildings are realistically convincing, but human characters are weirdly angular and unnatural. The combination looks less like a movie than like the cut-scenes from a video game. The scope of the film is fairly impressive, with massively staged battles both on land and in space. Thousands of droids and clones blast the bejeezus out of each other while Jedi and Sith flitter about swinging lightsabers. The vertical assault up a cliff face is particularly innovative. The picture is filled with relentless action for its entire 98 minute length, and the villainess Asajj Ventress gives Darth Maul a run for his money in the category of coolest evil henchmen.
Unfortunately, the script is a disaster. The story is rather pointless and serves no purpose in illuminating the events of the other 'Star Wars' films. The dialogue between "Sky Guy" and "Snips" as they babysit "Stinky" the belching baby Hutt (yes, really) is utterly cringe-worthy. Then, just when you think it can't sink any lower, the film introduces Jabba's flamboyantly effeminate uncle Ziro the Hutt, who speaks English with an affected Truman Capote lisp. There are moments of truly astounding stupidity in 'The Clone Wars'.
It has been argued that 'Star Wars' was always intended for children, and that judging it by adult standards misses the point. I don't buy that for a second. At its best, the series has managed to entertain everyone from young kids to adults. 'The Clone Wars' is not among its best. This is a movie aimed squarely at the toddler set and the Jar Jar Binks fan club. Anyone who has graduated from Elementary School need not bother with it.
And yet, as awful as it may be, I'd probably still rather watch 'The Clone Wars' again than 'The Phantom Menace'. I suppose that's got to count for something.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video. The cover art chosen for the case is rather hideous. Some copies may include a lenticular slipcover to make it slightly more tolerable, but that appears to be hit-or-miss (the copy sent for this review did not have one). Target stores carry an exclusive edition with an alternate, nicer cover design and packaged with a graphic novel titled 'Shipyards of Doom'. Picky shoppers and die-hard fans may want to seek that one out.
The Blu-ray opens with a funky new THX trailer. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Warner Blu-ray that defaults to a main menu screen without automatically starting the movie.
I may not be a huge fan of the movie's animation style, but there's little to fault in the technical quality of the Blu-ray. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer is just as crisp and clean as you'd expect from a direct-digital conversion like this. The picture has deep colors and an excellent contrast range. Black levels are solid yet shadow detail is never lost. The High-Def image is sharp enough to see the limits of the animation. The Blu-ray captures as much fine object detail as is available in the source, and makes clear the blockiness and lack of texture on most surfaces.
Because the CG artwork isn't quite as detailed or vivid as the best animated features, 'Clone Wars' rarely has the sort of dynamic pop as you'd see in something by Pixar or even Dreamworks. There's also some minor color banding in the evening sky on Tatooine, but I honestly can't be certain whether that's a flaw in the High-Def transfer or an inherent part of the animation. In any case, the disc looks terrific.
For what it's worth, the movie's aspect ratio measures precisely 2.35:1, not 2.40:1 as is claimed on the case.
Although presented in lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 EX, the movie's soundtrack is certainly not up to the standards of the other 'Star Wars' feature films. The audio mix betrays the picture's origins as a TV production. In its favor, surround activity is reasonably aggressive, with a number of directional pans as spaceships buzz past the screen. The movie is also filled with many familiar 'Star Wars' sound effects, and it's kind of fun to pick them out from the background of scenes.
Unfortunately, laser blasts are weak, the music is a little flat, and dialogue is often sibilant (especially when Ahsoka speaks). Low-end activity is modest at best. In fact, my subwoofer went into standby mode for almost the entire movie. Fidelity is just adequate. I had to crank the volume to get any life out of the track, and even then I wasn't much impressed. The soundtrack isn't terrible, but there isn't anything special about it either. Honestly, I've heard lossy Dolby Digital tracks that were much more engaging.
The Blu-ray carries over all of the bonus features from the comparable DVD edition. Most of the content is not specific to this movie, instead broadly covering the new TV series as well. Annoyingly, all of the supplements default to displaying English subtitles, which must be manually disabled every time you start a new feature. That's especially frustrating with the deleted scenes and webisodes.
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' is another desperate cash-in for a franchise in its death throes. It was the first 'Star Wars' movie to outright bomb at the box office, and the reasons for that are obvious. Only the youngest of 'Star Wars' fans will find it entertaining, and they're not the kind of discerning viewers who will care whether they watch it on DVD or Blu-ray.
For the die-hard completists out there, at least the Blu-ray has nice picture quality and some halfway decent bonus features, which may make it mildly palatable if you really feel a compulsion to buy it.