Begun, the Clone Wars™ have.
When 'Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones' and 'Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith' only represented the three year battle between the Republic and the Separatists by showing the opening and closing battles, the gap left infinite possibilities for the EU (that's Expanded Universe, for casual fans) to fill in the tales of heroics and treachery. The sad thing is, the filler material between movies proved itself to be infinitely superior to the two films they bridged. The good thing, though, is they provided a new hope for the series to live on in more ways than just comic books and novels (and, to a lesser extent, ridiculous fanfics).
The first adaptation of the battles between the clone troopers and their Jedi commanders vs the battle droids and the Sith pulling the strings was a brilliant success, a traditionally animated series of random stories cobbled together with no rhyme or reason, just random tales with the characters who got so little screen time in the films finally getting their own chance to shine. This series (from Genndy Tarakovsky) went on to tie directly into 'Revenge of the Sith,' showing the capture of Palpatine, the scarring of Anakin Skywalker's face, and the crushing of General Grievous' throat, creating his asthmatic cough.
Years after 'Revenge of the Sith' proved itself to be nothing but an anagram for Sith, 'The Clone Wars' became a CG cartoon, debuting in theaters with a full length feature before arriving on the Cartoon Network for weekly episodes. The movie was an utter failure, with a crummy story stretched way too long for its own good, the focus on a padawan learner for Skywalker (whose interactions with her master were painful at best, full of awkward nicknames), and an effeminate Hutt. My hopes for the series were immediately dashed.
While I was busy ignoring the run of the cartoon as it aired, something amazing happened: it showed the film was a fluke, as the twenty-two minute stories were much more befitting of the program to tell its stories, and went on to be quite the successful venture.
The ingredients for the television show are the same as the film, just in limited doses. Each episode begins with a quote or philosophy in the landmark blue text that used to only dare say "A long time ago, in a galaxy far away," and proceeds to a wartime style newsreel (voiced by Tom Kane) recapping events on previous episodes, or setting up backstory for the incoming tale.
'The Clone Wars' heads to planets within the Republic, to the Outer Rim, and beyond, to any world (or the infinite space between), anywhere where the Republic forces and Separatist army are waging their war. Innocent planets become the stage for battles, with their inhabitants sometimes not wanting to be dragged into the war, while other times the leaders of planets want one side or another to provide protection or supplies in return for strategic bases. For the first time, the home planets of many creatures found populating the melting pots of the galaxy (like Tatooine or Coruscant) are revealed, while entire species like Toydarians, Rodians, Weequayans, Ithorians, Twi'leks, and the Talz are shown for the first time outside of the single representatives found in the past.
The Jedi, sometimes in groups, but often by their lonesome, along with their clone trooper accompaniment, get the spotlight, fighting to save the day, and restore peace and justice to the galaxy, one planet at a time. The Jedi are not the sole focus here, as the characters the film is titled after, the clones, fashioned after the bounty hunter Jango Fett, get plenty of attention, fleshing out their conflicts in the war where they are expendables and nothing more, all sharing the same face and combat training, with veterans and commanders like Rex, Cody, Bly, and Gree fighting alongside rookies and fresh grown troops as they enter their first battles.
The possibilities in this program are limitless, as are the deviances from established canon (or continuity, accepted fact rather than conjecture and tale). This is a good-bad thing.
'The Clone Wars' does the previous films justice, and almost eliminate the bad taste left in the mouths of many after the prequel trilogy became the target of much fanboy angst. The mix of action, adventure, and occasional humor is perfect. Serious episodes, and tales of heroics are often given slight nods to well known events in the canon, while maintaining a sense of humor about the situation. Droids make fun of their own inability to hit their targets, blaming their programming, and are even found asking each other if they've ever even killed a Jedi.
The multitude of Jedi found in the prequels are well represented, though not as well as I would have liked. Kit Fisto gets another great tale (his story in the first series of cartoons is also quite epic), while Plo Koon (called Master Plo rather than Master Koon for some reason or another, deviating from Jedi norm), Aayla Secura, Luminara Unduli, Yoda, Mace Windu (no, not voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, sadly), Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and his padawan Ahsoka Tano all get adventures befitting of their lore and talent. Funnily enough, due to how many episodes focus on Kenobi and Skywalker, many Jedi who play pivotal roles in the series get no screen time, as Ki-Adi Mundi, Agen Kolar, Quinlan Vos, Saesee Tiin, and Shaak Ti (a Togruta, just like the newcomer Tano) are all ignored in this first season, as are younglings, youths training in the power of the Force.
Their villains are out in not-so-much full force, as well. Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyranus), General Grievous, Wat Tambor, Nute Gunray, countless Separatist Generals, and Asajj Ventress all make apperances, along with newcomers Cad Bane and Hondo Ohnaka, and the Jedi Hunter Aurra Sing. Darth Sidious does not make an appearance, not even in hologram form, nor does Durge, one of the great villains from the first animated Clone Wars series. IG assassin droids, Durge's enforcers, get some screen time, but it is quite limited.
'The Clone Wars' does many things differently than any previous adaptation of George Lucas' mythos. Yoda has abandoned his Kybuck (that little horse creature he rode in the first series), but is still an epic warrior, cutting through AATs, even going in them, wiping out the clones manning the tanks as he bursts his way through an army, Asajj uses her twin sabers (though never conjoined, sadly) to rappel down an elevator shaft, Grievous' lair is exposed, replete with a stockpile on replacement parts and statues in his own honor (a must to show his pride as a warrior), while R2D2 gets more chances to be a hero, and the focus of episodes, like the ones where he is lost in a battle, and captured by Separatists. Droids begin to realize that their fire will be deflected by lightsabers, causing their own deaths. The clones stories are amazing, and definitely the highlight of the season, as 'Rookies' and 'Hidden Enemy' are as human and accessible as the show can get.
These Clone Wars also parallel human wars wonderfully in their vocabulary, with speech patterns not found in other cartoon or film adaptations. The clones all give themselves nicknames and specialties, and random haircuts (the only way to distinguish them aside from their armor wear and patterns) that sometimes seem a hair off. They call their enemies clankers, and even tinnies, a take off on skinnies, a term coined in Somalia and made famous in 'Black Hawk Down,' while Separatists become "seppies" for short. The droids haven't picked up any speech patterns, but can be quite hilarious, as their trademark "roger!" is sometimes repeated by an entire force in succession.
The scene of Dooku taunting Kenobi as he is held in place is reversed hilariously, while the best use of Force powers ever shown on screen happens in the very first episode, as Yoda controls a super battle droid as it turns on its own army and lays them to waste. Canon is sometimes paid close attention to, as small details like Plo Koon's spacecraft are painted identically to their previous portrayals.
Sadly, there are some things that just don't make much sense, and can drive a fanboy a bit mad. No, I've not visited Star Wars forums to find out the "explanations" to some of the stretches in logic and continuity, so forgive me for not knowing the full history of any cop outs.
First, Anakin is presented in this series as having his scar near his eye (that he received from Asajj Ventress) from the very start, which dates the show at two and a half years into a three year war. That puts the entire chain of events in this series in a half a year long period. That seems an awfully short timeframe to operate in, when you consider that many of these campaigns aren't just one day affairs (some are far, far from it). Additionally, the series shows many planets still on the edge of choosing their allegiances, as of yet unaffected by the war, courted by both sides for one reason or another. That would make sense early in the war, but at the closing chapter? That makes no sense! Anakin in this series even encounters an Angel of Iego, the creature he originally attributed to Padme's beauty in 'The Phantom Menace,' yet he makes no comment of it, finally seeing one of these creatures he used to dream about. He isn't that disciplined, as he constantly makes his feelings for Padme known through his concerns for her. (The extras to this release actually even include the scene from 'The Phantom Menace' when bringing up the creature, but do not cover why Anakin doesn't get all mushy seeing one.)
So, why does General Grievious cough a ton, then? In 'Revenge of the Sith,' his constant hack was attributed to being force choked by Mace Windu as he kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, which led to the opening events of the third film. The events here are long before that event, and in nearly every episode with the General, he's constantly trying to hack up a mechanical lung or two. The Force "Usain Bolt" power, portrayed in 'The Phantom Menace,' to outrun droideka blaster fire, is nowhere to be found, as Jedi run at normal speed, yet they outrun the droids and their blaster fire. The rolling robots got that inaccurate that fast? Why is it every planet has air breathable by any character? Even planets that characters crash onto are always perfectly inhabitable by humans. It's a little unrealistic...
Still, despite some questionable issues (and plenty more awful Anakin-Padme interactions), the show does a good job of lovingly representing the lore of the show. From gundarks and womprats to a Kowakian monkey-lizard (think Salacious Crumb), to the most infamous phrase in the series ("I have a bad feeling about this...") being uttered three times (all in different situations and tones), the use of gold and red assignments for fighters, and even a brief Vader breath tease, 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Complete Season One' is a great way to introduce a new generation of fans into the greatest film series of all time, and is accessible to even the life long fans of the program like myself. It's not perfect, by any means, but so far, this series shines brighter than any of the prequel films, and with the second season promising more bounty hunter action, things are only going to look up!
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Complete Season One' arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. as just the second WB title with auto-play disabled (the first was the theatrical film for this series). That's right, main menus! The show is spread across three BD50 Dual Layer discs, all of which contain special features (though the trailers are found only on disc one). Numerous episodes are presented as extended director's cuts, with no option to play a standard length version. The extended episodes are 'Rising Malevolence,' 'Shadow of Malevolence,' 'Rookies,' 'Lair of Grievous,' 'Storm Over Ryloth,' 'Innocents of Ryloth,' and 'Liberty on Ryloth.'
If you happened to purchase the 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' theatrical film on Blu-ray, you already know exactly what to expect here, as 'The Complete Season One' is more of the same...and that's a good thing! The entire season is presented with a VC-1 encode at 1080p, in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio (as compared to the 1.78:1 version aired on Cartoon Network).
If ever there were a show that looked like a moving painting, this would be it. Step aside, '300.' The textures for this program are absolutely astonishing, with many space battle sequences looking as intricate and gorgeous as the space battle that opened 'Revenge of the Sith.' The faces on characters (especially the chalky feel of Asajj's visage), their clothing, the metal of ships, and the backgrounds and foregrounds alike all have a beautiful worn in feel, rather than silky smooth textureless drawings, brought to life in the extremely three dimensional picture. Holograms are astonishing, with the transparencies tinting the objects they cover, with wonderful linear feedback and static blips, constantly shifting. Colors are bold, abundant, and unapologetic in their presentation, only furthering the beauty of the show's near-godly contrast.
The Clone War has obviously been fought for some time by the time we drop in with this program, for more reasons than the continuity issues detailed above. The smears and fades of paint patterns on clone armor, along with the countless dents and dirt patterns are matched wonderfully with scrapes and impacts on nearly every vehicle on both sides of the battle, and a beautiful amount of wear on the battle droids and the snidely General Grievous himself (until he replaces parts, that is).
I've never seen such amazing detail on the patterns on Plo Koon's breathing apparatus, not in the comics or live action films. Of course, the episodes in which he is featured have an even more breath taking spectacle: the amazingly gorgeous (and I'm talking deer in the headlights fascinating) ion cannon blasts from the starship Malevolence.
So, why does this show not get a perfect score? Simply put, there's a small battalion of issues that prevent this from being one of the absolute best transfers on the format, period. There are some splotches of color banding, mostly in solid shots like sky or atmosphere. Aliasing is also present a few times, with stars fading in and out of the picture, and is also visible in control panels in the 'Rookies' episode, as well as in hanger doors, wheat fields, and the square plates adorning the backs of every clone trooper. The animation is beautiful, but there are a few spots that just scream cheap, such as the inside of the Weequay species mouths, something that looks more like cheap flash. Whites can be too bright at times, matching the insanely bright moments in 'Attack of the Clones' from the Kamino sequences, as well as in some ships and stations.
Still, no matter how much an issue those deficiencies sound like they add up, over the length of the program, they are few and far between. The transfer alone justifies this series be made a blind purchase.
I have a bad feeling about this...and I'm not just quoting the most famous line of the series. Get ready to gripe, bitch, complain, and moan, as Warner again followed the protocol set forth with the 'Clone Wars' movie, presenting 'The Complete Season One' with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (and plenty of dubs with equal mixes), with no lossless option to be found. To be fair, this release isn't a truly bad sounding release by any means, especially for a lossy track. That said, it's not the gold standard for lossy either.
Dialogue is comprehendible, even in the most slam-bang action sequences, never being overpowered by the score or constant action effects. The action hits all speakers quite nicely, not over-using the rear speakers to the point they become a gimmick. Motion, especially from spaceships, is stellar (especially for a lossy track), while motion is nothing to scoff at, either.
Bass levels upset me a bit, as explosions and battle impacts didn't sport the depth they should, while ambiance bass was much more powerful. It just didn't make much sense. There is some strength in space vehicle LFE use, but it's nowhere near the levels brought forth by films like '2010: The Year We Make Contact.' It's just there, and only when it wants to be. Force pushes had a nice little rumble, thankfully.
The Dolby Digital track just can't keep up with everything this program throws at it, though, like a kid surrounded by ten bullies playing dodgeball, you know it's going to get absolutely pounded. Scenes that mix music, background/environmental effects (like rocks falling or being blasted, and hitting the ground, vehicles scraping against walls, or lightsabers cutting through walls or doors) overpower the mix, attacking each other in an attempt to be heard rather than both coming through at the same time. This problem occurs a few times throughout the program, and only gets worse when there's dialogue thrown in the mix.
In a note unrelated to the transfer, Jar Jar "fans," you're going to hate the character even more than usual due to the sound on this release. Ahmed Best, the voice of the Gungan punching bag in the live action films, reprises his role in the 'Bombad Jedi' episode (the first ever time Jar Jar Binks was used appropriately in the entire series, in my opinion), but in later episodes, BJ Hughes takes over the voicing duties, and does a ridiculously awful job. It's not like Best would cost too much to have record a few lines, as he voiced Jar Jar in the cheap 'Robot Chicken: Star Wars' program. To add insult to injury, Hughes isn't even consistent in his "performance" as Binks, as the two episodes he voices sound completely different, initially leading me to believe there were three different voice actors. It's just damn annoying.
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Complete Season One' doesn't look like it's very thick on extras at first glance, but don't underestimate it, as what few supplements there are are quite extensive. The packaging itself is an extra, possibly the thickest digibook to hit the format, loaded with artwork for the show.
What makes this feature "enhanced?" How about the fact that Jedi holocrons appear every so often, giving the user a chance to break off into the Archives to check out concept art or designs (see the Jedi Temple Archives extra listing for an idea as what to find when selecting the holocrons. This is a win-lose gamble of a feature, as sometimes the only item shown would be a blueprint or design that was already shown in the extra when the holocron popped up. Sadly, as "enhanced" as this may be, there is no "play all" option, forcing most screens to have long pauses while aspect ratios change from the 1080p of the menu to the 1080i of each featurette.
I've always wondered...why is it that any spacecraft shot out of the atmosphere or in space never has a well known Jedi onboard that passes away along with his troops? The few times a known Jedi's craft is attacked on this release, the Jedi always survives, one way or another. Do the downed craft all have a Jedi on board who get killed, or are they so full of the force that their vehicles never blow up when it? Am I completely over-thinking a fictional tale?
Regardless, there's no question about the Blu-ray release of 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Complete First Season.' The show is solid, the video superb, the audio could have been better, and the extras are far more deep than they appear. This one is recommended, even as a blind buy. The previous 'Clone Wars' cartoon is a must own release, but until it arrives, this is gonna have to do.