{Pop Culturally Insensitive will now be co-hosting (De)Constructing the Ion Canon, an ongoing blog surveying the entire official Star Wars canon according to its timeline. Check back every week for the next installment.}

Get caught up with the mission statementEpisode I, and Episode II.

The year is 2008. Indiana Jones and the Sex and the City girls returned to mixed results, Barack Obama, Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin were all names we came to know, The Dark Knight and Wall-E redefined their genres, and I…honestly had no idea there was a new Star Wars movie coming out. And that’s no fault of senior year partying or outgrowing the franchise. When compared to the 9 figures its predecessors had pulled in, the comparatively paltry $68 million proves quite a lot of people didn’t know this ever happened at all. Not just “movie only” Star Wars fans, but a fair amount of people who even embraced the Clone Wars television show were unaware this film had existed, and it was so critically lambasted upon release it even wound up on some “Worst of 2008” lists.

Well, after an intro like that, do we dare disturb this cartoon universe? I mean, it’s considered canon, so let’s take a look at Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

It’s worth noting from the start that this “film” was never intended to be one at all. After the release of Revenge of the Sith, Warner Bros. began work on a computer animated Clone Wars television series. After showing George Lucas some early episodes on a big screen, he reportedly said “This is so beautiful, why don’t we just go and use the crew and make a feature?”, so what would have been the early episodes of season one of the show were quickly tied together to make a jaunty episodic feature, so hurriedly produced that Lucas Licensing was unable to secure many of the deals it typically would for a cinematic release, and ultimately this rushed production shows in the “finished” product.

If you’re looking to avoid spoilers, now’s your chance to turn back and watch the film unaffected.

We open with an unfamiliar Warner Bros. logo preceding Lucasfilm in place of the typical 20th Century Fox, a jarring feeling we’re sure the get again when we see that famous star arc over Cinderella’s castle. From there, the title appears, but a different arrangement of the famed John Williams theme plays, throwing us once more, so that by the time the anticipated title scroll is replaced by a narration from the prolific Tom Kane (best known as Mr. Herriman from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends or the Professor from Powerpuff Girls), you just come to accept that this is a very different Star Wars.

The biggest complaint most critics had visually was that the characters, designed to look like the classic Gerry Anderson puppets of Thunderbirds and Fireball XL-5, looked like the puppets from Thunderbirds and Fireball XL-5. I’m sure there are gonna be some folks who don’t dig the look. Personally I liked it. It wasn’t as good as the character designs they were partly based on from the earlier Clone Warsseries, but even acknowledging that gives us our biggest issue from a canonical perspective.

Look, I’m not gonna pretend I don’t have strong feelings about the original Clone Wars. I mentioned it in the mission statement, and it was bound to come up again. Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Dexter’s Laboratory and the masterful Samurai Jack, crafted two animated miniseries to bridge Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, following Anakin’s ascension to Jedi Knight (including the ceremonial removal of his braid), the debut appearances of Asajj Ventress and future Revenge of the Sith antagonist General Grievous, and exploring the dark, brooding nature of Anakin Skywalker on the edge of his descent. It was a beautiful, artfully crafted set of series, and for whatever reason, the powers that be at Disney, when time came to perform the culling of the canon, deemed the inclusion of these series unnecessary, relegating them to the “Star Wars Legends” banner. Dipping into the officially canon Clone Wars, starting with this film (we’ll see if it continues as the series progresses), references and allusions that necessitate knowledge of the original Tartakovsky work are abound, whether it be the sheer fact that the first shot after a flying starship is an assemblage that includes Count Dooku and an as yet canonically unknown General Grievous, just sorta chilling there, as though people should know who he is (sure, this film came out after Revenge of the Sith, so audiences would be familiar, but from a chrono-canonical perspective, Grievous would only be familiar to those who’d seen his titan-like entrance in the original Clone Wars), or Obi-
Wan and Ventress heavily alluding to past interactions from the earlier series in their dialogue later in the film. I’m sure some aspects of Star Wars lore now redacted are hard to detach from the official for some folks (ideas of the Old Republic based on KOTR or bloodlines from post-Jedi novels now wiped away), but its even more difficult when what’s meant to be official canon is so heavily cemented in a foundation that’s officially non-existent.

As for the film itself, it’s initial introductory voice over, which goes beyond familiarizing one with the set-up from the previous film to actually walking one through plot points of the current film that won’t even be addressed for the first third of the story, seems to abandon all cinematic intent by showing rather than telling. The story eventually finds a flow, but the very beginning of this new chapter in the Star Wars mythos treats us as though we’ve missed something already, and it needs to hurriedly catch us up, and it sets the audience off on the wrong foot to truly get into the story for a bit.

While Yoda, Chancellor Palpatine and Mace Windu (actually Samuel L. Jackson, not even sounding like himself) debate whether to send Jedi to recover the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt (yep apparently he’s got a kid) in order to gain his support in the Clone Wars, Obi-Wan and Anakin engage in a battle with the Separatist army on the planet Christophsis (which is a real planet name now). We’re introduced more properly to the clone army itself, whose leaders (particularly Rex and Cody) have their own distinct personalities, a nice touch that makes the battle more engaging. Indeed, for whatever can be said in derision of this film, it’s battle scenes are an absolute blast, they can go comedic without going full Jar Jar, as when one of the troopers decides to punch a battle droid in the face, only to hurt his hand, but the action can still carry a lot of weight (just go to about 5:04 into the film, and you’ll see a trooper get his helmet, if not his full head, blown off, pretty heavy for the fairly kiddish tone we’ve experienced). Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, the medium of animation allows everything that was digitally enhanced in the live action series, like the flips and intense lightsaber action, to feel more natural since it doesn’t break from the film’s reality of movement at all.

The Separatists retreat, and Obi-Wan speaks to Anakin about his anticipation, both for reinforcements and for the arrival of his new padawan. Anakin expresses a desire to never himself have to train a younger Jedi, and is near indignant when Obi-Wan suggests he should (for better or worse, the Anakin in this film differs greatly from the live action one, both in demeanor and expressiveness). Of course, what could have been a nice, quiet moment of character study (the kind Genndy would have relished in) becomes an opportunity for irony when in fact the padawan who arrives is intended for Anakin instead of Obi-Wan. The young Palawan’s name is Ahsoka Tano, red skinned, thin, and rocking an outfit that would likely get her thrown out of a bible belt high school, but the Jedi Council apparently had no problem with, despite the fact that every youngling, padawan, knight and master we’ve encountered wears some type of robes. Sure, they made an exception for her, let’s just roll with that (though the more they comment on just how young she is makes that tube top attire way less comfortable), but her constant indignity at being viewed as a “youngling” and her continually smart-ass jabs at her master, whom she calls “Sky-guy” teeter very close to the Amblin kid, not quite E.T. or Episode I Anakin, but let’s say so close to John Connor in T2 that I swear she’s gonna try and teach Anakin slang at some point, and it gets grating real fast.

Next we’re introduced to the villains of the film, the hooded Asajj Ventress seeking guidance from her we assume master Count Dooku (voiced by Christopher Lee, who even ****ing kills it here) and eventually Darth Sidious, who both expound upon the plan to use the kidnapped Hutt baby as leverage to get the Hutts’ support on the Outer Rim of the galaxy. Weird seeing Ventress without any formal introduction (her actual introduction, like Grievous’, floating out in the ether called “Legends”, perhaps chilling with Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn), and even for a series rooted in fairy tales, its strange seeing Machiavellian manipulator Darth Sidious up to such mustache twirling Dick Dastardly deeds as these.

Meanwhile, back on Christophsis (ughhhhhhh), the enemy forces have fired up an energy shield that’s spreading closer and closer towards the Republic’s troops, and Rex believes it will make things “damn near impossible” (surprising to hear that kind of language in a film that wastes such time on the childish “you’re not my real dad” angst of Ahsoka), until Anakin, inspired by the exclamations of his padawan, derives a plan to get through the shield under cover of…metal, and Obi-Wan goes along with this, agreeing to stay behind with the troops and provide a diversion, leaving the fate of this battle up to his impulsive, erratic former student and hiseven more impulsive, even more erratic, literally just became a padawan student. So let’s just make peace right now with the fact that, with generals like this, the war being entirely rigged by Palpatine is literally the only logical reason the Republic could emerge victorious.

So Anakin and Ahsoka crouch beneath some metal as seemingly the entire army passes them by, and making their way crouched towards the shield generator in order to deactivate it, Ahsoka complains she’s tired of crouching and wants to stand. Then, the man who without batting an eye murdered an entire village of Tusken Raiders, argued with both his Jedi master and his protective charge/Senator/love interest continually and belligerently, gives in to her insanely dangerous request because…she’s just so darn cute? So, the two stand up, still under the cover of the metal because…reasons, when they bump into a destroyer droid and make the entire sequence worth it by doing a fantastic halt-and-hack attack, decimating the droid, freeing the two to make their way to the shield generator.

Obi-Wan attempts to stall the opposing leader with the type of “casual conversation” over tea that would have been really fun to hear Ewan McGregor deliver, while Anakin and Ahsoka are set upon as soon as she plants the charges to destroy the generator. Anakin fights a few foes off, but Ahsoka saves the day with the kind of force powers she’s far, far too good with to be just a first-day padawan. Ashoka shows herself to be almost as competent as Anakin “the Chosen One” Skywalker, in one of many ways the film erred on the side of convenience rather than in-world logic. Altogether, the film is far more concerned with setting up an engaging TV show than sticking to the world and rules of the films, with characters acting very different from their live action counter parts (at one point Obi-Wan says “Ok, Anakin, here’s the story” and I cringe a little), sometimes to their detriment, others, like Anakin, perhaps for the better, as though this was how he was intended to be in the prequel trilogy, had the writing better communicated it.

After Jabba is delivered several severed heads of bounty hunters sent to recover his child from an abandoned monastery, he calls once more on the Republic to rescue his child, threatening in true Hutt fashion to turn to the Separatists should they refuse. Sending Anakin and Ahsoka to the monastery with a small battalion, we get our first real sense of the Separatist army, as we encounter battle droids of varying rank and, indeed, intelligence. Now, nothing thus far in the official canon has given any indication that battledroids even have varying intellects, or any degree of distinct personality, and the idea of turning a once formidable foe into comic relief is nine times out of ten a terrible idea, but I’ll concede, I love me some idiot battledroids. Maybe its the overall lighter tone (severed heads aside) that allows this to be more forgivable, but their goofy antics here and throughout the film delighted me.

The Republic launches a full on assault on the monastic compound, accompanied not by the orchestral score we come to expect from the franchise, but rather an almost heavy metal guitar composition that gives the scene an extra jolt of energy, and everything from Ahsoka’s rogue acrobatics to the gunnery ship that can climb walls is a hell of a lot of fun. The score shifts once again, now to an almost Massive Attack/Thievery Corporation style track as Anakin and Ahsoka enter the building, where they eventually find Jabba’s infant child, who Ahsoka dubs “Stinky”. After realizing they’ve been trapped by Asajj and her army, and that Dooku’s plan is to deceive the Hutts into thinking the Jedi kidnapped the child (plus some scenes involving a misquotation in a hologram and the duo losing the baby only to find it again a moment later, neither of which are really worth even acknowledging in any larger sense), Anakin concludes they need to make an expedient escape back to Tatooine, and alerts Obi-Wan (on Tatooine to try and broker a treaty with the Hutts) to come help rescue them, while Ahsoka worries the baby Hutt is extremely ill.

Outside the monastery, Commander Rex and his squad are set upon by battledroids, one of whom Rex proceeds to punch in his robot face, grab his gun (still in the droid’s hand, mind you) and shoot several others, because Commander Rex is a stone cold clone badass, while Anakin and Ahsoka flee an attacking Asajj Ventress on what I assume are the same dragon creatures Russell Crowe rode in Man of Steel. Shortly thereafter, Obi-Wan defeats Ventress in a cool but inconsequential duel that concludes in her escape, and Anakin and Ahsoka head to Tatooine in a stolen junker of a ship, wherein Ahsoka seeks out a way to help the baby Hutt whose name I refuse to type any further. It’s not until this point in the film it hits me that a dying infant, even an alien one, is some pretty heavy s**t to put in a film mostly aimed at kids, but it’s worth it, as it delivered to me my single favorite minor character, not only in this film, but perhaps in the whole franchise: Dr. Droid, whose beleaguered, disinterested tone delivers a holographic diagnosis to Ahsoka before stating, and I quote “Uh…if you have any more problems…::sigh::…call an actual doctor”. Where is his spin-off comic, Marvel? You got room for Lando, but not the Aubrey Plaza of the Star Wars universe?

Long story short, they return the baby Hutt to Jabba, who agrees to ally with the Republic, and Dooku’s plan is foiled. Yoda offers to place Ahsoka in the tutelage of Obi-Wan due to Anakin’s initial reticence, but he relents, conceding he’s taken a liking to the young padawan. Then they all face the camera in a wide shot, and the movie ends. Yep, just like that.

Sure, there’s some parts we skipped over, some good (Christopher Lee’s brilliant snarling delivery during his lightsaber duel), some bad (a subplot with Padme and an apparently gender-fluid and scheming relative of Jabba named Zito the Hutt), but all inconsequential. Which, quite frankly, this whole film is. It’s not terrible, nor is it great. I certainly wasn’t miserable watching it, and it never hits the plodding patches Episode I or II does, nor is anything, even Ahsoka’s Amblin moments, truly insufferable. But as I find myself writing this, nothing that wasn’t directly written in my notes has stuck with me besides some action beats involving Commander Rex or Count Dooku and some battledroid slapstick.

Is it worth watching? No. I mean, if you’re a completist, sure. And perhaps, if you want the origin of how Ahsoka and Anakin came together. But the film feels like the middle chunk of a story, dropping you in the midst of something with no official beginning anyway, substituting a rushed narrative for actual set up. The film is generally forgotten now, as it pretty much was when it came out, with few promotional tie-ins due to its aforementioned rushed production schedule. In response to the rather flippant decision, the “afterthought”, to make this collection of episodes into a theatrical film, the head of Lucas Licensing simply said “Sometimes George works in strange ways”, and that was certainly the case here. I may revisit the film some day, as it was hardly a chore to get through or anything. Hell, the uninitiated with some curiosity (or those who’ve seen the series but not the film) are certainly welcome to check it out. Viewing it isn’t discouraged, it’s just (like the film itself), not necessary.

Next week, we’re diving into the first season of the Clone Wars television series, so check back in September 25th for that. Until then, I’ve got some binge watching to do, and some new formatting to determine, so feel free to chime in in the comments for now.

12 thoughts on “(De)Constructing the Ion Canon: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

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