Through his six movies George Lucas has created an incredible universe of characters and settings. The hundreds of stories written by other authors in non-canon stories serve as a testament to just how impressive Lucas’s world is. “Clone Wars”, however, serves as an extension of the movies - authorized stories set in between the second and third movies that help fill in the gaps for the major characters and give fans a chance to see what Lucas had in mind when he used the term “clone wars”. It also serves as evidence that Lucas has had some brilliant stories in mind, they just don’t always show up on the big screen, or even come from the big man himself. The first two seasons of “Clone Wars” consisted of three minute episodes that gave a quick blast of action with a peek into some of the battles of the Star Wars Clone Wars. Although, when put together (in Volume 1) they did have a story that wound throughout, there was less that could be done within the confines of three minutes, so none of the stories were incredibly detailed. That changed with the most recent season, which not only extended episode times to fifteen minutes, but also placed the events in the series directly before Episode III, depicting the capture of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine by General Grevious in one storyline, and explaining why Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker weren’t around when the abduction happened in a separate storyline.
The first season of “Clone Wars” lost my interest due to two factors: the episodes were too short and I didn’t care for the animation style. The length issue was resolved when Fox released the first and second season together, allowing fans to view the overall story arc all at once. The animation style - well, it still bothers me. There’s a bit of difference within the artwork itself, which at times can appear very detailed and beautiful in backgrounds, but is simplistic for the characters themselves. I finally got over my issue with the animation when Fox rereleased the old “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons on DVD and I saw that, while this animation is by no means groundbreaking, it is better then what Star Wars saw in previous Star Wars cartoons. It’s still a little too similar to the stylings of “Power Puff Girls” and “Clerks: The Animated Series” for my tastes, particularly when aliens appear on screen looking a little too much like beasts then the humanoid beings in the films. The animation isn’t too surprising though when you realize the people behind this cartoon were also behind “Dexter’s Lab” and “Samurai Jack” - other shows that share this same animation style.
Despite the animation style, there are many things that appear in the cartoon that I wish Lucas had come up with himself and put in the movies. For instance, the cartoon covers Anakin’s transition from padawan to Jedi knight, complete with his knighting ceremony, and Padme’s reaction when Anakin returns to her with a battle scar over his eye. Those are the types of things Episode I and II were deeply lacking - moments of personal accomplishment that allowed the performers to shine. Since George didn’t take the time to place them in his films, those performances are left to cartoons, who do a surprisingly good job with them. Some might say the cartoons are even better performers then their live action counterparts, although I don’t know that I’d go that far.
The creators of the cartoon recognize the true target audience of the cartoon are going to be the die hard fans of Star Wars so they tailor the episodes that direction somewhat. There are lots of recognizable characters and races to keep the cartoon within continuity and also a few references to other sci-fi franchises for those really on the ball to spot them. Every once in a while a popular line from the original Star Wars movies pops in as well (according to Anakin, Threepio’s new gold plating is, “Impressive, most impressive”) which could almost be annoying if it was overdone. However it’s very obvious the references are not done out of laziness, but rather a true effort to honor the source material for the cartoon.
Volume 2 of “Clone Wars” really serves as a great lead in to Episode III for those Star Wars geeks who just can’t get enough. The cartoon’s story is assembled well enough that, by the time it’s over, you really want to pop in Episode III to keep the story going. Writer/director/producer Genndy Tartakovsky comes close to surpassing Lucas’s own accomplishments, taking George’s playground and using it in ways Lucas didn’t take advantage of through the first two films of the most recent trilogy. That’s one of the highest pieces of praise that can be given to a cartoon spin off of something the size of Star Wars. Fox put a lot of effort into the first volume of “Clone Wars”, which hit stores just in time for Episode III’s theatrical release. It’s a shame they couldn’t have pushed this volume out faster since it ties in more closely to the final Star Wars film, but the end result makes Volume 2 worth the wait.
Like the first Volume, all of the episodes that make up the story are put together in a continuous film. This means there are no breaks in between episodes for closing and opening credits. This is the best way to watch the cartoon - as one 65 minute movie instead of five installments. The first volume spoiled the show for me so I didn’t watch these episodes on tv, preferring to watch them all at once then to have to wait between episodes. Additionally the DVD format brings one more improvement - the movie looks absolutely brilliant, especially on a widescreen television - better then the show ever looked on Cartoon Network.
There’s a brief featurette titled “Connect the Dots” that cuts between the live action Star Wars movies and the cartoon to show how the cartoon was made to help connect Episode II and III. It’s a neat way to point out the details to the three people out there interested in “Clone Wars” that didn’t already have the movies committed to memory as well as a chance for the writers and creators of “Clone Wars” to talk about the ideas they put into the cartoon and the requests that came from the big guy. It becomes immediately apparent that the people behind the cartoon are just extremely lucky fans who have gotten the chance to show the world their love of Star Wars and get paid for it (as opposed to all the people who make movies on their computers and get lawsuits for it).
That enthusiasm and love for Star Wars is continued through a commentary track that accompanies the cartoon. Tartakovsky and several of the writers point out where their inspiration for moments come from (including several Sam Raimi inspired bits), flaws in the cartoon (why there’s no purple lightsaber at Anakin’s knighting), and just generally geek out about the opportunity they’ve had. What makes the commentary really interesting is how openly they talk about their dealings with Lucasfilms. Many of the bits that make it into the cartoons were taken from information that was referenced in scripts or artwork, but the writers of the cartoon weren’t sure would make it into the final cut of Episode III, so to ensure those references weren’t lost, they incorporated it into the cartoon. This really was a labor of love, although to hear them talk about how challenging their timeline was, that love didn’t make it easy. The sad thing is listening to these guys talk about their cartoon is tons more interesting then to listen to Lucas talk about any aspect of Star Wars. Maybe for a future trilogy release Lucas should invite these guys to do a commentary track.
There are trailers on the DVD for most other things Star Wars, including Episode III and several video games - “Battlefront II” (which has a playable demo) and “Empire at War”. There is also the curious inclusion of “Revenge of the Brick” - a short CGI film using the LEGO versions of the movie’s characters. It’s a silly little short that allows the heroes to survive obstacles through their ability to use the force to build their destroyed LEGO ships into new vehicles. It’s a bit strange, and probably appeals to a younger audience more then me. Several galleries of artwork round out the bonus materials.
Both volumes of “Clone Wars” are “must haves” for any die hard Star Wars fan, but out of the two of them Volume 2 is the superior release. It’s the perfect way to bridge the gap between Episode II and III, or just a great way to preface the third chapter without having to sit through Lucas’s weaker movies.
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