Clone Wars is a stylised, CGI animated series linking Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith. Featuring familiar, and not so familiar characters from the Star Wars series, we’re presented with an occasionally meaty series for a ‘children’s show,’ let alone an animated one. I’m not saying that it’s the Star Wars version of Lost, The Shield or The West Wing, but it’s definitely got something good going for it… well plotted, interesting stories and characters.
There’s a certain element of the 1950s sci-fi series here, with each episode being introduced by a voiceover recapping events that have led up to this particular point. There’s also a moral message to each episode, displayed on screen. It’s a novel approach that fits Star Wars and Jedi teaching perfectly.
Further reinforcing the golden age of sci-fi feel, we’ve got a clear-cut story of good guys versus bad guys. With the exception of Anakin Skywalker and Palpatine, the Galactic Republic and Jedi are good, whilst the Seperationists are bad. There are moments when this idea is toyed with, a clone traitor, for example, but these are few and far between. There isn’t the grey area of morality that we saw in Return Of The Jedi, nor is it as dark a world as Return Of The Sith.
Bizarrely, it’s probably this lack of ‘real world morality’ that is the weakest point of the series. In this world, it seems that Lucas is at pains to craft a universe where the good guys are virtuous and always win. It’s a pity that there isn’t any exploration of the Dark Side of the Force and stories are primarily told from the point of view of the good guys. We occasionally see the darkness that is going to consume Anakin, but it’s very throwaway, in a sentence or a glance. It’s usually reinforced with how fantastic the good side of The Force is. Obviously, we know differently. We want to shoot lightning and crush throats. It’s almost saying that children can only handle nice, fluffy and happy things.
From the first episode, featuring Master Yoda and three clones trying to secure a treaty with the Toydaarians, through to Anakin’s relationship with his own, fiery Jedi apprentice, Ahsoka, to the rather low key finale, it’s a tightly plotted storyline revolving around the constant sparring between the Separationists (led by Count Dooku) and the Galatic Republic (led by Chancellor Palpatine) . That’s not to say that the story is bogged down with political wranglings. It’s more about packing lots of action into the 22+ minutes of running time.
Most episodes feel like single part stories, whilst some have threads that run over a few episodes, the hunt for General Grievous, a storyline featuring the assassin Asajj Ventress, amongst others. Oddly, it’s the lack of a season long story arc that probably made the final episode feel just a bit anti-climatic. It wasn’t bad, it just left me without a cliff hanger or a desire to hunt down the next series (currently airing) as quickly as possible. A massive showdown with Ventress, or Grievous would have been far better than the rescuing of a Hutt that featured in only one story!
For me, the battle droids, with their annoying dialogue, are a particular weak spot. I didn’t particularly like them in the films and it’s the same here. Half way through the series, for reasons best known to Lucasfilms, Jar Jar Binks is back! There’s a moment where C3-PO thinks Jar Jar is dead… If only. Jar Jar features in a few episodes, at one point pretending to be a Jedi. I guess that the series is aimed at a young audience, so they might like him.
There are some really good action sequences, space battles and light sabre fights in particular. When Ahsoka takes on General Grievous, it’s fluid and impressive. Space battles are well rendered, though don’t have the feeling of kinetic energy of the movies.
The clone troopers feature heavily in a number of storylines and are more than just disposable characters. Aware of their clone status, it doesn’t stop them being individuals, with their own sense of bravery, sacrifice and commitment. They also seem to all be Australian.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” makes its way into episodes. It was also my first thought when I saw the CGI. At first, the CGI style is a bit jarring. eeing familiar characters rendered as angular models is a bit unusual, but I soon found myself becoming accustomed to it. Making the transition easier is some brilliant voice acting, including James Arnold Taylor’s convincing impersonation of Ewan McGregor’s Obiwan and Matt Lanter’s Anakin Skywalker.
Each episode has a short featurette exploring aspects of the episode, from relating it to the film series to why certain designs were chosen. There’s a passion that suggests that this isn’t just a throwaway show for children, but a definite part of the Star Wars universe. Treating the material with respect is bound to garner more serious fans, even if the main series isn’t as ‘deep’ as the films.
For me, the most impressive feature has to be the Jedi Temple Archives, which includes 2D and 3D renderings, including concept drawings and animations at various stages of completion for each episode. The archives are relevant to each episode and not just a mish-mash of things thrown together to fill the disc. Being able to see how things went from line drawings to moving 3D rendering is definitely interesting. There’s the option to jump from the featurette to the episodes at key points to the associated material in the archive.
Seven of the episodes feature directors’ cuts, but there didn’t appear to be an easy way to play the original version, so it wasn’t possible to say what was added.
With a picture bit rate of up to 20Mbps and sound encoded at 640kbps in 5.1 DTS, there’s no denying that the quality is amazing. There’s no blocking or artefacting, colours are clear and defined.
In conclusion, Clone Wars isn’t bad, though it would have been interesting to have seen what could have been done if the series were live action, or darker. Taken for what it is, though, you’ll like it if you’re a Star Wars fan.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Series 1 is released on November 16.