Directed by: Dave Filoni
Starring: (Voices of) Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson
Stumbling into theaters, it’s Star Wars: The Cash Grab—I mean Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Taking place sometime between what happens in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005), this latest theatrical installment in the now 31-year-old space saga is the franchise’s first animated feature. Clone Wars was originally created for TV (and obviously aimed at 8-year-olds), until George Lucas himself laid eyes on it and decided it was simply too good for basic cable. This says much about Lucas’ taste—or at least his belief in the credulity and Pavlovian nature of Star Wars fans—as the only fate this flaccid mess ever truly deserved was to have its tedium broken up with frequent Honey Smacks cereal commercials and exiled to Saturday mornings.
Other than the obvious cash-making reasons (the movie is the launch pad for a brand new TV series), it’s difficult to figure out why, exactly, this movie has found a place on the big screen. It does nothing to illuminate or compliment the other films. Its plot consists of Jedi knight and future Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius) and his young apprentice—the utterly obnoxious Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein, Sydney White)—trying to save Jabba the Hutt’s (Kevin Michael Richardson, TMNT) kidnapped son—the comparatively tiny, grub-like Stinky the Hutt (at least that’s what he’s called during the entire movie)—while simultaneously stopping the evil plan of the malevolent and unfortunately named Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).
Clone Wars is more a collection of poorly animated set pieces tied together with a lot of lackluster explosions and shoddy shaky-cam action scenes than a movie with an actual plot. It might’ve helped if the animation hadn’t been a modern-day variant on the old “Supermarionation” of the TV series Thunderbirds, only sucked dry of any charm by CGI. All the characters appear to have hair made of basswood and amble around like they have a shower-curtain rod shoved up their hindquarters. However, the film does what was once thought impossible, which is to make Hayden Christiansen’s performances in the last two Star Wars flicks seem downright natural and affecting.
Thankfully, the audience is spared the dulcet tones of Mr. Christiansen, as the only actors from the live-action films who lend their voices to this endeavor are Christopher Lee (apparently just happy he wasn’t once again axed from a movie’s final cut), Anthony Daniels and, very briefly, Samuel L. Jackson. The rest of the cast is filled with voice-over vets, and while this is welcome news when it comes to Christiansen, it makes you realize how much Ewan McGregor meant to Lucas’ films. Regardless of the long list of cartoon credits these people have on their resumes, they still sound like they’re reading their lines directly from a script.
Not that what they’re repeating is any great shakes, as it’s firmly entrenched in the Lucas tradition of stilted, rigid dialogue. Most of the film involves Anakin and Ahsoka bickering with one another in what passes for banter, mixed in with any number of ghastly jokes concerning supposedly cute robots and the usual self-serious Star Wars tone. I’m just amazed grown men wrote this—and that it took three of them to do it. Then again, these are people who write lines like “This smells like Count Dooku” with complete earnestness.
The only thing keeping this movie from a half-star rating (other than this week’s other animated fare, Fly Me to the Moon) is the inclusion of the sashaying, flower-wearing uncle of Jabba, Ziro the Hutt (Corey Burton, Atlantis: The Lost Empire). Two parts Truman Capote and one part Tyler Perry’s Madea, the oddly effeminate, hookah-toking and unintentionally hilarious Ziro is the only fun to be found in the entire movie. But that’s hardly enough to make Clone Wars even the least bit worthwhile. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking.