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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

(2008) ** Pg
99 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Dave Filoni. Cast: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane.

/content/films/3189/16.jpgThe first film from Lucasfilm Animation has arrived, but it has the more dubious distinction of being the worst of the Star Wars features. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is redundant, boring, and not terribly attractive in telling a story more suited for the Junior Fiction shelves of your local library than the screens of your local multiplex. The film heralds a new animated Clone Wars TV series, which one hopes will fulfill Star Wars creator George Lucas' promise of telling interesting and varied war stories. For its part, this film doesn't fit the bill, but it does once more demonstrate, silly rabbit, that 21st Century Star Wars is for kids.

Lucas produced the film, which is set between his Episodes II and III, but the writing duties went to three TV writers mostly associated with half-hour animated series: Henry Gilroy (Transformers: Animated), Steven Melching (The Batman), and Scott Murphy (Angel). Here's what they came up with: epic battles on land and in space, R2-D2 opening doors, political treachery, and martial-arts inspired lightsaber duels. Haven't we sung this song before? As Separatist droids battle the Republic's Clones, Jedi knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) must rescue Jabba the Hutt’s kidnapped baby in order to convince the Hutt to grant the Republic access to crucial supply routes. Most of the leg work will have to be done by Anakin and his new padawan (apprentice), Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein).

Ahsoka is a Togruta, which means she has stripes and "head-tails." More importantly, she's spunky! Terrific. If only she were also interesting or likeable. The banter between Anakin and Ahsoka comes—if not from a galaxy far, far away— certainly from a long time ago. Though it's chaste, their chafing immediately signals to the audience that they're made for each other. He calls her "youngling" and, eventually "Snips" (that had critics scratching their heads); she calls him "Sky Guy." Anakin at first resists taking a padawan, but wise old Yoda (Tom Kane) knows he's ready, and that disciplining Ahsoka will result in Anakin disciplining himself.

There's the kernel of what might have been a good contribution to the Star Wars saga there, but the writers fumble it. For starters, Ahsoka is usually right and Anakin usually wrong, a notion that's endemic to the plot but remains unexplored in dramatic terms. Director Dave Filoni was no doubt too busy crafting the video-game density of the image to attend to the characters. On one hand, the film has a simple story. On the other, it has a damn complicated plot, with its ping-ponging across the galaxy and political conspiracies (the Emperor and Padmé Amidala are both here). The screenwriters' strategy is to deal with a plot point in a quick and potentially confusing way, then return to the same plot point several times bluntly to restate it for confused kids.

/content/films/3189/8.jpgThe new look, old hat approach means that The Clone Wars is for children and super-fans only. If you must go (and you know who you are), you’ll find some settings and vehicles and action that are spectacular in a claustrophobic video game way. Completists can also thrill to the vocal returns of Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, and Samuel L. Jackson. The look of the film has been described by the filmmakers as something new that's inspired by anime and Gerry Anderson's supermarionation. Those infuences are clear: in particular, the blocky, angular character designs (with waxy faces and beards that resemble slats of wood) evoke Anderson's puppets. But why computer-animate marionettes instead of people? To quote Yoda, "Greater than we think this mystery might be."

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 EX, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

Street date: 11/11/2008

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner gets dibs on the first Blu-ray release of a Star Wars title, and the resulting disc delivers the best goods possible given the mediocre movie. For starters, the AV quality is impeccable, maximizing the visual and aural sources provided by Lucasfilm. The picture looks exactly as it did when I saw it projected onto the big screen of ILM's Premiere Theater, and it goes without saying that the digital source is flawless. The colors are detail are likewise up to par; one can complain about the film's look, but not how this transfer renders it. The lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack gives the sound mix an equally accurate presentation that, while not up to the standard of a live-action Star Wars film, certainly gives a lot of oomph to what's essentially a kid's film.

Several significant bonus features are also included on the Blu-ray and DVD. Though the video version of the audio commentary is a Blu-Ray exclusive, the video commentary dubbed "A Creative Conversation" and featuring director Dave Filoni, producer Catherine Winder, writer Henry Gilroy, and editor Jason W.A. Tucker is, oddly enough, encoded in standard definition. (When the talent appears in a lower-right-hand window, the film picture shrinks up into the upper left.)

Also exclusive to Blu-ray is the Hologram Memory Challenge Game, a Star Wars version of Concentration. If one matches the Star Wars icons, one gains access to three hi-def series "sneak peek" clips.

The Behind the Story section houses "Star Wars: The Clone Wars--The Untold Stories" (24:50), previewing the new series' stories, vehicles, planets and battles; "The Voices of Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (9:59), offering side-by-side views of the studio recording sessions and final animation; "A New Score" (10:43), with composer Kevin Kiner; and a Gallery of Lucasfilm concept art.

The four Deleted Scenes (10:50) are "Through the Tanks" (:50), "Rancor Pit" (4:03), "Platform Droid Fight" (4:12), and "Cargo Bay" (1:46). Webisodes (20:59 with "Play All" option, HD) include "Introducing Star Wars: The Clone Wars," "Epic Battles," "The Clones are Coming," "Heroes," "Villains," and "Anakin's Padawan." Trailers (5:29 with "Play All" option) include "'Launch' Trailer," "'Dark' Trailer," and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars Videogame Trailer."

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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