Original Air Date: 15 August 2008
Written by: Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Scott Murphy
Directed by: Dave Filoni
Special Guests: Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku)
This review contains major spoilers…for a product released 3.5 years ago.
I remember it was like it was yesterday. 15 August 2008. A hot summer day in the city of Ottawa. The release date of Star Wars: The Clone Wars in the movie theatre. I was so excited. The missus didn’t want to see it with me, so I made a point to making an adventure of the evening. Went to the Famous Players Coliseum, literally the furthest Ottawa movie theatre from my apartment, but with the biggest screens. Bought a new Star Wars book at the nearby shopping mall, ate a delicious meal of fast food (I had only just graduated university and hadn’t developed much of a bank account yet), and went to see the movie.
I remember the excitement. Star Wars was returning to the big screen, in advance of the release of The Clone Wars TV series. No one knew much about the plot, except that Anakin got a Padawan. No one knew the style that the film and TV show would use; we had only seen some stills and character designs, no scenes or anything. We hadn’t heard any of the musical score at all. We fans needed to know what The Clone Wars was all about.
Upon seeing the film, feelings were divided. I loved the movie, and looked forward to the TV show, but there were problems. People knew about Ahsoka, but we didn’t know what she was like, and many were disappointed. The hardcore continuity sticklers, myself included, were upset because the timeline was being shifted around them. People were scared that their favorite Clone Wars stories from 2002-2005 were being overwritten. I was a bit worried at first, but Leland Chee had given us assurances that it all fit, and so I stopped worrying and started loving The Clone Wars.
I hoped to revisit the feelings of wonder I felt that first time I saw The Clone Wars all those years ago. My wife went out for a night on the town with her girlfriends, and I was left at home alone, with the big-screen TV, a nice bowl of homemade carrot soup with meatballs, a Captain Morgan’s & Coke, and the DVD of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (purchased on the day it was released, 11 November 2008). Life is good. The fact that I’ve seen four seasons, totaling 88 episodes of The Clone Wars TV series has undoubtedly changed my opinion of the film.
When The Clone Wars begins, everything feels a bit off for the first few seconds. This film was distributed by Warner Bros., not 20th Century Fox, and so the opening score is different. We are treated to the ever-familiar “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”, but instead of an opening crawl, we get the title card of the TV series. This threw me off the first time, but now I’m used to it. It merely solidifies the notion that The Clone Wars film is different from the remaining Star Wars movies; rather, it is a collection of episodes of the TV series (entitled The New Padawan, Castle of Deception, Castle of Doom, and Castle of Salvation). That said, as a fan of the TV show, I definitely noticed that there was no Jedi fortune cookie. Those little pieces of wisdom that preface TV episodes are fun, and I missed it here.
The general plot of the movie is rolled out quickly for us viewers, through the TV show’s newsreel-style opening and the opening scene’s dialogue. Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped by yet-unknown forces, and the Republic need to curry Jabba’s favour to use his space routes in the war. They want to send their best Jedi to rescue the young Huttlet, but Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are busy.
The visual effects of the movie are incredible. I remember being awed by the animation when I first saw the movie, but my expectations for this re-viewing were less than stellar. The movie was released almost four years ago. The visuals in Season 4 episodes are so much crisper than those in season 1. I expected the film’s CGI to appear dated. Boy was I wrong. I watched it using a DVD (the blu-ray of this film is still a bit expensive at my local shop) and it looked amazing. Maybe the visuals were a bit less crisp, and the colors a bit more pastelly, but it looked gorgeous. Facial expressions were very well animated. Little touches, like the movement of Ahsoka’s head-tails, add great realism and depth. I loved it.
Soon we visit Anakin and Obi-Wan on the planet Christophsis. They are fighting back the Separatist war machine using heavy artillery and their clone troopers. We see a variety of cool-looking droids and vehicles, most of which have been seen in earlier works. We meet Whorm Loathsom, a sinister-looking villain from a new alien race. Loathsom is the first of a variety of one-off villains that are required for an enjoyable TV show, who can be captured, killed, or otherwise defeated in one episode, as opposed to villains like Grievous, Dooku, or the Separatist leaders, who must be free and survive to Episode III.
Enter Ahsoka Tano. I didn’t know what to expect about her when I first saw her on screen in 2008. I didn’t mind her, but the fan community in general found her irritating and unnecessary. After all, there is no indication in Episode III that Anakin had had a Padawan, so why does he need one here? I didn’t like how she dressed, but I gave her a shot. Anakin having an apprentice was to be the basis of the TV show, so she can’t be all bad. In the first battle, she is petulant and whiny, and Anakin doesn’t want her around. But she seemed to get more tolerable as the movie went on. Throughout the film, she proves her mettle, like in this first battle on Christophsis, and her and Anakin have several touching moments. The bond is formed, which gets expanded in the TV show later. After having seen that relationship mature over the past four seasons, it is clear to me now that this setup worked.
By this point, we’ve heard the voices of most, but not all, of the characters. Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee have returned to voice Mace Windu and Count Dooku, but will be replaced by Terrence Carson and Corey Burton in the TV show. Anthony Daniels, as always, voices C-3PO at the end of the movie. James Arnold Taylor, who voiced Obi-Wan in the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Warscartoon, returns to voice Obi-Wan again. Catherine Taber, who has loaned her voice for video games earlier, comes to The Clone Wars to play Padmé. New actors Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, and the late Ian Abercrombie provide the voices of Anakin, Ahsoka, and Palpatine, respectively. Nika Futterman offers a new take on Asajj Ventress, sounding smoother and sexier than the 2D cartoon character voiced by Grey DeLisle. Tom Kane, Corey Burton, and Matthew Wood portray various characters throughout the film and the series. The voice actors do a wonderful job at portraying their characters. Indeed, when I read Star Wars books centered in this era, I imagine the voices of these actors, not the film actors. I love it.
With Christophsis won, Anakin and Ahsoka travel to Teth, where Jabba’s son is being held. The Republic attack on Teth is impressive. We have never seen a battle fought vertically while scaling a mountain. Ahsoka has combat skills, and is an impressive fighter in this conflict. Anakin, as ever, fights his way up with ease, and the battle is easily won. Rotta the Hutt is found and secured. But all is not as it seems. Asajj Ventress, who kidnapped the Huttlet in the first place, is hiding and waiting for the moment to strike. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is on Tatooine, notifying Jabba that his son’s return is imminent. But not all is well here, either. Dooku is mere meters away, unbeknownst to Obi-Wan (which bothers me; why couldn’t they sense each other? They are Masters of the Force!), and tries to frame the Jedi for the Huttlet’s abduction. The plot itself is a sound one. By sowing the seeds of mistrust, Dooku almost guarantees that Jabba will support the CIS. Either Ventress is able to recover Rotta and return him herself, or the Jedi bring him back instead, making it look like they captured Rotta and returned him to garner Jabba’s support. Jabba is convinced that the Jedi are the villains here. Ventress does her best to prevent Anakin and Ahsoka from escaping Teth, but the two Jedi find a freighter on a nearby landing pad and are able to escape.
Ventress has been fully redesigned for this movie and subsequent show. This was a character that I enjoyed in previous depictions, both as the realistic-looking humanoid figure with a complex backstory in the Republic comics, to the cartoony-looking but wonderfully voiced by Grey DeLisle villain from the Clone Wars microseries. Ventress has been revamped. Her skin has a purple hue, and her tattoos have been revised. She is sleeker, smoother, sexier, and more venomous than in previous incarnations. She is the femme fatale, and clearly has a past with Obi-Wan (presumably the stories from Republic). Nika Futterman provides a wonderful voice, that is less sharply evil and more subtly sinister. Her skills with a lightsaber are like previous incarnations, and her duel with Obi-Wan is epic. Their banter underlines a long shared history. I loved this Ventress the first time I saw and heard her in 2008, and having four years of episodes behind me, I love it even more. I can see the threads that lead from her film characterization through the series, culminating with the amazing Season 4 finale.
Anakin and Ahsoka are able to escape Teth and fly to Tatooine. They are shot down, and must walk to Jabba’s palace across the desert. Dooku, who has told Jabba that the Jedi killed his son and are coming to kill him, promises to kill Anakin himself. Dooku attacks Anakin, and they fight a spectacular duel. Dooku slices through Anakin’s backpack, but it was a ruse; Ahsoka has taken Rotta to Jabba’s palace. She is interrupted by some Magnaguard droids. Anakin rushes to her rescue, hoping to prevent Dooku’s droids or Jabba’s minions from killing his apprentice.
As in all Star Wars films, the musical score is incredibly important. The basic themes are derived directly from John Williams’s score for the six films. I’ll admit I was surprised and irritated the first time that I saw the movie, with the TV show’s opening theme replacing the traditional Star Wars movie intro. But re-watching now, I love the opening theme. It is reminiscent of the Star Wars movie title, but is unique and distinct to the TV series. Much of the movie uses music similar to old Star Wars tracks, but there are new elements. During certain combat sequences, a drum-and-guitar-heavy track is heard. The themes associated with Jabba and Tatooine have a distinctly East- and South-Asian feel. I honestly never noticed these subtle music cues the first time I watched the movie, but this time around, I recognized a lot of this music from the TV show. It makes The Clone Wars distinct from the movies, and offers great variability among the music pieces available for use, allowing for creative music to go with truly exotic locales; music that would be inappropriate in the main Star Wars films. The music bothered me when I first saw the movie years ago, but I love it now.
Back on Coruscant, Senator Padmé Amidala gets wind of the trouble in which Anakin has found himself. She pays a visit to Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s uncle, who runs a club downtown. Ziro appears to be distraught after the kidnapping of his nephew’s son, and rejects Padmé’s requests to negotiate. But Padmé is not convinced. She sneaks around the club and finds Ziro communicating with Count Dooku. He is behind Rotta’s abduction, and presumes that a wrathful Jabba will kill Anakin Skywalker, and the Republic will bring him to justice, allowing Ziro to take over Jabba’s position as leader of the Hutt clans, and will allow Dooku use of Hutt spacelanes, a brilliant if convoluted plan. Padmé is found out and is locked away, but she manages to signal C-3PO for help. Clone troopers come to the rescue, and Ziro is apprehended. Padmé contacts Jabba, allowing Ziro to confess. The Jedi are freed, and they vow to bring Dooku to justice for his crimes. The film ends with a view of the main cast, like the end of Episode IV, as they prepare to fly away to fight new battles yet to air….
I won’t mince words: Ziro is terrible. His voice, made to resemble Truman Capote, is inappropriate for either a Hutt or a villain. He is bright purple, with fluorescent yellow tattoos. Ziro is generally unlikeable. I was shocked by that voice when I first saw the film, and still don’t like it. Thankfully, Ziro is featured very little in the TV show, and meets a very appropriate end in Season 3.
I loved watching this movie in 2008. New Star Wars, with a great story, beautiful animation, a talented voice cast, and loads of potential. Re-watching it again, after years of that potential bourgeoning into an amazing TV series, was a fun experience.
I hope to continue reviewing episodes of The Clone Wars this summer, with Andy’s column, Expanding the Clone Wars, following my reviews. In an effort to review as much of the series as possible before Season 5 premieres, I will review by arcs, not episodes. See you then!