There's a cold hard fact to consider
when approaching this animated entry into the Star Wars canon: George Lucas has made far more money from merchandising the franchise than he has from box-office receipts. Given the child-friendly skew of the largely disappointing prequel trilogy (Episode III's Sith BBQ notwithstanding), you'd be forgiven for thinking that Lucas now makes films to sell toys rather than the other way around. Clone Wars reinforces that theory; it's a flashy-yet-empty couple of hours that acts as little more than a trailer for the upcoming Clone Wars TV series (and its advertising slots, naturally). Crucially, the Star Wars saga would lose nothing if it never existed: why bother releasing Episode 2.5 when the only gaps fans are interested in seeing filled are between the trilogies?
Right from the off, it's clear this is no ordinary Star Wars
picture. There's no 20th Century Fox fanfare and no standard opening crawl; instead, a shonky Starship Troopers-esque voiceover and montage throws us back into a galaxy far, far away. There's very little attempt to clue viewers into the situation - all you need to know is that there's a war going on, it comes in pretty colours and it's loud. Plus, of course, it's entirely digital - just as you suspected George Lucas wanted it all along. Animation is highly stylised but static and rusty; characters look like painted tin models and move awkwardly around painted locations. This is no extension of the brand: this is a facsimile of Star Wars.
The story sees Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi sent on a mission to retrieve the young son of Jabba The Hutt, dodging the attentions of Count Dooku and the dastardly Separatists. So, while Obi-Wan smarms and charms the dignitaries, Anakin takes on a female padawan named Ahsoka; a reckless youngling with no experience but plenty of teen-audience-targeted 'attitude'. In truth, there's little more than half an hour of material here, padded out with endless scenes of meaningless, danger-free clone on robot carnage. Other series characters serve as mere cameos; a late appearance by Senator Amidala feels tacked on, while Yoda - brandishing his lightsaber on the movie's poster - does nothing other than dispense his trademark backwards logic when called for. This was never intended as a Star Wars feature and it shows: it's not so much the execution of the movie that's flawed, but the concept.
It's a difficult film to enjoy. For every scene of invention - the vertical battle, complete with proto-AT-ATs scaling a cliff-face, is a joy - there's a cringeworthy counter-point. Yes, the lovey-dovey romance sub-plot is all but banished, gone the way of Jar Jar. But Anakin's teenage padawan? Just as bad. This period of the Star Wars universe should depict Skywalker's eventual slide into the dark side, not his playful banter with a junior Jedi. She calls him 'Sky-Guy', he calls her 'Snips'. They bond and share and learn. They play surrogate parents to Jabba Jr (or 'Stinky', as they lovingly dub him). What the hell is this crap? There is simply not an ounce of Darth Vader in the character, and not an inch of lasting value in the movie - you're constantly aware that Clone Wars is treading water rather than making waves.
Needless to say, the script is probably the worst yet, and from George 'you can read this shit but you sure can't say it' Lucas, that's saying something. Worse, the character lip-synching is awful and the facial animation is non existent - there's no personality behind the pixels. Only Samuel L Jackson (whore), Christopher Lee (too old to know better) and Anthony Daniels (desperate for work) turned up for vocal duties, so you're left listening to someone doing an impression of Ewan McGregor doing an impression of Alec Guinness. Like I said, it's Star Wars but not as you know it. It's a second cousin, twice removed - a bastard offspring.
Of course, we've been here before: we're used to disappointment. But even post-prequel trilogy, Clone Wars feels like a slap in the face. In ramping up everything wrong with the new movies (unconvincing synthespians, endless battle scenes) and ignoring everything that made the series great in the first place (relatable heroes, memorable villains) this feels like a Star Wars movie that wasn't made for Star Wars fans. As the new movies target younger viewers, the real fans - the ones that have remained faithful for over 30 years, putting up with revisionist horseshit, Jar Jar Binks and shameless money-grabbing - are slowly but surely being muscled out of the picture. The Clone Wars looks like Star Wars and sounds like Star Wars, but doesn't have a single midichlorian in its entire make-up. It's a film of many firsts, but few of them positive: for the first time in history, we have a Star Wars film that you won't love or hate, but one about which you just won't care less either way. Ali