In 2003, the Star Wars franchise was between instalments. Attack of the Clones had been released the previous year and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that Revenge of the Sith hit theatres. To fill in the gap and explore the legendary Clone Wars first mentioned in 1977’s A New Hope, Lucasfilm hired animator Genddy Tartakovsky to create an animated miniseries. Tartakovsky was well known, and well respected, for his television show Samurai Jack, the gritty tone and stylised animation of which can be found in abundance with Clone Wars.
The show aired on The Cartoon Network (later just Cartoon Network) during advertisement breaks with each of the first 20 episodes (series 1 and 2) running at just three minutes in length. The final five episodes (series 3) would get their own allotted time slot as they were upped in length to twelve minutes each. This meant that, in total, the entire show ran at just over two hours long, effectively giving us a feature length film between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Star Wars: The Clone Wars was created as part of the main canon, with some elements even getting a mention in the novelisation of Revenge of the Sith such as series villain Asajj Ventress. To me, this series is still one of the finest pieces of storytelling and animation that Lucasfilm have ever given us, but there is now a new canon Clone Wars where this show once stood.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a 2008 computer animated film that follows Anakin Skywalker and his newly assigned Padawan Ashoka Tano as they attempt to retrieve the kidnapped son of crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Along the way, they and Obi Wan Kenobi must survive attacks and treachery from the Sith Lord Count Dooku and his apprentice Asajj Ventress. Asajj is one of the few elements carried over from the 2003 miniseries, along with the general character designs and several members of the voice cast. The most prominent returns in terms of voice acting are James Arnold Taylor as Obi Wan and Tom Kane as Yoda. They would return again for the television show, of which this film was the backdoor pilot. As far as pilots go, this one is pretty good, although it isn’t perfect.
I’ve now watched The Clone Wars several times and each time I soften to it a little bit more. Before viewing it for this piece, I remember not being fond of it and thinking that it may be the worst of all the films in the franchise, however I was definitely being overly critical of it. There are critiques to be made for sure, but there is also plenty to enjoy. The soundtrack by composer Kevin Kiner really sets this film apart from the others, with its use of less common instruments like Dudukes and Ouds, and mid-2000s vibe. The oft-used John Williams theme is sampled for the opening and end credits, but the rest of the score is purely Kevin. The voice cast all give great performances too, whether it’s newcomers like James Arnold Taylor and Tom Kane or returning voices like Samuel L Jackson and Sir Christopher Lee. Whilst the animation itself comes across like computer game graphics, the backgrounds are gorgeous and clearly inspired by the concept art of long-time Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie. Probably my favourite element of The Clone Wars is its addition to the ever-expanding Star Wars lore.
The lore of the Star Wars franchise is a marvellous but fickle thing. Between the small retcons here and there, like the 2003 miniseries, there are brand new additions which continue to be beloved by fans. There’s an abundance of those additions here, which will later be vastly expanded by the 7 series long run of the show that follows. Asajj Ventress is a phenomenal villain who is both vengeful and skilled whilst still living in perpetual fear of disappointing her master. Ashoka Tano is, as the film points out, a lot like Anakin with her cocky attitude and secretly caring nature, whilst also being intuitive. These two master/student pairings are fascinating to watch and compare. The film also introduces us to the immensely likable, and later fan-adored, Clone Captain Rex as well as the simple humour of the Separatist Battle Droids, and the previously unseen members of the Hutt clan. Whilst the show really takes its time to explore all of these elements, the film does a fantastic job of introducing the concepts.
However, my criticisms come with the story itself. We start off with a 20 minute long battle between the Droid and Clone Armies, which is great fun, before rescuing Jabba’s son, which is fine, before getting a B-Plot with Padmé in the final act which feels a little unnecessary. I feel like the plot should be building to something instead of starting on a high before sort of dwindling. The character interactions and action sequences are enough to keep the film intriguing, but I wish that the main plot was a little stronger. The B-Plot with Padmé feels like less of a “twist” and more of a “snap” despite the character being really likable. Ideally this B-Plot would have been present from the very beginning of the film ,or not present at all, which would have allowed us more time with characters or fights. This sidequest also introduces us to Jabba’s uncle Zirro the Hutt who is painfully queer-coded. It only becomes a major issue throughout the television show’s run, but I’m still not a fan of it here. He is literally the only Hutt, as far as we know, who speaks English, and they gave him a feminine voice with a lisp, which makes the queer-coding feel almost intentional. It kind of sucks to be honest.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, for the time being, is the last of the canonical Star Wars films to be reviewed and the reasoning is that it doesn’t really fit. I could have done this entire franchise in order, but I made the conscious decision to do the mainline Skywalker Saga, before doing the off-shoots, before doing this one. Part of that is that I already had those first 6 films ready to go, but part of it is also because they are the “most important” to the Star Wars story I suppose. If you’re watching everything in this franchise in chronological order, then you’re following this with the television show, but if you’re sticking to the films then you’re following it with Revenge of the Sith– providing a severe disconnect. Firstly, this is the only animated feature in the (currently) 12 film line-up that consists of live-action films. Secondly, the story doesn’t pick up or end in a convenient place. There’s no clear indication of the presumable time jump that happens after Attack of the Clones, and the film ends open-ended so as to provide a launching point into the story of the television show. This isn’t to say that the film is bad, because I don’t think it is, it’s just that because of the way in which the film is constructed you are kind of required to watch the show before Revenge of the Sith. That show is excellent and leads perfectly into that film, but in terms of a “Movies Only” marathon, the Tartakovsky show, despite being non-canon, just fits better. As always, the choice of how you handle viewing this film and the franchise around it is entirely up to you.
May the Force Be With You…