First the good news: “Clone Wars” — the “Star Wars” animated series that amounts to an “interquel” between Episodes II and III — is vastly superior to the advance theatrical movie. That’s mostly because the half-hour episodes are so jam-packed with action the clunky dialogue flies by less obtrusively, and the irritating characters have less time to annoy. Those factors suggest the program should successfully scratch an itch for movie-deprived fans and yield dividends to Cartoon Network, even if the tone hews more closely to those born after “The Phantom Menace” premiered in 1999.
Under the stewardship of director Dave Filoni, “Clone Wars” faces a delicate mission — navigating the timeline between two of the movies while using established characters (along with some new and unknown ones) whose fates have already played out.
Fortunately, the Clone Wars were full of all kinds of mayhem and heroic Jedi Knights to exploit. Visually, the series tackles that challenge with gusto — taking full advantage of impressively rich animation to mount big, splendidly realized battle sequences. This includes one of the episodes previewed, where Yoda battles impossible odds, as well as another where a less-familiar Jedi resourcefully stays alive while waiting for young Anakin Skywalker to mount a rescue.
Of course, technical wizardry has never been a problem for series steward George Lucas. His shortcomings rather have to do with a too-casual acquaintance with the written word, and a penchant for wince-inducing comedy aimed at kids.
Those drawbacks persist, among them the inept comic-relief droid soldiers and Skywalker’s teenage-girl sidekick, Ahsoka Tano, who seems to have been introduced to draw young girls into the show’s demographic tractor beam. Apparently, nobody got “The Phantom Menace” memo that the Force and adorable, scampish tykes don’t mix.
The series also grapples with some structural difficulties, inasmuch as movie heavy Count Dooku figures, prominently in the episodes — along with a cool-looking Sith apprentice, Ventress. That doesn’t do much for the suspense factor.
Speaking of marketing, the clone warriors are also a hot item with kids, and they engage in oddly existential thoughts — fretting about being second-class citizens and pointing out how expendable they are. In both of these installments, Jedi provide the soldiers with pep talks about the value of life, which is a little ironic considering the fate that awaits the Jedi order in “Revenge of the Sith.”
Ah, there I go, over-thinking such things. Enough of that. Mercifully, in “Clone Wars” you never have to wait long before something else blows up.