Star Wars: The Clone Wars

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" will serve its purpose as a quick fix for die-hard fans who simply can't wait for the new Cartoon Network show to debut on Oct. 3.

Christian Slater and Joshua Jackson

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” will serve its purpose as a quick fix for die-hard fans who simply can’t wait for the new Cartoon Network show to debut on Oct. 3. This first theatrical production from Lucasfilm Animation purportedly reps a synthesis of the series’ first three episodes — 30 installments are finished and at least 100 are planned — and there’s little doubt this stuff will look more at home on the tube than it does on the bigscreen, since one thing is for sure: This isn’t the “Star Wars” we’ve always known and at least sometimes loved. Young kids will constitute the biggest audience for this Warner Bros. release — it’s downright weird not to see the Fox logo on a “Star Wars” feature — while devotees old enough to have seen the originals on their first go-round will likely wait to check out this strip-mining of one of the cinema’s most enduring mother lodes at home.

Series trivia freaks will note that the clone wars were glancingly referred to in the very first “Star Wars” film, but didn’t really come up again until “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.” Conflicts in question were set in the three-year period between the events of that film and “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” and resulted in the long-standing Republic coming under the increased control of the Separatists to become an empire.

One could say that excluding them from the bigscreen “Star Wars” saga was the equivalent of writing the history of the United States and leaving out the Civil War. The omission, however, left Lucas and his cohorts with the opportunity to invent a virtually endless array of battles, which is what “Clone Wars” mostly consists of: a little exposition, an invasion; some more exposition, a light saber fight; a bit more blah-blah, a spaceship dogfight, and on and on.

Leaving behind the traditional animation employed on the three-season, similarly combat-oriented “Star Wars: Clone Wars” series aired on the Cartoon Network 2003-05, Lucas & Co. here employ a computer-generated anime/manga style that results in somewhat more dramatic compositions and color schemes. But the movements, both of the characters and the compositions, look mechanical, and the mostly familiar characters have all the facial expressiveness of Easter Island statues.

Given that the Anakin-into-Darth Vader story arc has been milked for all it’s worth, Dark Side villainy is here assumed by the estimable Count Dooku, all of whose energies are devoted to expanding the influence of the Separatists and the power of the droid army. Happily, Christopher Lee was induced to return to endow the role with his inimitable basso inflections, providing one of the film’s greater pleasures.

Less crucially, Samuel L. Jackson and the perennial Anthony Daniels voice their original roles of Mace Windu and C-3PO, respectively. Most of the other voicings are OK — the declamatory dialogue makes few demands — but Frank Oz is sorely missed as Yoda, whose replacement, Tom Kane, sounds little like him.

With the droid armies on the move, young Anakin Skywalker is paired with a foxy, red-skinned, blue-eyed, Egyptian-style teenager, Ahsoka Tano. This previously (if briefly) seen subject of Queen Padme learns on the job as Anakin takes on a videogame’s worth of adversaries while attempting to find, then return, the kidnapped infant son of the infamous Jabba the Hutt.

The expansion of the Hutt clan reps the script’s most diverting aspect. The mere idea of the corpulent, nasty old Jabba fathering a sprig is itself amusing, and the offspring, variously referred to as Rotta the Huttlet and Stinko, resembles a wriggling turnip with eyes. Dooku manipulates Jabba and his relative Ziro, imaginatively etched as a melodramatic Southern queen, into believing the Jedi mean to betray the Hutts, and sends a stealthy assassin, the sleek Asajj Ventress, to take out Anakin.

With his sculpted beard, lightsaber in hand and arm pointing forward like a Greek statue, the newly minted Obi-Wan Kenobi looks like he belongs in “300” rather than at the controls of a spaceship.

Director Dave Filoni, who helmed the visually imaginative Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” seems at home with Lucas’ universe, which is a good thing, since he’s the supervising director of the upcoming “Clone Wars” series. One can only hope the writers find intriguing tangents and backwaters to enter as the program progresses, rather than being forced to crank out a battle-to-end-all-battles every seven minutes.

Employing a reorchestrated version of John Williams’ trademark theme at the beginning and the end, the score by new composer Kevin Kiner is never absent even for a moment; he’s tried to associate every realm depicted with its own theme, but settings come and go so quickly that nothing sticks around long enough to resonate.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

  • Production: A Warner Bros. release of a Lucasfilm production from Lucasfilm Animation. Produced by Catherine Winder. Executive producer, George Lucas. Directed by Dave Filoni. Screenplay, Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Scott Murphy.
  • Crew: (Color, Panavision widescreen); editor, Jason W.A. Tucker; music, Kevin Kiner; original "Star Wars" themes and score, John Williams; animation directors, Jesse Yeh, Kevin Jong; CG and lighting supervisor, Andrew Harris; supervising sound editor (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Matthew Wood; sound designer, David Acord; re-recording mixer, Juan Peralta; casting, Sue Blu. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Aug. 7, 2008. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 98 MIN.
  • Cast: <B>Voices:</B> Anakin Skywalker - Matt Lanter Ahsoka Tano - Ashley Eckstein Obi-Wan Kenobi/4-A7/Medical Droid - James Arnold Taylor Clone Troopers/Captain Rex/Cody - Dee Bradley Baker Yoda/Narrator/Admiral Yularen - Tom Kane Asajj Ventress/Tee-C-Seventy - Nika Futterman Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious - Ian Abercrombie General Loathsom/Ziro the Hutt/Kronos-327 - Corey Burton Padme Amidala - Catherine Taber Battle Droids - Matthew Wood Jabba the Hutt - Kevin Michael Richardson Rotta the Huttlet - David Acord Mace Windu - Samuel L. Jackson C-3PO - Anthony Daniels Count Dooku - Christopher Lee
  • Music By: