George Lucas was sounding pretty disenchanted about the movie business back in 2006, when he appeared at a Paley Center event celebrating his TV work.
Speaking about movies a year after his second “Star Wars” trilogy ended, Lucas said, “The risks are so high, and the odds so great, it takes the fun out of it.” By contrast, he said regarding TV, “Nobody seems to care. You just get to do whatever you want to do.”
Not everybody, of course, gets to “do whatever you want to do” in television. But Lucas — who developed his computer-animated “The Clone Wars” internally, before shopping it to other networks — did just that, and the result has been more creatively satisfying than his latest batch of prequels ever were.
Airing on Cartoon Network, “Clone Wars” has served a variety of purposes for Lucasfilm, most notably keeping the franchise alive — including the attendant merchandising — with a new generation of viewers who weren’t even dirty thoughts when “Star Wars” began.
Perhaps more significantly, “Clone Wars” — drawing from all the quadrants of the “Star Wars” universe — brought the fun back to Lucas’ creation, which, in the movies, at times came to feel like an obligation.
Not only did Lucas hand the creative reins to others, “Clone Wars'” half-hour format downplayed the clunkier aspects of the dense mythology and focused on whiz-bang action. Moreover, its anthological nature — tracking one character this week, another, maybe even more obscure, the next — enabled the producers to tell all kinds of stories, from small acts of heroism to full-scale battles to, in a few cases, comedy.
Even fans who winced through aspects of the new “Star Wars” (yes, Jar Jar Binks, this means you) found a lot to like in “Clone Wars,” despite slightly softened edges to ensure its appropriateness for a younger audience. Tellingly, beyond its central appeal to young boys, the series has averaged more than a million adult viewers over its five-year run.
As a consequence, Lucas’ exit strategy from stewarding every aspect of “Star Wars” with the sale of his company to Disney — leaving the high risk of future films to others — came with a helpful bridge, which should give the studio a good feeling about the property’s boundless future.
Granted, “Clone Wars” can’t rival a $200-million feature in terms of spectacle, and fans have waited years for Lucasfilm to follow through on stated plans to produce a live-action series.
Strictly from a narrative standpoint, though, an animated series many no doubt viewed as the next best thing has, at times, actually seemed like the better one.
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