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Categories: Features

Matthew Wilson looks back at one of the oddest ducks of one of the oddest franchises, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to see how it fits in.

The Star Wars Universe is a vast, and often dense, place; with each and every character carrying their own detailed backstory and, with Disney taking over the Star Wars name. A lot of those histories, which have become loved and respected by the fan community, have been pushed into the non-canon series known as ‘Legends’. But, while most people know that the cinematic Episodes are canon, what many might not know is that the animated Clone Wars series and its sequel, Rebels, are both canon within the Star Wars universe. Being used to bring back a lot of the favoured elements of the Legends source; including The Inquisitors, The Grey Jedi Code and the infamous Grand Admiral Thrawn.

The animated series has become one of Star Wars’ most popular elements. But, considering their beginnings with The Clones Wars movie, it’s amazing we got anything at all.

The movie is essentially a rushed backdoor pilot for the Clone Wars series, consisting of three episodes merged together into feature length and it’s painfully obvious. The first third sets up the main characters but has nothing to do with the rest of the film, which follows Anakin and Obi-Wan on the search for Jabba The Hutt’s kidnapped son. Considering the amount of ridicule Star Wars gets for its overblown marketing, forcing together three separate episodes of a TV show for the sake of a theatrical release is a special kind of silly. Though, considering it made $68 Million on an $8 Million budget, I’m not sure who the fools really are.

Being rushed also hurt the animation with the human characters looking too wooden and jagged to be realistic and the action scenes being monotonous and repetitive with absolutely no energy. You don’t ask for the film to completely match the live-action for intensity but they could have at least given it a shot. To go back to that $8 Million price tag, regular animated films cost upwards of about $30 Million and you can see every cut corner and skipped phase of development.

So the story is a mess and the animation choppy. Does this film do anything right? Well, for one thing, it’s always nice to see these characters again. There’s a definite toning down of certain elements with Anakin’s temptation to the dark side not even being touched upon, instead he plays the reluctant teacher to new character Ahsoka Tano.

For those of you who don’t know, Ahsoka is one of the breakout characters of the Clone Wars series. Developing from a wide-eyed apprentice into a warrior of the rebellion. Eventually choosing her own path, away from the Jedi and the Sith, after seeing the faults on both sides.

Her addition to the series also benefits Anakin’s character by giving him a foil to work against, bridging the gap between apprentice and mentor that he struggled to find with Obi-Wan. The relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka becomes one of the driving points of the film and, eventually, The Clone Wars and Rebels series’; which allows both of them to mature and paints Anakin in a better light than what the prequel trilogy offered.

Mostly though, the film is absolutely harmless. It focuses on a more kid-friendly tone, which is to its detriment considering how little the series would come to rely on that once it became its own thing. Unlike moments in the prequel trilogy, which manage to do a lot more damage with a lot less effort, The Clone Wars at least keeps itself simplified within its own universe. Yes, it’s connected to the main series but you could watch them both separately and not lose anything.

As of right now, The Clone Wars sits at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. Making it the lowest-rated Star Wars production ever, with even the dreaded Holiday Special gaining a higher result. (Though, in fairness, with significantly fewer reviews.) And I think that’s unfair.

For all the film’s problems, taken as the beginning episodes of the show, it’s got enough to pull fans in. I know they say if a book doesn’t grab you by the first chapter you probably won’t enjoy it but The Clone Wars is the best example I’ve found of: “It gets better later.” The growth it’s managed to make, once it developed into its own creature (even more so with Rebels), has allowed it to become one of the hidden gems of the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

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Posted on May 18, 2017

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