If Star Wars: The Clone Wars were a simple board game stacked up in a toy store aisle, the side of the box would read: "Ages 7 through Check Your Star Wars Ego at the Door." While the recent onslaught of superhero movies have brought us darker, more complex (and adult) storylines, one of our most beloved franchises has decided to travel in the opposite direction. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's actually somewhat comforting to find a film with the word 'Wars' mentioned twice in the title alone and know that it's suitable for all ages. When I first watched a Star Wars film on the big screen, my feet could barely touch the sticky theater floor -- and so if a fun-filled, action-packed animated adventure story helps usher in a whole new legion of fans -- subsequently turning younger kids on to three live-action movies that came out, like, a billion years ago -- then right friggin' on!
Almost immediately we're clued into the fact that this big-screen Star Wars flick was gift-wrapped by another department store. That classic, drum-hoppin' 20th Century Fox intro is replaced with a much more subdued Warner Bros. logo, and the film's title swings into frame accompanied by different music. In replace of the classic story scroll, we get a newsreel-esque voiceover bringing us up to date on the main characters and their current mission. No one's trying to trick us here -- this is Star Wars for the need-it-now generation, and whereas previous films seemed to spend too much time rolling around in political-speak, Clone Wars is all about the action, the battles and the cheesy one-liners.
Following the battle of Geonosis at the end of Attack of the Clones, the Jedi (and their army of clone warriors) are engaged in a full on galaxy-wide battle against the Separatists (and their massive droid army), lead by the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee reprising his role from the prequels). Anakin Skywalker's (Matt Lanter) been asked to take on a young Padawan learner named Ahsoka Tana to mentor and train, while he and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) continue to assist the clone army. Our story picks up when Jabba the Hutt's infant son is kidnapped, forcing Chancellor Palpatine (Ian Abercrombie), Yoda and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role from the prequels) to step in and help the seedy, slimy crime lord in order to obtain a safe passage through Jabba's territory moving forward.
Thus, Anakin and Ahsoka are sent to find the smelly baby slug to maintain good relations with the fat fella, while Obi-Wan goes off to fight more droids. Ah, but problems arise when Dooku and his fiery bald mistress/assistant Asajj Ventress show up to mislead Jabba and make him think the Jedi stole his baby with plans to kill it. Can Anakin and Ahsoka find the little bugger and return him safely before Dooku and Asajj can tarnish their name forever?
With Jabba the Hutt using language like "punky muffin" (everyone has a nickname in this flick), a kinda sorta girlfriend for R2D2 and the introduction of Jabba's Truman Capote-sounding, pimped-out purple feather-wearing uncle Ziro the Hutt, it's fairly obvious the film's creators are looking to have some PG-rated fun. This is the Saturday Morning Cartoon version of Star Wars, and longtime fans looking for more rain clouds and strong, revealing monologues are not going to find it here. But what director Dave Filoni and his crew bring to this film are some highly enjoyable action sequences, with battles taking place on the side of a mountain, through the darkened, disheveled streets of a fallen city and on the familiar desert sand of the planet Tattooine.
Sure, you've got lots of lasers going back and forth, however Filoni intercuts the traditional wide-angle fighting with some nice POV and OTS shots, giving the audience a chance to see what it feels like to run into battle with a group of clones. That said, when the characters aren't jumping, flipping or swinging through the air, they do come off as somewhat stiff, fake and unnatural. This was especially the case early on with scenes featuring Obi-Wan. That's not to say they don't look good; for example, Padmé Amidala looked exactly like Natalie Portman, even though her character was underused. (Good news is there's no mushy romantic subplot between Anakin and Padmé here at all.)
But that's another great aspect -- The Clone Wars, this movie, is simply a launching pad for an entire television series. So characters and storylines that could use a little more development will get their chance when the series debuts later this fall on Cartoon Network and TNT. With that in mind, Filoni was allowed to play it loose and have some fun without having to tie up every this and that. The Clone Wars is nothing but an introduction to a storybook full of those in-between-episodes characters, and if you keep the cynical, jaded, "Lucas screwed up everything!" Star Wars fanatic part of your personality away from this particular piece of entertainment, you might find some real enjoyment out of playing in this comfortable galactic sandbox with some new faces and a lot of imagination.