Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Aug 20, 2008 at 12:00 am

The epic, decades-spanning Star Wars saga's the story of a daring young maverick who lashes out at the corrupt system and with his astounding gifts and compulsive drive, conquers the universe, only to begin slowly twisting it into his own dark image. But, enough about George Lucas.

Oh, sure, the director's credit belongs to Dave Filoni, but never forget that this is Lucas' empire, and The Clone Wars offers a technological advance that at last makes his creative Death Star fully operational. Finally, by going totally CGI, Lucas can spin his sparkly tales of galactic conflict without the nuisance of human actors gumming up the works. In lieu of flesh and blood we see stiff CG marionettes, who fly about the screen with dizzying, ADD swiftness but who sport faces as rigid and unchanging as action figures. It's no stretch to say that you'd probably have a better time retreating to a sandbox and playing with your old toys than enduring the sensory onslaught offered here.

The story is set between episodes II and III, in the long-discussed, never-seen nerd fantasia known as the Clone Wars. As cool as the prospect sounds, the clones are merely the Galactic Republic's army of tube-grown stormtroopers, all duplicates of an obscure Kiwi character actor, though some of them have different hair cuts for clarity's sake.

Not so clear are the arcane machinations of the war waged between a nefarious "trade federation" and the slowly crumbling Republic; as space feuds go, it's a pretty ho-hum affair, yet we get pummeled with loads of exposition about it anyway. Leading the charge for the good guys are our intrepid Jedi Knights, stalwart Obi Wan Kenobi and future cyber-goth bad-boy Anakin Skywalker; who are continually dispatched across the cosmos to put out brushfires. The mission now is to rescue the kidnapped infant son of slimy crime lord Jabba the Hutt, since his clan controls vitally important trade routes, or some such crap. Along for the ride is Anakin's newly appointed "Padawan" trainee Ashoka Tano, cheerfully voiced by teen star Ashley Eckstein. Though only a youngling, she has the enormous lips of a Bratz doll, a streetwalker's wardrobe and the snarky 'tude of a ninja turtle, incessantly referring to her boss as "Sky Guy." She's also got a nickname ready for Jabba's baby boy, she calls him "Stinky," and stench aside he's a cuddly larva with giant anime eyes, just cute enough to be turned into a plush doll, if he hasn't been already.

Hardcore fans who recoiled at the fluffy Ewoks and the clownish Jar Jar will be apoplectic watching Jedi's changing a grub's diaper, and they might just burst some blood vessels at the sight of Jabba's uncle Ziro, a shawl-wearing, flamboyant Southern queen.

At least the slapstick breaks up the action, which, though impressive and fun at first, just keeps coming at a relentless, deadening pace, as do the waves of goofy enemy droids. The battles are all incident and no consequence; we already know the fates of most characters, so the stakes are low.

Worse, there's no context, aside from a trusty Yoda cameo — no one ever mentions the Force, the soul of Star Wars, or gives us much reason to care. If you've seen one laser battle, you've seen a million, and by the time the credits roll, your battered retinas have been washed out in a near endless blur of red-and-blue neon streaks.