clone-wars1In 2005 George Lucas announced that Revenge of the Sith would be the last Star Wars movie. After six films with a combined box office upwards of 4 billion dollars and an ancillary industry that spawned novels, toys, television shows, video games, web sites, (including the awesome Wookiepedia) and comic books it seemed the franchise had come to an end. “The circle,” as Darth Vader said in the original film, “was complete.”

Complete maybe, but not quite done.

Like Luke Skywalker, Lucas cannot escape his destiny, which is, apparently to crank out Star Wars movies until the intergalactic cows come home. Star Wars: The Clone Wars began life as a television series but soon was expanded and blown up for the big screen to become the first ever animated Star Wars film to open in theatres.

On the Star Wars time line the new one fits between Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Call it Episode 2 ½–apparently Lucas is no longer content to with whole numbers, and now has to resort to fractions to stretch the story out. When the unnecessarily complicated tale begins the Clone Wars between the Confederacy of Independent Systems and the Galactic Republic are underway. The situation is made more complicated and treacherous after Jabba the Hutt’s son is kidnapped by a band of rebels. Jedi masters Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) are sent to rescue the Hutt-let and find out who is behind the abduction. Aiding them is Anakin’s apprentice, a precocious youngster named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Soon they will battle the real evil, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and his minions Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) and General Grievous (Matthew Wood) who are plotting to start a three way war between the Galactic Republic, the Confederacy of Independent Systems and the Hutts.

The first thing you notice about Star Wars: The Clone Wars is stilted animation. The press notes say that director Dave Filoni didn’t want to do photo realistic animation, but his choice to employ video game styled figures whose lips don’t even move in time with the words they are saying may have gone a bit too far in the opposite direction. Attention seems to have been paid to the backgrounds and battle scenes, but the characters—both humanoid and alien—are so wooden they make Hayden Christensen’s Skywalker look positively relaxed. Bad girl and Dark Jedi Asajj Ventress is nicely realized and suitably evil looking, but the story’s supreme bad guy, the fallen Jedi Count Dooku, looks more a like a fit and trim wood carving of Santa Claus (with a beard made of icing) than a Machiavellian mastermind who could control the universe.

Stylistically the movie borrows from a variety of inspirations including anime, manga and even the Supermarionation of Thunderbirds Are Go but this mixed bag fails to impress the eye. Visually it’s all a bit ho-hum and doesn’t approach the interest or beauty of Pixar’s WALL-E which has become the benchmark if animated sci fi.

Next you’ll be baffled by the story which makes little or no sense for the first thirty minutes or so, although, to be fair, once the movie focuses on the kidnapping and rescue the plot haze does lift somewhat but its too little too late. The beauty of the original Star Wars trilogy was its simplicity. You had good versus evil, some romance and cool effects. Once Lucas introduced trade disputes and Clone Wars the movies became too complicated and lost much of the humor and color that made the originals sparkle. Star Wars: The Clone Wars suffers from inheriting the incomprehensible story lines of Episodes II (my vote for the worst movie of the entire series) and III.

Finally, if you’re still in the theater you will be struck by the dialogue. And not in a good way. This is the real Jar Jar Binks-ation of the franchise. I can only assume that the three writers who worked on the screenplay—Lucas isn’t credited as a writer, he has a “characters and universe” credit—were aiming at a younger audience but the painfully childish dialogue between Anakin and Ahsoka is so predictable and trite that I can’t even imagine tweens buying into it. Dialogue has long been a problem in these movies—Harrison Ford allegedly told Lucas, “You can type this s***, George, but you sure can’t say it,” during the production of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope—but this one plumbs new depths.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars does have some cool moments which will please hard core Star Wars fans—Anakin leading a vertical assault on a temple for example—but is a disappointing addition to the Star Wars catalog.