Shiny Shelf

Star Wars: Clone Wars

By Lance Parkin on 20 November 2003

Last Sunday (17 November 2003) was the Lucasian Equinox – exactly 549 days since the release of Episode 2 and 549 days until the release of ‘Star Wars: Episode III’. The gap is being filled by the usual mix, and mixed bag, of toys, books, games and comics. Perhaps the most ambitious, or at least the most novel, is the ‘Clone Wars’ animated series.

A throwaway line in the first/fourth ‘Star Wars’ movie, the clone wars are being depicted across a full range of Star Wars spin off type stuff. It means that if you pick up a copy of the ‘Star Wars: Republic’ comic, or the right video games or books, then you’ll be getting a consistent vision of what happened.

The ‘Clone Wars’ cartoon, shown in the UK on cable/satellite channel Toonami, is the centrepiece of this and is good stuff. The first thing to note, though, is that it’s short – 3 minutes, including brief opening titles and a recap of the previous episode. This isn’t the place for character development. The brevity makes it feel rather like one of those three panel newspaper strips. It gets going, one thing happens, it stops. It feels like it’s intended for webcast, and without a Jacksonesque re-edit and splicing in of new material for the DVD version, it’s going to seem a little scrappy viewed in one go. But within a couple of episodes the makers have got the hang of it, and episodes like Episode 6 and 8 are beautifully-structured and jampacked with loveliness.

It’s top notch stuff. The design work, wisely, goes for the strengths of modern American TV animation – it looks like ‘Samurai Jack’, unsurprisingly, as it’s made by the same people. Some of the familiar characters are spot on – Amidala, Yoda and Dooku look great. Some are not so good – Obi Wan looks like he’s being played by Robin Cook. The designers have struggled with Anakin, and ended up abandoning the boybander for a scowling, rather unappealing look. The real strength, though, is the new design work. The clone pilots, who resemble the TIE pilots from the original series; walking undersea cannons that scuttle like crabs; a whole division of IG-88 type robots who joust on speeder bikes. A lot of spin-off design work feels derivative or second-rate but the work here is at least as good as the design work in the films themselves, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

Only Anthony Daniels reprises his role – the other voicework has been done by various people who (unless I’m mistaken) have contributed to the various video games over the years. It’s very difficult to avoid comparisons, and unfortunately, they aren’t favourable. Christopher Lee, to pick one example, has a very distinctive voice. So, of course, do Ewan MacGregor, Frank Oz and Samuel L Jackson. The voice artists here aren’t going for an impersonation – at least they’ve landed so far away that I presume they haven’t – but they haven’t reinterpreted the roles sufficiently or brought any weight of their own to play. Normally, I’m all for voice artists doing voice work, rather than celebrity casting in animation, but here it’s a little too bland, and you can’t help but regret that the original cast wasn’t available.

There isn’t a great deal of dialogue, though – this is a series about showing hardware whizzing around and smashing into things. And it’s compelling viewing. It passes a test very few ‘Star Wars’ spin offs do – it feels ‘Star-Wars-y’. It has the ambition, the sense of scale. Like ‘Star Wars’, beautifully-designed characters, hardware and places are thrown at your eyes at roughly the rate of one every three seconds. The new characters fit into the mix perfectly.

This is a great addition to the ‘Star Wars’ canon. There’s a lot of ‘expanded universe’ stuff out there, and most of it is derivative and disposable, feeding off what we know rather than adding to it. ‘Clone Wars’ is in that elite group that includes the ‘Jedi Knight’ games, ‘Rogue Planet’ and the ‘Empire’ comic – it’s a great ‘Star Wars’ story that uses the medium well, and only adds to the mythology.

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By Lance Parkin

Lance Parkin writes lots of things, including a biography of Alan Moore that's due out late next year. Find out more at his website.

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