Here’s what movie critic Owen Gleiberman had to say about Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie when it came out:
It’s hard to tell the droids from the Jedi drones in this robotic animated dud, in which the George Lucas Empire Strikes Back—at the audience. What wears you out is Lucas’ immersion in a Star Wars cosmology that has grown so obsessive-compulsively cluttered yet trivial that it’s no longer escapism; Because this movie has bad lightsaber duels and the lack of the original cast, it’s something you want to escape from.
I’ll give Mr. Gleiberman points for snark and allow him to end a sentence with a preposition. But, I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t a real Star Wars fan.
I’m not the biggest fan of the prequel trilogy either. I decided to watch the Clone Wars movie prior to beginning my first-time (mostly) viewing of the animated series. Until I looked up its Wikipedia page, I didn’t even know that this had been a theatrical release. It came out around the same time as Tropic Thunder and The Dark Knight in August 2008.
This movie was considered by many to be the first Star Wars bomb. It was made on a budget of $8.5 million, and earned $68.2 million worldwide, with an additional $23.4 million in DVD sales. Every studio should be so lucky to bomb this spectacularly.
However, if I were looking at this as a theatrical release, I would probably be disappointed as well. Instead, I consider this to be exactly what it was, an introduction to the animated series. Seen through this particular lens, on my computer screen, it’s not bad. Not spectacular, certainly, and maybe not great. But, it’s not bad. It’s even better if you think of it as several TV episodes woven together in an effort to make a quick buck. That’s what it was, you know. And, it did.
The movie divides itself neatly into distinct acts, which were probably the original episodes. The first part is Ahsoka’s first adventure with Anakin Skywalker as his padawan, in which they worked together to take down an enemy shield and allow Obi-Wan Kenobi and the clone army to defeat their attackers. This takes up the first 27 minutes or so of the movie. Then, the rest of the plot involves rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s infant son, and then getting the son back to Jabba without being stopped by Count Dooku. That had to be two episodes, maybe three.
A good story, with a satisfying resolution. Maybe not something that would compel me to drive to the movie theater to plunk down cash to see, but I didn’t do that. Therefore, I was pleased with the movie overall.
The character design was based, at least in part, on the old 1960s British series Thunderbirds, as well as paying homage to Japanese manga and anime. I liked the design. Realistic 3D computer animation never manages to look real enough. Going the stringless marionette route was somehow an improvement, all the while maintaining the Star Wars aesthetic. The main characters were certainly recognizable from the live-action movies, while having a stylized appearance that makes them unique to the animated series. The characters almost appear to have been carved out of wood. That sounds like a criticism, I know, but I liked it. The prequels themselves were so CGI heavy that the rest of the movie seems mostly indistinguishable from the live-action ones. The way the scenes are framed even feels as if there’s an actual camera capturing the shots.
I think it helps that a lot of years have now passed between me and the prequels. I enjoyed this movie considerably. I’m not so sure that would have been true if I had seen this right after Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
I’m going to close with a couple of notes I jotted down while watching the movie. They add nothing at all to this review, but they may provide some insight into my thought processes.
Dooku’s apprentice, Asajj Ventress, reminds me of T’Pol on Enterprise. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Star Trek recently. Just sayin’.
Favorite lines so far: (at 45:17) “This smells like Count Dooku to me.” And (at 52:35), “Great. Rolling death balls.” Tell me that they weren’t having fun in the writers’ room.
I thought Anakin was referring to Ashoka as “Nips” for half the movie. He’s saying “Snips.” Still not sure what it means, but I feel a little less dirty now.