Clone Wars: It’s all about expectations

I saw Star Wars: The Clone Wars today. Not because I’m such a huge Star Wars fan because… I’m not. Sure I’ve enjoyed getting swept up in the (largely unfulfilled) hype of the release of the prequels, but to be honest, I just wasn’t into it that much as a kid. I was too young when A New Hope Star Wars came out. I did see The Empire Strikes Back on the big screen and while my memories of life at 6 are fuzzy, I do remember enjoying it, even if I didn’t really get it, much less get why people were totally obsessed with it. And of course I saw Return of the Jedi too, by then, at age 9, old enough to get swept up in my friends’ excitement. But let’s face it, Jedi kind of sucked, and it was more a foretaste of what was to come than a grand last hurrah for the old series.

Although initially excited by the first previews I saw in theaters several months ago, by now I had grown deeply wary of this new installment. Reviews ranged from scathing to… well, even more scathing. But I have a 5 1/2-year-old son, and he’s loved Star Wars since almost before he could talk, so I had to take him to see it. Three things struck me most about the film, two as I watched it and one only just now as I’m writing this:

  1. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it to be. Which is not to say it was great, but I managed to avoid falling asleep, and not just because it was so loud.
  2. Rather than sticking out as a pathetic piece of garbage in contrast with the glory of the six live-action films, it revealed how truly ordinary and not spectacular the live-action films are. The first may have been revolutionary in 1977, and Empire may have been the real masterpiece of the series in 1980, but honestly, this franchise was great for four years and has now sucked ass for a quarter of a century.
  3. My son is now about the same age as I was when I first saw Empire in the theater. Empire was my cinematic introduction to the Star Wars universe, and his was… this. At least neither of us had to suffer Jar Jar Binks. Or Ewoks.

I’m a little surprised at just how negative the reviews are, honestly. This is no great cinematic work, but it’s not complete garbage. It’s not the worst film of the year. From what I’ve heard it’s not even the worst space-themed animated feature film of the year, but then again I don’t know anyone who’s actually seen Space Chimps, so who knows?

Apparently it’s all just a set-up for the animated series coming to Cartoon Network this fall, and that makes sense. I was somewhat surprised by the relatively low quality of both the animation and the off-brand voice acting, but if this is really designed to pump kids up — and establish their expectations — for something they’ll be seeing every week on TV, it’s good to have a little truth in advertising. Funny though that Sam Jackson and Christopher Lee voiced their own characters. I can see Mace Windu having little to no role in the series, but Dooku’s pretty central to the story. We’ll have to see what happens in the fall.

The most jarring thing for me was the music. Much of it was recycled from the films, but there was also a lot of worldbeat electronica and occasional rock themes (granted, it was Moody Blues-esque rock-with-orchestra, but there was still a driving rock beat). I know Lucas carefully chose to go with 100% orchestral “classical” style music for the films to give them a timeless quality, but it does seem that this new animated direction is… well, just that, a new direction.

Recommended for die hard (and I mean really die hard) Star Wars fans and… um… their parents.