movie review: clone wars (spoiler-free)

Imagine you’ve just suffered through the worst possible three-course dinner; the salad was soggy, the appetizer cold and the main course was a dry, burnt, flavorless steak. As you force yourself to finish chewing that last bit of gristle (after all, you were hungry), you happily put the fork down, toss your napkin on the plate and just thank god that it’s finally over. You look forward to spending the rest of the night at home, snuggling up with a nice, smooth, pink bottle of Peptol Bismol. Suddenly the host reappears with yet another covered tray and proudly proclaims, “dessert!” You slump back in your chair, prepared for the worst. The cover is lifted up and what do you see? Twinkies! You happily pick up one of the spongy, yellow treats and scarf it down with glee, savoring every bite and thrilled as can be that it wasn’t yet another failed attempt by the host to reach beyond his means. And, ladies and gentlemen, that’s the best way I can describe Clone Wars – a much welcome Twinkie.

 The biggest hurdle faced by Clone Wars is us – the audience. Bitter Star Wars fans, who have just barely gotten over their disappointment with the prequels (and are still fuming over Crystal Skull) are going to march into the theater with their sleeves rolled up, frowns locked in place and say, “ok, show us this stinking pile of shit now so we can get it over with and go back to hating George Lucas.” People have accepted that the father has lost touch with his own creation and are resigned to the fact that, from here on in, it’s just all going to suck.

I should know – that was me on Sunday as the lights went down at the Egyptian in Hollywood.



I think part of me still harbors so much resentment for seeing Star Wars (and therefore my childhood) go down in smoke with the prequels, I almost want everything George does to be bad so I can keep hating him for it. And so, while watching Clone Wars, I paid extra special attention to all the moments that bugged me, annoyed me and were just plain stupid.

And as I left the theater, smug that I hadn’t been disappointed by a great movie, my friends and I began to go over the laundry list of things that made us roll our eyes and want to barf.

But you know what? There weren’t that many of them!  Make no mistake, Clone Wars still contains some of the cliches and dramatic clumsiness we have come to know and (not) love from Star Wars of late – but much less of it. In fact, the ERPM rate of this movie (that’s Eye Rolls Per Minute) had dropped to a rate well below that of the prequels. The greatest offender to me – out of place, cringe-inducing slapstick humor – takes up less than a minute of screen time (and mostly involves Battle Droids).

Not bad for a Star Wars movie these days!

One of the primary reasons the Phantom Edits of Episodes One and Two work so much better is because most of these bits – the little moments so awful they take you out of the movie – have been removed, allowing you to stay focused on the story and characters. If you’re listening to a CD and it keeps skipping, no matter how much you want to enjoy it, you can’t – that little annoyance keeps preventing you from getting lost in the music. Once the CD has been cleaned, even if it’s not a great album, at least getting through it uninterrupted will let you appreciate what’s there.

Out of the gate, Clone Wars has far fewer of these moments, allowing you to actually get immersed in the film and enjoy it at whatever level it deserves. Personally, I think it’s mediocre movie, but without so much crap constantly being thrown at you, it’s at least consistently  mediocre. That may not sound like a glowing review, but guess what? We haven’t had a consistently mediocre Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi! 



But let’s be honest, the script is only half the reason we go to a movie like this. We’re also there to see ion cannons on auto-fire and big things go boom, and on this level Clone Wars does not disappoint. I don’t care what anyone else tells you, the computer-generated animation fucking rocks (hats off to not only the key Lucasfilm artists, but the brand new sweat shop animation studio in Singapore).

Not that I’m the end-all-be-all judge of these things, but please remember, I’ve been working in CGI for over fifteen years now. My tastes may not be the same as everyone, but bad CGI, no matter how subtle, leaps off the screen and stabs me in the eyes.

But Clone Wars looks great. The models, texturing, lighting, camera work and effects are top-notch, and not once (and I mean not once) were my professional sensibilities molested by a moment that made me so much as raise an eyebrow (ok, the much-ballyhooed character design is a little stiff, but once you get ten minutes into the movie you just accept it and move on).

I’d go as far to say that some of the action sequences (notably the opening scene and the ascent up the cliff), both conceptually and in execution, beat just about anything we saw in the prequels. The previous films had battles that were so chaotic and packed with hardware you just couldn’t focus on anything; in Clone Wars, we get a chance to really see what some of those ships and vehicles can do and actually appreciate the design and functionality. For the first time since the original trilogy, some of the hardware is actually memorable!

One of the reasons we were let down by each prequel was their failure to meet our expectations: a great movie telling the story of galactic struggle and epic tragedy on a grand, sweeping scale. On the other hand, Clone Wars does not have to shoulder that burden – the epic story, no matter how poorly, has been told. It’s done. Now we’re just filling in blanks with some basic, good guys VS bad guys action in a TV show for tweens, with just enough plot and character interplay to keep the story moving.

And speaking of this movie’s target audience, please, please, please remember – while the prequels may have only seemed  that way, Clone Wars  actually is  aimed at a younger audience.  Just as you wouldn’t watch an animated Batman episode expecting the dramatic complexity of Dark Knight, Clone Wars should be viewed in the same light.

George may have failed to deliver on his promise of a five-star culinary masterpiece, but now he just wants you to enjoy a box of Twinkies. Remember those? As long as you know what’s in the box and what to expect, a Twinkie can be really, really good.

When it comes to Clone Wars, I think those who will enjoy it most are those who will heed the words of a very wise, old green guy: you must unlearn what you have learned.



IMPORTANT UPDATE If you’re going to eat a Twinkie, you should be made aware of the ingredients: Enriched Wheat Flour, Corn Syrup, Anakin Skywalker, Ben Kenobi, Yoda, Mace Windu, Cullulose Gum, Amidala, Jabba the Hutt, Soy Lecithin, Wheat Gluten, R2D2, C3PO, Palpatine, Sorbic Acid and Various Clones.  NO MSG, JAR JAR OR GENERAL GREVIOUS WAS USING IN THE MAKING OF THIS PRODUCT! 



  CLICK HERE to see pictures from the Hollywood premiere of Clone Wars

Want to see some hot Lightsaber action?  Check THIS out!

In the mood for some Star Wars and other sci-fi dance music?  Listen to THIS

Rare Star Wars pictures and some amusing tidbits can be found HERE



18 Responses to “movie review: clone wars (spoiler-free)”

  1. August 14, 2008 at 6:31 am

    Great review! To be honest, I really wasn’t very interested in seeing this newest installment. But I have to say…I think I might just have to check this one out now. Thanks!

  2. August 14, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Mojo, your words have given me a little bit more hope and much more impetus to spend the $10.50 on a movie ticket for the Clone Wars. However, I do have one question—the one that had me shaking my fists at the heavens the hardest when I heard that The Clone Wars would become a movie: how much does this steer away from the Clone Wars envisioned by Gendy Tartatovsky?
    I was blown away by the micro-episodes that premiered on Cartoon Network—the artwork was fun, dark at times, the voicing bettered some of the prequel actors, and it was presented in 5-minute clips that made the stories digestable. Then I see the adverts for the new movie, I see some familiar faces, and the creation of a new one (this Ahsoko person?).
    I’ve been puzzled why this is being marketed as “the answer to what happened between II and III” when they’ve had something that attempted to tell those stories.
    Wondering if you had any thoughts on it.
    Regardless, your posts are fantastic. I look forward to reading more about your adventures and opinions.

    If only you said Clone Wars was like a Ring Ding. Twinkies are cool, but I’m a bigger fan of trashy chocolate cake and cream.

    -Mr. B

  3. August 14, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Thanks for the great review, Darth — as a 30-year SW fan, you nailed exactly how I’ve felt about the prequels and George during the past few years (although Ep. 3 kinda salvaged things). It feels weird to have zero excitement about this movie, but now I think we’ll give it a shot. The visuals do look really cool, so it’s nice to read that you were impressed.

  4. August 14, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Well, you give me hope. I think I’ll go check it out this weekend. I do enjoy twinkies.

  5. August 14, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Thanks, DM. I think this helps put the other reviews into perspective. There’s a lot of residual anger over the prequels. I’m particularly taken that you were fine with the animation, since that seems to be the focus of a lot of the other reviews.

  6. 6 astro
    August 14, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    mojo, have you ever put together a best or worst list of cgi in movies/tv episodes, from the standpoint of professional sensibility molestation or lack thereof?

  7. 7 cylon
    August 14, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Out of all the reviews I’ve read, this is my favorite thus far.I don’t have enormous expectations. I’m prepared to not love it. I just want there to be enough of the good star wars stuff in this film, that rekindle some of those memories. I suppose I can filter out the rest. The real star wars is the star wars from the seventies and eighties. Nothing’s changed.

  8. August 14, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I am excited to see the clone wars. As a fan of the Star Wars EU it is always interesting to see peoples interpretation of a time in the galaxy that wasn’t burned into my brain by my love of the original trilogy. I have a very clear picture of what the Star Wars universe looks like after the rise of the Empire because that is what I grew up with. Because the new prequels are still relatively new, I don’t have that image in my mind that clearly represents the galaxy at that time. Therefore it is always interesting to add to the picture.
    Boy I just read what I wrote, what a fanboy…

    I just hope Jar Jar isn’t in this one.

  9. 9 Mark
    August 14, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I have to agree, it is best not to expect much. My wife and I enjoyed it, mostly because it was fun and let’s not forget that this is really 3 TV episodes strung together. As a storyboard artist working in animation I’m depressed by what’s being greenlit these days, and I must say this is really good for TV animation, if I was 10 years old I’d be a huge fan. DON’T EXPECT A REAL ANIMATED FEATURE FILM and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  10. August 14, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    I certainly don’t have grandiose expectations for this film; I’m still puzzled as to why it’s in theaters in the first place and not just a made-for-TV movie lead-in to the series. That said, I do plan to go see this thing because I believe it will be fun, lighthearted adventure and there’s not much else to see right now (I’ve seen Dark Knight a zillion times already). Thanks for the review, it puts everything in perspective, and I appreciate your thoughts on the CGI.

  11. 11 Maxwell
    August 15, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Boo hoo, my poor childhood tummy was ruined by the big heavy dinner of the prequels. It is getting rather disgusting to hear again and again how these 30’s something men (so obviously single) go off on cartoons made for children because they don’t make them ten again — when in fact they should be taking 10 year olds to this movie so they could see the joy on their faces. At least the overused word FRAK was very far away from this movie, otherwise we’d hear the FRAKKERS sobbing with joy over their great contribution to the world of storytellers.

  12. August 15, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I second astro’s suggestion. I’d love to see a pro’s take on what makes for good (and/or bad) CGI animation.

  13. August 19, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Given that the prequels seemed most like a collection of discombobulated dramatic sequences from Star Wars themed video games, I thought that the strength of Clone Wars was that it gave up any real connection to the real world. It’s a computer generated movie and therefore more true to what Lucas wanted to make of the prequels.

  14. August 21, 2008 at 7:33 am

    I took my eight-year-old son to see this opening night. I had very low expectations based on advanced reviews.

    To my great surprise…I enjoyed myself. There were some head-scratching moments, to be sure (Ziro Hutt as a cross-dressing homosexual who talks like Truman Capote?? wtf?!), but it was far more fun than I thought it would be. And my son, the target audience for this thing, LOVED it.

    Let’s be honest, guys. George doesn’t want an adult Star Wars. It is strictly for kids now. Either accept the fact and enjoy what you can, or go find something else to love.

  15. August 21, 2008 at 11:41 am

    You know. Not all Star Wars fans are bitter prequel haters with chips on our shoulders. I happen to love the prequels, silly moments and all. In fact, a lot of the silly moments are my favorite parts. Episode III is my favorite film of the saga. So stop trying to act like all SW fans are in lock-step with your opinions. Some of us enjoy SW for what it actually is instead of being mad over it not being what we think it ought to be.

  16. 16 Millions
    August 22, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I havnt seen this movie yet (nor do i know that much about it), but isnt it aimed at kids? Compared to the standard movies which cater to all ages.

  17. August 26, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Wow. Just saw this and I can’t disagree more.

    The original Cartoon Network Mini-series was light years ahead of this.

    Sorry – just did not GET IT AT ALL.

  18. 18 darthmojo
    September 5, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion! The original animated Clone Wars was very good, but also a very different beast – 5 minute stories compared to full half hours.

    They may wind up making 100 episodes of this new “Clone Wars.” It will likely be a roller-coster with varying degrees of quality, but you know what? When it’s all over, I bet we’re going to have quite a few hours of the best Star Wars we’ve seen in a long time.

    A long time ;-)

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August 2008

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