You remember, last week, when I said that at least we had something good to look forward to with the upcoming The Clone Wars movie? Well, I was fucking wrong.
I put a large part of that misremembering down to the fact that The Clone Wars TV series, for which this 2008 release is a set-up, is totally brilliant: I won’t spend too long espousing on it here (go read the article I wrote on it for my personal blog!), since this is, gruellingly, a cinematic universe retrospective, excelt to say this: The Clone Wars TV series alone is almost enough to justify the prequel trilogy, and where is my Ahsoka Tano movie you cowards, you fucking fiends.
Anyway. The Clone Wars movie is really about moving all the pieces into place for the TV show to come – I watched the show before the movie, and honestly, had it been the other way around, I doubt I’d ever have given it a shot. I saw the movie for the first time in the warm fuzz after I first binged TCW show, and some of that goodwill carried over, but by God, it shouldn’t have.
The most significant thing The Clone Wars movie does is introduce us to Asohka Tano, a young Jedi who is assigned to Anakin as his padawan. Her lack of featuring role in Revenge of the Sith comes due to her retroactive addition to the story, but it’s a damn shame, because I still think that she’s such a vital foil for Anakin’s character development: if Obi-Wan is his father figure, then Ashoka is his daughter, and the responsibility, failure, and challenge posed by her has so much to do with the way his character arc unfolds that-
No, wait, that’s the TV series. In the movie, Ashoka is a textbook irritating child character, a clear and cynical attempt to appeal to the kids; what she becomes is so much better than what this movie portrays. Ahsoka (I can never remember where the H comes in that name, Christ) is one of my favourite characters of the whole Star Wars universe, but here, bloody hell, she makes Padme and Anakin look like the height of high-powered cinematic chemistry. Her “banter”, if it can be described that way, with Anakin is painfully strained, and even Matt Lantner, the voice behind this version of the iconic Skywalker, and his much-improved performance versus Hayden Christensen, can’t do much to imbue it with more depth. The Clone Wars seems to forget that, while a child character doesn’t have to have the maturity of an adult one, they can have a little more complexity than the agonisingly two-dimensional trashpile Ahsoka is lumped with in this outing.
Ahsoka joins Anakin and Obi-Wan on an interminable mission that draws them away from the actual Clone Wars of the title and to a optional side mission revolving around Jabba the Hutt, sort of. With the whole universe to explore, and the whole of the Clone Wars to draw on, the movie falls back on known planets and recognizable characters for the sake of simplicity and an easy sell. Did we need more Hutt action? Did we? I know I wasn’t straining for it.
And that’s just the actual plot and characters I’ve discussed so far: I’ve not even touched on the grinding awfulness of the animation. The film was roundly criticsed at the time of its release for the strange, ugly, and slightly disconcerting character design and animation style, and the whole thing looks like a haunted kid’s channel a la Candle Cove. The Clone Wars came out in 2008, and it feels distinctly like it’s bridging that gap between the hyper-real stuff or hyper-stylised stuff of present day animation, and the notably awful early-noughties stuff that looked instantly dated the moment it hit the screens. This version of Obi-Wan is basically five triangles arranged on top of one another; Ahsoka should be instantly eye-catching given that this is her introduction, but instead she looks like someone went a little wild with the pattern tool in Microsoft Paint.
So, The Clone Wars movie is ugly, boring, and vaguely annoying, the very worst of child-orientated cinema. I thought that this would be the exception to the prequel rule, but it seems I was too generous in my recollection. So let me leave you with this: forget the movie. If you want the truly compelling story that should have come from this era of the Star Wars universe, go check out The Clone Wars and its sequel, Rebels; it’s a mature, well-rounded, witty, entertaining storyline, and does more to explore Anakin as a character that any of the movies bother to even think about doing. But this set-up? This set up is bad enough that I’m surprised the whole project didn’t get scrapped before it so much had a chance to leave Tatooine in the first place.
If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out our other cinematic universe retrospective – for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Jurassic Park movies, and the Batman cinematic universe. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Den of Geek)