Posts Tagged ‘Clone Wars’

Upside Down

Monday, July 28th, 2008

So what is it about upside down lightsabers? Throughout the Star Wars expanded universe artists are constantly depicting lesser known Jedi with their swords held the wrong way round. This year we have two big Star Warsular events on the horizon, The upcoming Clone Wars animated TV series/Pilot movie, and The Force Unleashed video game. The former prominently features a jailbait alien padawan babe brandishing her saber widdershins, whereas the latter (seemingly in development for the last 53 years, and undoubtedly the Shadows of the Empire of the noughties) focuses on Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, the intertextually named ‘Starkiller’, who also doesn’t know the pointy end from the blunt one. Innumerable fan films and comic books also include this bizarre phenomenon.

I once spent a very enjoyable day playing the much maligned Playstation game Jedi Power Battles, in which the token female Jedi Council member Adi Gallia was depicted using a lightsaber in the Australian fashion (and it was red too, what was meant to be going on there?)

Sure it looks cool, and for all I know it could be based on a real martial art technique, but I don’t recall anyone in the actual movies doing it. In order to point the blade out in front of you, you would have to have your elbow up in the air, which can’t be comfortable can it?

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Jedi Poodooh!

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

I’ve always said that going to the cinema just isn’t the same when it’s not a Star Wars film (look, I never claimed to be a complex individual, all right? Like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Jango Fett, I’m just a simple kinda man). The first movie I saw at the cinema was Empire, and a year or so after that I finally got to see Star Wars (on the double bill with Empire), and luckily for me it was before it appeared on television or video. And since then I’ve seen every episode on the big screen, right up till a midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith, amid an audience full of people waving Master Replicas lightsabers in the air.

So how weird then, how odd to go to the cinema to see not a new Star Wars movie, but a cartoon spin off (actually the first few episodes of the new TV series)? The (so far) universally critically panned cinema release of The Clone Wars has the obvious problem of not standing up to its live action progenitors, and the fact that none of its major players can be allowed to be killed, or change, or do pretty much anything of importance that might encroach on the overall saga.

This major stumbling block, along with a much more light hearted, kid friendly tone, appropriate to what is essentially a Saturday morning cartoon, has seemingly outraged the online nerd community. On the plus side we don’t get any teeth grindingly bad angsty scenes like the ‘you are in my very soul’ bit from Episode 2, or Episode 3’s ‘you’re so beautiful’ ‘only because I’m so in love with you’  a scene seemingly included by George Lucas solely to test the patience of his audience. Sure we’ve all said this kind of embarrassing drivel in our private lives but I don’t need to see it in a movie. Actually, I’m sure there was a sarcastic allusion to Anakin’s infamous ‘sand’ chat up line in The Clone Wars.

Technically it’s an amazing looking feature when you consider it’s meant for television (albeit the High Def end of the market), but on a big screen, some of the TV origins are evident the series was apparently made on the cheap, such as synchronised walk cycles on the clonetroopers. They’re clones not robots! Having said that I’d rather watch these funky CGI marionettes than some big name, big budget, bland exercise in cynicism like Shrek (don’t get me started on Shrek!).

 

A Senuhtuh...? Heeyah...?

A Senuhtuh...? Heeyah...?

 

 

I’m genuinely surprised by the invective that The Clone Wars has provoked, but not as surprised as I am that every single review has not sarcastically stated that Hayden Christensen was out-acted by a bunch of pixels. Incidentally, I never thought he was a bad actor, just a really weird actor! Some of his more bizarre line deliveries in the prequels suggested that he was attempting to channel some of James Earl Jones’ more bizarre line deliveries (such as ‘When I left you, I was a learner. Now I! Am, the master’). I mean that had to be the reason, right? However, his CGI manque still resembles him, which put the thought in the back of my mind that he would not be the most suitable master for a teenage female padawan. I mean, the guy looks like he hangs round high schools after cheerleader practice, looking to pick up chicks in his boy racer speeder.

But as I have said before and I will no doubt say again, I am a massive Star Wars nerd. I can excuse a bit of flat, anachronistic dialogue (did Anakin really say to Obi Wan ‘I’ll call you back’? How did that one get through? And truth to tell, I slightly cringe every time I hear the phrase ‘Padawan learner’. Isn?t that like saying ‘trainee apprentice’ or ‘beginner newbie’?). Throughout Jedi and the prequel trilogy, unlike most, I found a lot more to love than hate. I’m sure in many people’s eyes that makes me an idiot, but I guess that’s central to being a fan.

So I find the prospect of a Star Wars TV series intriguing. Being able to explore that universe, even without the possibility of major revelations or character defining moments is good enough for me. It’s no different than the masses of comic books, novels, toys and games that have been out there for years. And for a series so rooted in action and movement, it’s no surprise that a spin off cartoon, like some of the more recent video games, fares a lot better than aping the essence of Star Wars than, say, a novel about the Bothans finding a new superweapon that’s a bit like the Death Star, or the cantina snot vampire.

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Thoughtbubblin’

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Comic conventions are a peculiar phenomenon. For a start most of the organisers of these events go out of the way to discourage them from being referred to as “conventions”. As an exhibitor, you can go with the express purpose of trying to make money, or to just make friends and get pally with like minded individuals. Here at Flying Monkey International, we are far too idiosyncratic (or possibly stubborn) to do much of the former and way, way?too misanthropic to do any of the latter.

In fact, one of our major directors and creative lynchpins, Mr Andrew Livesey, isn’t attending the forthcoming Thoughtbubble Festival in Leeds at all, instead opting for a weekend of sex, drugs, violence and miscellaneous debauchery. He swung by my house to drop off a stack of his new collection Chimpanzee Democracy, and his legendarily limited Tasty Fanzine T Shirts, with the veiled threat of evisceration if I dared not to sell any of them.

Tasty!

Despite this we shall be in attendance at Thoughtbubble. When someone decides to put on a Comics event pretty much on your doorstep, it seems rude not to show up (except last year, when I waited far too long to order any books, so didn’t have any on the day).

However, if you wish to purchase any of Andrew’s blood money funded merchandise, or any of our wonderful Hope For The Future collections and back issues (including the new(ish) issue 10), or even one of the few remaining copies of the epochal small press anthology Flying Monkey, come on over to our table and say hello. Underneath our irascible exterior we are actually quite friendly, and happy to chat about anything from the new Clone Wars cartoon, last week’s X Factor result shocker, the Credit Crunch, or Instru-Metal.

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Half Time

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

I have a new weekend ritual. As The Clone Wars airs on Cartoon Network in America on Friday evenings, some bright spark has usually put them onto, uh, a popular video sharing website that sounds like Boocube by Saturday morning.

As the series is airing on the pay to view channel Sky Movies in the UK, Spewlube is the only option for the obsessed fan who is not only a tightwad, but cannot wait until the DVD release. I imagine these episodes will look great on DVD, as they have been created specifically for HD televisions, but they lose something of their visual excitement on a small fuzzy, flash video screen. This is a shame, as the crisp imagery and adrenaline fuelled pace is clearly their strongest point, certainly more than the storylines and characterisation that have so far been a bit of a mixed bag.

The “movie” – actually the first three episodes edited together to be shown in cinemas, was mostly notable for its heralding of the TV series and the potential for further, ongoing adventures, rather than its by-the-numbers plotting. It has been easily outclassed by many of the episodes that followed it.

 

Yoda plus homies

Yoda plus homies

The first, Ambush, featured Yoda and the last three clones of his battallion surrounded by the Separatist army, yet winning out with a combination of jedi philosophy, creative strategy and midichlorian fuelled ass kicking. This was followed by a rather?drawn out?trilogy of episodes based on an ion cannon toting Separatist flagship The Malevolence, that ended wonderfully with Anakin, Obi Wan and Padme (not to mention Threepio and Artoo, doing their double act schtick) attempting to escape from the ship in swashbuckling style particularly reminiscent of A New Hope

Rookies was a one off tale in which a handful of “Shinies” (clone slang for inexperienced soldiers, so named for their pristine armour) are trapped on an isolated outpost, (once again) surrounded by Separatist troops. This episode scored on several counts. Firstly it didn’t feature any jedi, instead focussing on the clones who are often relegated to cannon fodder. Secondly they were set against some kind of ninja droid commandos rather than the inept and ridiculous standard issue Trade Federation battle droids. Crucially, though, we had seen none of these characters before, so we genuinely didn’t know who would survive (and there were some particularly gruesome deaths).

 

Is it wrong to fancy fictional cartoon aliens?

Is it wrong to fancy fictional cartoon aliens?

All too often The Clone Wars follows the adventures of Anakin and Obi Wan, or background Jedi generals from the films, such as Plo Koon (inexplicably supervising director Dave Filoni’s favourite character) and fanboy pleasing nubile Twi’lek hottie Aayla Secura. Trouble is, we know what is going to happen to every one of these characters – ie. Order 66. Of course, some character development on the lesser known characters is welcome, but so far the series has been more about incident than any character’s internal life.

I suspect one of the aims of the series is to rehabilitate Anakin as a character (as opposed to the films, in which he is petulant, arrogant and generally unsympathetic). The two part Downfall of a Droid/Duel of The Droids made Anakin’s attachment to Artoo the focus (a neat bit of continuity with the novelisation of Revenge of The Sith that tells us that the droid was a wedding gift from Padme), and foreshadows his inability to let go of things. The creators would do well to continue along this road if the series is to be anything more than some awesome lightsaber duels and shit blowing up. Duel also features another gruseome death, this time an execution by cyborg psychopath General Grievous. For a series that’s aimed at kids, there are some nasty moments, which I thoroughly approve of.

Controversially, a couple of episodes have featured the return of Jar Jar Binks to centre stage. Roundly despised by fans, if anyone needed rehabilitation it’s this guy. Bombad Jedi (written by Troops creator Kevin Rubio) wasn’t a bad episode, just a little undistinguished (its best moment was a subtle reference to Anakin and Padme sneaking off together for clandestine sexy times). Jar Jar was shown to be exactly as he was in The Phantom Menace, good hearted, clumsy and borderline retarded. However, if there’s one thing worse than bringing back an unpopular character, it’s changing his voice, as was done in the later Gungan General.

 

I wouldn't rate this guy's chance of survival

I wouldn't rate his chances of survival

Other episodes include the atmospheric Lair of Grievous, in which the titular General has some much needed backstory hinted at. However, the troubled Mon Calamari ex padawan may as well be wearing a red shirt, his death is so obviously telegraphed throughout the episode. A few more new characters need to be created, but also developed over the space of more than one episode. This way we can have a few characters who can be put into genuine jeopardy. Luminara Unduli pops up in the terrific Paul Dini scripted Cloak of Darkness, but, while I don’t recall seeing her killed during Revenge of The Sith, I’m sure her fate has been marked out in some spin off novel.

At its worst The Clone Wars is at least good brainless, forgettable entertainment (as in Dooku Captured, a fascinating premise that just doesn’t ring true, with innumerable plot holes and a baffling, seemingly unfinished script). Every episode has some exciting battle scenes and badass moments, and is so far never boring. But it has a great deal of potential, and much of the series has hinted at something much bigger and better than crashing spaceships, whirling lighsabers and somebody saying “I have a bad feeling about this”.

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Clone Wars: Full Time

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

On May 1st, Cartoon Network begins airing The Clone Wars Decoded, essentially a rerun of the first season of the animated adventure series, with Pop Up Video style trivia. Well, I guess kids today need to learn to distinguish their Quarren from their Aqualish. Back in my day all we had were poster magazines and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

The second half of Season One built on the successes and discarded some of the failures of the first half. Most notably were some more adult themes creeping in. Sure, it’s still a kids’ cartoon, but in Defenders of Peace and Liberty On Ryloth,  inhabitants of Separatist invaded and subjugated planets wonder whether their freedom at the hands of the Republic comes at too high a price. That’s pretty heavy stuff. Similarly, in The Hidden Enemy a trooper betrays the Republic because he believes the clones are created solely to be slaves and cannon fodder. You can see his point. Certainly Anakin and Obi Wan don’t have any easy answer.

Storm over Ryloth, which I don't mention here

Elsewhere it’s business as usual, lightsaber duels, space battles, amazing visuals, and a series of bizarre and unbelievable accents. As the series goes on we see an increased range of visual assets, so even fairly early on, the episodes outstrip what was seen in the “movie”, but it seems that more importantly the writers are tackling more interesting issues alongside the laser based mayhem and Jedi smartassery.

The draw for old school fans is of course the callbacks to the original trilogy. Trespass features specific references to Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for Hoth in pretty much every aspect, while Mystery of a Thousand Moons is a slightly goofy adventure on a planet populated by a rag tag collection of characters, clearly in homage to the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba’s Palace, although it specifically reminded me of the Marvel comics series, during the David Michelinie/Walt Simonson era. This is no bad thing. If Zeltrons, Hoojibs and The House of Tagge appear in future episodes I will probably punch the air or something.

Okay The Clone Wars isn’t going to change anyone’s life, or rival anything in the original movies. It won’t even change your mind if you think the whole enterprise is just an evil ploy to sell more action figures.  But when Obi Wan and his clones defeat the evil separatist forces on Ryloth, and reunite the cute twi’lek child with her people, I noticed that she only had one parent. That counts for something surely. It’s a war (or more properly it’s some “wars”, although I’d like to know at what point it became plural) and suggesting that everything can be neatly sorted out is dishonest (particularly when both sides are being manipulated by an evil mastermind, but that’s another story).

Ziro Unleashed

I am, as they say “stoked” for the second season if only because the season finale Hostage Crisis was so completely badass. Starting unpromisingly with a romantic scene between Anakin and Padme, in which Ani is actually a bit of a jerk (consistent with his character in the movies at least), it soon introduces a group of merciless bounty hunters led by the gravelly voiced Lee Van Cleef alike gunslinger Cad Bane, and including infamous Phantom Menace bit part Aurra Sing. They then proceed to rack up the biggest bodycount in a children’s TV show I’ve ever seen, and break the ridiculously camp Ziro the Hutt out of prison. Yes! Ziro seems to upset a lot of American fans because he’s “gay” (although that raises all sorts of questions that I’m not sure I want answered), but he was the best part of the film. Let’s have some more utterly bizarre new characters in season two, please.

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One Season More…

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

After an inessential movie, and a patchy, but sporadically impressive first run, Clone Wars returned for a second season and has vastly improved (and also managed to cram in fan pleasing appearances by Bossk and Boba Fett).

While being ostensibly aimed at a younger audience, and certainly having plenty of fans among the Ben 10 constituency, it seems the Star Wars saga just can’t get away from a (mostly) healthy seam of nastiness. Most startlingly, we have our central character Anakin Skywalker playing bad cop and secretly torturing information out of insectoid Seperatist bigwig Poggle The Lesser, in a clear foreshadowing of the monster he will inevitably become. In another episode, Duchess of Mandalore, he impales some dude through the back with his lightsaber. Hardly the actions of your average protagonist in a kids’ cartoon, and it’s played for laughs too.

For the most part, it’s a regular kid’s show with regular kid’s show plots. The Zillo Beast and Brain Invaders employ standard tropes for pulp space opera, that shift the series away from the source movies, but closer to the original inspiration. Formulaic and familiar they might be, but they look great, and have a wide eyed, “everything but the kitchen sink” charm.

A common discussion point on the Star Wars movies is in which order should they be first viewed (the obvious answer being the release order. Duh!). However we now have fans of the TV show who have seen none of the original movies. As long as they don’t push the foreshadowing too far, or ever employ flashbacks/forwards, the series could be watched as a prelude to the movies, as they would not reveal any of the saga’s pivotal plot points. Anakin would merely be the brave (if rash and occasionally troubled) hero of The Clone Wars, with Obi-Wan as his loyal friend and brother in arms. When the series was over the films could be watched, with the appropriate backstory told, but with none of the characters’ fates revealed.

The central problem of creating tension in plots that centre on those whose fates are known (at least by older audiences) remains, but has been somewhat minimised by concentrating on new or marginal characters. In Weapons Factory and Brain Invaders, padawans Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee, seem to be genuinely in peril. Ahsoka in particular, originally loathed by fans as a hybrid of Wesley Crusher and Hannah Montana, is coming into her own as a worthwhile addition, and Anakin’s (negative) influence on her is revealing itself. I still don’t know about her outfit though. She’s supposed to be a Jedi warrior, not Christina Aguilera.

Something that has always bugged me about The Clone Wars is that so far everything we have seen of it has been a war, (singular), between The Republic and The Separatists. Calling them “Wars” always implied that there were several separate conflicts going on. During the Mandalore trilogy of episodes, we see a gathering army of the Boba Fett armour wearing mercenary badasses. This is exciting to aging fanboys such as myself because Fett’s initial backstory, sketchily intimated the the Empire Strikes Back novelisation, was that the Mandalorians were warriors that fought The Jedi during The Clone Wars. Could there be a a separate conflict within the larger one in the coming seasons? Yes please!

Some fans were not happy about The Mandalorians showing up, as it didn’t quite jibe with some of the existing spin off novels, which is a bit like being upset that Owen Lars turns out not to be the brother of Obi-Wan Kenobi after all, but I see their point. Lucasfilm has always been cagey about the place of the old Marvel Comics in the current continuity, and who can blame them when you consider it involved six foot tall green rabbits, telepathic pink hamsters and the invasion of the manga goths. But I have a lot of affection for some of those stories because I grew up with them, so when I see an episode like The Deserter, it takes me right back to The Alderaan Factor. This, and light hearted one off stories like Lightsaber Lost, remind me of some of the issues of that series, as well as the slightly grungier videogames but truthfully, they’re much, much better.

A common discussion point on the Star Wars movies is in which order should they be first viewed (the obvious answer being the release order. Duh!). However we now have fans of the TV show who have seen none of the original movies. As long as they don’t push the foreshadowing too far, or ever employ flashbacks/forwards, the series could be watched as a prelude to the movies, as they would not reveal any of the saga’s pivotal plot points. Anakin would merely be the brave (if rash and occasionally troubled) hero of The Clone Wars, with Obi Wan as his loyal friend and brother in arms. When the series was over the films could be watched, with the appropriate backstory told, but with none of the characters’ fates revealed.
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Don’t Count On It

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

The Clone Wars Season 5 began yesterday – I live in constant hope that they can engineer a situation where these two characters can meet. And if Captain Tarkin attacks Dooku with a sharpened piece of wood, I am pretty sure my head will explode.

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Jedi Kidz

Friday, December 7th, 2012

So when I heard that The Clone Wars was going to feature a group of Jedi younglings, well, I can’t say my heart sank, exactly, but I certainly didn’t think it would be essential viewing. At its introduction, the series was always supposed to be for a younger audience, but gradually it has developed into a much more interesting and (to employ a cliched and overused word) “dark” show, to the point we now have people getting tortured to death, clones murdering their commanding officer, and General Grievous dismembering zombies. At its finest, Clone Wars evokes the spirit of the movies (see The Citadel, Wookiee Hunt, A Friend In Need and so on) and even when it veers away into other genres (The Mortis Trilogy, The Box, Brain Invaders et al) it’s still enjoyable stuff, and occasionally recalls some of Marvel Comics’ more idiosyncratic spin off tales. Incidentally, the only EU I care about is The Clone Wars, the Marvel comics, and this.

Fair enough that the series is being taken, if only temporarily, back to its original conception, but it turns out that these episodes were great – funny, exciting, and including some great stuff from mercurial weequay pirate Hondo (a real breakout character on the show). Most of all, the kids weren’t annoying. Wonders will never cease right? I was expecting Cindel Towani, but the younglings are pretty good characters, and two of them are downright adorable. Gungi the smiley wookiee seems to be the popular choice. Everyone loves wookiees, I guess. Not even The Holiday Special can change that. But it’s Byph the Hammerhead (oh, all right then, “Ithorian“) that gets my vote. Lanky, awkward, chittering away in his alien language, I find it impossible not to love this guy. The “Young Jedi” arc is clearly a tryout for a future kid based spin off show, but all it needs is Gungi and Byph in an Odd Couple style setup, and I am totally sold.

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