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
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?
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 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”.