Movie Reviews

Half Ass Movie Reviews: “Clone Wars” (Aug 22)

I have a t-shirt that I wear often. It features a cartoon aardvark in papal robes (long story), and it reads “He doesn’t love you, he just wants all your money.” It occurs to me that you could make the exact same shirt with a picture of George Lucas.

The computer-animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars is rough. No, that doesn’t go far enough. It’s bad. And this isn’t bad in the “This is not to my taste, but potentially there are people in the world who could enjoy it”. No, it’s bad. It’s bad in the way that will hurt you and make you realize that all the time you spent loving Star Wars when you were young was wasted.

Set between the second and third prequels, Clone Wars focuses on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, telling of one of the skirmishes in the Clone Wars, which were first mentioned back in the original Star Wars. At the time, they sounded kind of awesome. It turns out they were not.

The animation and character design is stunningly bad. The design is almost polygonal, with all of the characters looking like they came from the cinematics of a Playstation 2 game. Obi-Wan’s hair looks like it’s carved out of wood, and it’s creepily immobile. The backgrounds are inert, and the characters move only as much as necessary. It looks like it was made in a pre-Pixar world. Go to any animation festival, and you will see student films that are slicker than this production.

Worse, animation should have freed the filmmakers up to pull off some stunning action scenes. Instead, we get repetitive gunfights and lightsaber battles that are less visually interesting than their live action equivalents. The battle scenes are flat and interminable. Even at its worst, the Star Wars franchise could produce some cool action sequences. That doesn’t happen here.

George Lucas isn’t credited with the screenplay here, but it certainly has that Lucas touch. And by “Lucas touch”, I mean, “mangled syntax, interminable exposition, and characters frequently declaring their motivations out loud”. Even as a Star Wars fanatic, I could acknowledge that Lucas can’t write dialogue. It’s said that on the set of the first movie, Harrison Ford threatened to tie Lucas to a chair and force him to read his own dialogue out loud. The trio of screenwriters upheld that tradition admirably, presenting a script full of things that no human being could ever say with a straight face.

Look, the prequels sucked. We can all admit that. I gave The Phantom Menace some leeway since it was clearly aimed at kids. You know, like the first movie was. That’s the point of Star Wars, really. It’s supposed to blow kids’ minds with the mythology and all the cool stuff and the iconic characters. Then the second prequel, Attack of the Clones, came along, and it was worse. Still poorly written, but this one was almost sadistic in its impenetrability. Revenge of the Sith was even worse – a charmless attempt to reconcile all the things in Star Wars continuity that don’t make sense. Too brutal for a kids’ movie, too insulting for anybody else, it was the nadir of the franchise. Until now. Remember the “hilarious” banter between the Battle Droids in the prequels? Brace yourselves, because Clone Wars is full of sub-vaudeville routines between these robots. Every time a Battle Droid speaks, joy dies.

As I understand it, the movie is actually the first four episodes of the proposed Clone Wars TV series. That would explain why every twenty minutes, the characters will talk expositorily about all the things that happened since the last recap. And even with all that recapping, the story still doesn’t make any sense. Various Jedi and an army of clones are fighting robots led by Count Dooku. Remember Dooku? From the second and third prequels? No, you don’t remember him. He was boring and ill-defined. You don’t remember his motivations or care about him as a villain. But here he is again.

So, they’re fighting robot separatists. Yes, go with it. Oh, the clone army turns on and massacres the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith. Also, Anakin turns into Darth Vader, so you’re actually watching a bunch of people who are going to become evil shortly. Anakin is assigned a padwan (Which means “student”. If you can’t remember that, don’t worry. They will remind you a dozen times before the movie is over.), much to his chagrin. Can this soon-to-be-evil young man bond with the incredibly irritating red-skinned alien girl? Apparently. I mean, it’s not like this character, nicknamed “Snips” appears anywhere else in Star Wars mythology. So who knows, really? Anakin might kill and eat her before the third prequel.

After a battle with robots which has no justification except that it’s a war and robots occasionally attack, our heroes turn their attention to rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s kidnapped son. If they can make peace with Jabba, they can use his trade routes for military purposes. In space. Can’t you just fly over things in space?

If you didn’t guess that Jabba’s son is a tiny and purportedly adorable version of his father named “Stinky”, well, you just don’t know Lucas. Anyway, Dooku kidnapped Stinky and wants to kill him to make the Jedi look bad. So, he spirits Stinky away to another planet so that when Anakin shows up to rescue him, they can kill the mini-Hutt. That seems like a roundabout way to accomplish things, if you ask me. That’s really enough said about the plot. Oh, wait. Before it’s over, we’re introduced to Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s gay uncle.

No, I’m not making that up. I wish to God I was.

Clone Wars even manages to drain all the fun out of favorite characters who do make an appearance. I like Yoda (For the first time, not voiced by Frank Oz. Good move, Frank.). I like R2-D2 and C3PO. But here they’re drained of all personality and come off as bargain basement knock-offs.

Here’s the thing. I can’t imagine somebody liking this movie. It’s stupid and boring and sloppy and entirely free of any sense of fun or wonder. The whole production, from terrible script to half-assed animation, drips with contempt for the audience. This, right here, is George Lucas serving up a crap sundae and assuming his fanbase will eat it up.

As much fun as it is to slam a bad movie, Clone Wars actually just made me mad. I can accept somebody trying, and either failing or having a different idea of quality than I do. In this case, the cynicism is absolutely disgusting. Nobody involved in this movie ever cared about it. It’s devoid of heart, wit, warmth, charm, and any iota of fun.

Contrast Clone Wars to The Foot Fist Way. Clone cost 200 times more to make. Foot Fist is absolutely bursting at the seams with enthusiasm from the filmmakers and performers. That was a labor of love, and even with the rough edges, that love showed in every frame. Clone Wars is ditch-digging. It’s drudgery. You can have a giant budget, but you can’t buy heart.

Clone Wars is the final step in Lucasfilm’s attempt to drain everything that is good and fun out of the Star Wars franchise, turning it into a soulless corporate piggy bank. This is the worst kind of bad movie. It’s an apathetic bad movie. Nobody even tried to do make something special, and on that front they succeeded.

It’s painful, because it really makes me feel like I was stupid for ever caring about Star Wars. It’s betrayal. Something that was so important in my youth has been replaced with a blatant cash-grab, and that makes me wonder if there was ever anything more to Star Wars. Congratulations, George Lucas. You’ve managed to retroactively trash what was good about your creation.

Score: Five words, Jabba the Hutt’s gay uncle. No beans.

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