Friday, August 15, 2008

In Defense of The Clone Wars

What the heck. It's Friday.

I had plans to see "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" today. Me and my brother-in-law, both old enough to have seen the original (Part IV, I guess) (when it first came out, multiple times, standing in long lines hoping to get a ticket for my seventh viewing - really), were going to spend some time together and thought it would be fun. This morning, I get my local paper, the old-fashioned printed Chicago Tribune, and what, to my horror, do I read? Michael Phillips' review. He beats this little cartoon like a rented mule.
http://chicago.metromix.com/movies/movie_review/movie-review-starwars/553252/content

Not wanting to believe - it's Friday, after all, and we're going to the matinee (what we used to call the cheap show) - I check out the other local, Mr. Ebert, on-line at the Chicago Sun Times.

OUCH. Looks like we picked a dud. Star Wars just isn't the same. What happened?

We had a plan though. And we stuck with it. We went to see "The Clone Wars" in spite of the stellar reviews. And you know what? We had fun. There's lots of Jawas in it, you know? Neither review mentioned the Jawas.

A lot of what they did mention, and I'm just giving my impression of what they said - dark animation, sort of clunky, long battle scenes, bad dialogue in short sentences - and whatever else they say, is probably not all that wrong. But it seems to me that the awe-inspiring original "Star Wars" was a bit clunky, had long and utterly unbelievable battle scenes and pretty bad dialogue. But it changed the fantasy movie forever - for better or for worse. And it was fun.

Just like "The Clone Wars" is fun. Star Wars is not just a film, it is a universe. The fun is in the details, however broadly drawn - or as the esteemed reviewers might say, badly drawn. I'll agree - the art is uneven, at best. I did think Obi-Wan looked a bit odd - and in certain close-ups I thought he was one of Gerry Anderson's old Supermarionation Thunderbird's puppets. But for every odd bit, there are some pretty spectacular ones too. The backgrounds were tremendous - vague, dark pastels that set a grim mood over the war scenes. One scene of Anakin and his new Paduan apprentice walking across the desert - with R2-D2 of course - in shadow, in front of the blazing Tatooine suns - really stood out also.

Yes - these are small pieces of a film. But because Star Wars is a universe, I can enjoy the smaller pieces. I enjoyed seeing multiple Greedo's (I'm sure his race has a name, but I don't know it). The Huttlet - and perhaps this is an old man talking - was awesome. Cute as a button.

There are other problems, though. The battle scenes are a bit long, and in consideration of the times we live in, pretty grim. The dialogue is spotty. The new Paduan gets away with a lot of sass. But then again, Anakin is a Jedi who is all about sass. The Episodes I thru III were not as widely hailed as the originals, and I think most of the problems were with the character of Anakin. My belief was that Darth Vader should have made his appearance by the end of Episode II. We also knew the story already. The charm and the power of "Star Wars", the original film, is that it was new and we were not quite sure where it was going. It spoke pretty deeply to a lot of people, probably because of its adherence to Joseph Campbell''s Hero's Journey. The prequel trilogy just did not have that power.

That leaves the major problem that ran through my mind as I watched "The Clone Wars". Why would Jabba the Hutt, basically a criminal on the edge of the universe, even if he is a very successful criminal, be so integral to so many stories in this universe?

Because he's a big blob of Hutt, that's why. Jabba is a great creation and it's good to see him again. He may have looked better than he does in "The Clone Wars", but as old friends, we don't comment on someone's deteriorating looks. We greet them and smile.

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