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Ever since they were first mentioned in the original Star Wars, the Clone Wars have been shrouded in mystery. The brief teaser in the final act of Attack of the Clones gave us some idea of what to expect, but with the news that the forthcoming Revenge of the Sith will open during the final moments of the wars, it seemed that the faithful would be left wanting. Fear not, however, for Star Wars: Clone Wars has arrived on DVD. Designed to bridge the gap between the movies, volume one of the saga comprises twenty, three-minute episodes, which have been lovingly stitched together to create an hour of animated Star Wars goodness.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume One
Feaure
The first volume of Clone Wars takes place immediately following the events in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. The Clone Wars have begun, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker have joined the war effort, leading the clone armies of the Republic into battle against the droid armies of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. During the course of the war they encounter deadly enemies such as the seemingly-indestructible bounty hunter, Durge, and the evil Sith-apprentice, Asajj Ventress.

Along the way there are frequent diversions from the main thrust of the story. As well as Anakin and Obi-Wan, Jedis such as Kit Fisto, Mace Windu, Luminara Unduli, Barriss Offee, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Daakman Barrek, Shaak Ti, Aayla Secura and Yoda are seen battling the Separatist threat. And there’s no threat greater than the evil commander of the droid armies, General Grievous, the deadly cyborg who proves to be more than a match for even the most skilled of Jedi warriors.

The Clone Wars micro-series serves as a fine companion to the films,  with frequent nods to events in the movies (such as portions of Anakin’s dialogue foreshadowing that of Vader’s in the original Star Wars). Featuring both large-scale battles and more personal confrontations, there’s something here for Star Wars fans of all persuasions. The animated format of the show allows for Jedi with even more fantastic abilities than the movies, which is exemplified by Mace Windu going Kung Fu crazy on a battalion of battle droids in one episode.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume One
My only real criticism relates to the original running time of the episodes—three minutes. This hampers both story and character development, as you often find the action shifting to a different location just when you’ve familiarised yourself with the last one. This shouldn't present too many problems for Star Wars nuts such as me, but it could alienate those with less obsessive tendencies. This is something that has been addressed in the second volume in the Clone Wars series, where there are fewer episodes with increased running times (twelve minutes). Having seen it, I can say that it definitely helps. Another benefit of having this series on DVD is that it runs as one continuous sixty-six minute movie, rather than twenty short episodes. But don’t worry, each chapter stop corresponds to one of the original episodes, so you can watch them in that manner if you so desire.

Video
Clone Wars is presented in a 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer, and it looks great. The first time I saw this series it was on my PC monitor, and while that was colourful enough it really can’t compare to watching on my 32” Toshiba widescreen set. The image is sharp and detailed, with colours that literally leap off of the screen, and I couldn’t really spot any problems with the transfer. There’s no discernable smearing, aliasing, or edge-enhancement to be seen on this one (at least not on my 32” display). All-in-all this is a top-notch transfer that more than does justice to the source material. It’s not quite reference quality, but it’s not a million miles away from it.

Audio
The feature is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio, and it does a fine job of conveying the on-screen action. As mentioned before, my previous experience of the show was limited to watching on the web, so it was extremely satisfying to hear the familiar sounds of the Star Wars universe coming from all around me. The track is extremely lively, with plenty of surround action throughout the many battle sequences and some nice pans across the front of the soundstage. The track strikes a good balance between music, effects and dialogue, to which the voice acting does justice (for the most part). The only way this could really have been improved is if it had been a fully fledged 5.1 track, which would have allowed for discrete rear effects and a little more oomph in the bass department. As it stands, this is still a fine effort.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume One
Extras
The disc contains two distinct sets of menus—something that I missed the first time around—which reflect both the light and dark sides of the Force. While this might seem trivial, it’s just this sort of presentation that usually sets Star Wars releases apart from lesser discs.

The disc actually includes a fair smattering of bonus material, including two commentary tracks. The first is a director’s commentary, while the second is a Hyperspace effort, but both are from Genndy Tartakovsky. It seems odd to include two tracks by the same person, and indeed the director’s commentary offers little over the Hyperspace effort. In fact, the director’s commentary is pretty much redundant. Another big problem with the commentaries—and this is a criticism I often levy at region two releases—is that the disc prohibits on-the-fly changing of the audio tracks, instead forcing you to return to the main menu if you want to switch between the commentaries. It’s a ridiculous practise, and one that seems to be confined to region two discs (most region one discs in my possession will quite happily allow you to switch tracks on the fly, including all the Star Wars releases). Bad Twentieth Century Fox, bad.

Next up we come to a featurette entitled ‘Bridging the Gap’, which is basically a short (seven minute) ‘making of’. In it we get to see behind the scenes as the animators work on the various stages of production, and there’s even interview footage with George Lucas himself as he explains the reasoning behind the creation of an animated Star Wars show. Best of all is that this featurette contains previously unseen footage of the incredible space battle that opens the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. All-in-all this featurette won’t knock your socks off, but it’s worth at least one viewing.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume One
The next section is entitled ‘Videogames’, and this features trailers for the Revenge of the Sith and Republic Commando games. At the time of writing the former has yet to be released, so I can’t comment on the game itself. However, the trailer does make it look pretty cool (although not cool enough to make me go out and buy an X-Box). I have played Republic Commando, and while the game is certainly flawed, it is an enjoyable and atmospheric romp through the Star Wars universe. Also included is an X-Box demo for the game.

‘Behind-the-Scenes’ leads to yet another submenu, which contains an even shorter featurette (approx. four minutes) about the series. There’s yet more behind-the-scenes material, including footage from the voice recording sessions. Once again, this is probably only something you’ll watch the once. The other entries in the submenu are ‘Sketches & Storyboards’ and ‘Posters & Artwork’. These are pretty self-explanatory, and although I’ve never been the biggest fan of still galleries I enjoyed looking at some of the posters used to promote the series.

Finally we come to one of the more exciting features on the disc, at least until the next film is released. That’s right, the teaser trailer for Revenge of the Sith is here in all of its glory. This trailer sent shivers done my spine the first time it played in my local cinema, and although it’s been superseded by the full theatrical trailer, it’s still an atmospheric effort that provides a tantalising glimpse of things to come.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume One
Overall
Clone Wars is a great little series delivered on a fair DVD. Image quality is first-rate, and the signature Star Wars music and effects sounds as impressive as ever, but I can’t help but feel that more could have been done in the way of extras. Two short featurettes—featuring overlapping content—aren’t exactly going to set the world alight, especially when backed up only by a series of still galleries and trailers for other Lucasfilm/Lucasarts products. The same can be said of the commentaries. Why have two similar efforts from Tartakovsky?

With that said, I still have to recommend the series to anyone with even a passing interest in Star Wars. The importance of this series in bridging the gap between the first and second parts of the prequel trilogy cannot be underestimated, especially when one sees the second volume in the Clone Wars saga (which takes you right up to the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith). To my mind the retail price of sixteen pounds is a little steep, but if you shop around you should be able to bag yourself a good deal on this latest slice of Star Wars history.


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