Star Wars: The Clone Wars (US - BD)
Reviewer Marcus Doidge joins the battle alongside his clones for this Blu-ray...
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there were animated series for Ewoks and Droids. Then not so long ago came the Clone Wars traditional 2D animated adventures. Now comes the all new, all computer generated weekly Star Wars animated series, also named ‘ The Clone Wars’ … but wait, before we settled down in front of our TV sets, Lucas decided to throw us a curveball, deciding to edit the first few episodes together and release them as an all new Star Wars movie. Not too much pressure for the new project then.
Fitting snugly between the closing events of Attack of the Clones and the opening fallout in Revenge of the Sith, Clone Wars is Lucasfilm’s new animated project about the infamous battles between the Republic and the ever growing numbers of the Separatists, led by the fallen Jedi, now Sith, Count Dooku. (Christopher Lee). This film, which should really be regarded as an extended pilot episode to a TV show as opposed to an all new Star Wars movie, begins with our prequel regulars, Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and Obi Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), fighting the usual horde of battle droids on the planet Christophsis. Backed up by their trusty (for now) clone troopers against a Separatist army on the verge of victory, the two Jedi are sent some much needed back up in the form of teenage Jedi in training Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), who has been assigned to Anakin Skywalker as his new Padawan, despite his arguments against the idea.
Countering all of this, Jabba the Hutt’s son, Rotta (or Stinky as he gets affectionately nicknamed) has been kidnapped. The republic needs Jabba onside in the ongoing war, so offer their help in his son’s retrieval. Unfortunately, this is all part of Count Dooku’s master plan and with the help of his wannabe Sith sidekick Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) they intend to manipulate this already sticky situation for their own Sith-y ends.
I’m a pro Star Wars guy. I’m a pro Prequels guy. When they announced this show, I was a pro Lucasfilm Animation guy. So why was it that I still found it so hard to get excited in the build up to this release? Before this even hit, there was a negative buzz as to the point of the project. We’d had Genndy Tartakovsky’s already much loved 2D animated Clone Wars and even more so we’d had Revenge of the Sith, which gave us all the answers and conclusions to all of the characters and story arcs that would be featured in this new TV drama. We know Obi Wan isn’t going to get killed by Ventress, we know Anakin isn’t going to lose another Skywalker limb to Dooku. We know the majority of our lead cast are going to be okay despite the odds they throw them up against. Then we found out 20th Century Fox wasn’t even involved and because of that, the film opens with a Warner Bros logo, which is jarring to say the least. All in all this wasn’t the best of circumstances in which to make a good first impression.
All these concerns soon disappear. As soon as we see the Jedi with their clone troopers, running into battle with sabers ignited, The Clone Wars suddenly becomes very exciting. The animation is immediately fantastic, far beyond what you’d expect from a weekly TV show. The choices in the styling all work well in the galaxy far, far away. Gone are the over the top Jedi powers of the Tartakovsky project. Here we have Jedi battles that would have worked just as well in the movies. Anakin does his chosen-one Jedi risky tactics while Obi-Wan is a cocky, confident Jedi Knight who knows how the game works and there are enough cool clone trooper moments to keep any fanboy happy. But what of the new addition to the galaxy? What of Ahsoka Tano? There have been a hell of a lot of opinions about her inclusion. Generally people don’t like the little smart mouthed Jedi that calls Anakin ‘Sky Guy’. To those people, I say: get over yourself—just for a moment. She’s not so bad. Okay, so maybe she calls R2, ‘Artooey’ one too many times, but this is a character who has been created for the TV show’s target audience. She’s a teenager, who is a potentially the new audience’s jump on character to Star Wars. I for one like the girl. She’s not the greatest Star Wars creation, but she’s far from the worst, and the relationship between Ahsoka and her ‘Sky Guy’ seems to be a good one which I enjoyed seeing develop.
The Clone Wars moves on quite briskly through its obviously made from glued together episodes. We get our battles and our twists and turns in plot and all of the prequel touchstones are apparent, with holographic Jedi meetings, goofy battle droids and insidious plots. There are a few moments of sheer delight and grandness especially in the battle with the walkers ascending the mountain and Anakin and Ahsoka racing to the top. There’s even a lot of feel-good original trilogy moments including the much missed ‘characters sitting in a cockpit looking out at camera’—Millennium Falcon style. Everything actually comes together quite nicely in regards to setting up a Star Wars weekly TV show. That is until the only real bad decision turns up. A decision so bad it will put the hardest of Star Wars fans to the test. In fact I may even go as far as saying, that this decision is worse than the re-jigged Jabba’s Palace dance sequence in Return of the Jedi. This bad decision comes in the form of Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s Uncle. For starters the purple, tattooed, feather headband wearing slug sounds like Truman Capote, which in all honesty, I could have lived with, just about. What really tips this over the edge into Star Wars Holiday Special sin-bin territory is this Hutt talks in English. I don’t mean broken English or hints of English. Full on English. And frankly coming from a Hutt, it just didn’t feel at all right. It didn’t help that it was a terrible character either. Thankfully, this isn’t a show stopper and even more thankfully he’s not a recurring character but it has to be said he’s bad enough to take some of the sheen off of the project.
This feature length introduction to the all new computer generated galaxy far, far away does it job. I enjoyed my first viewing of it in the cinema and after watching further episodes and returning to this pilot, I enjoyed it even more and whilst I can understand much of the bad press since its release, I still remain excited to see where these continuing adventures can take us.
Well our first Star Wars experience in HD starts here and as expected, its Lucasfilm-great. The first thing that struck me was just how clean this image is. I’d go as far as to say that this impressed me more than when I first saw it on the big screen.
Having the time to take this all in, the artists’ choices made here are really what sets this apart from other shows that share its audience. CGI is far from new to the animated series’ arena but never has it looked this good. The colours used to bring this to life really pop on Blu-ray and the clever use of what seems to be almost brush strokes, add a virtual texture to the flat computer generated images. Yoda’s skin and robe for example, look far beyond what other CG TV shows could handle and take a close look at the scuffs and nicks in the clone troopers’ helmet—there’s some subtle work going on and it’s captured fantastically here.
There are some noticeable issues to go with this though. There’s a wee bit of blocking in places and there are some shots that feel a little hazy, especially if there’s not a bright light to bring the image to life. Some of the shots can even look a little bland when they are bathed in a single cool colour. A good example of this is the location when saving Stinky from his prison. Everything is a very cool purple at sunset and everything just seems a little muted. That is until the HD green, blue and red sabers bring it back from the edge.
Overall this is a strikingly good image for what is essentially a TV show. It’s not Pixar good, especially in levels of detail but it’s not far off and I really hope when the entire first season is released on Blu-ray, that it will look at least this good.
Presented in Dolby TrueHD, Kevin Kiner has done a grand job re-creating a smaller-scale John Williams score, even if it’s not quite so memorable. There are nice hints to all the themes we know and love and he even gives us some nice new themes to get used to, though it has to be said some of the more rockier ones might be a hard pill to swallow for some Star Wars diehards.
As for the actual mix, it’s okay. It’s not quite as dynamic as I’d like and it could have done with a bit more bass in places, but it still works very well for the release. Dialogue is clear, sabers sound great and this never once feels like anything but a Star Wars adventure, so all in all, I’m not complaining.
Without a doubt, the most interesting and insightful feature here is the video commentary by director Dave Filoni and editor Jason Tucker. They give lots of background on the decisions made for this project and it’s good to see that Filoni has a lot of respect for the franchise and even more so that he seems to be a proper fan, which could be easy to fake in an EPK but difficult to hide in a commentary.
Outside of that there’s ‘The Voices of Star Wars: The Clone Wars' (10:00), which shows some of the faces chosen for these classic characters. It’s good to see they’ve opted for having the group in one room to do their work as opposed to the individually recorded and edited together option.
‘A New Score’ (10:45) shows Kevin Kiner at work and gives him the opportunity to give you his take on getting the gig and following in the footsteps of John Williams.
There’s a Gallery of some of the artwork involved in the show, from sketch to final and with the geeky little ‘Plo-Kool’ stamp on the approved works as well as a batch of four deleted scenes (10:11) which are pretty close to finished animation and bring very little else to what’s in the feature.
Also included are the six webisodes that were online in the build up to the cinematic release. ‘Introduction’ (3:41), ‘Epic Battles’ (2:45), ‘The Clones are Coming’ (3:27), ‘Heroes’ (3:27), ‘Villains’ (3:58) and ‘Anakin’s Padawan’ (3:43) all give brief looks at what to expect from the new project.
The biggest and best featurette here—and proving the fact that this release is an advert for the full TV season—is ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Untold Stories (24.53). Starting with Uncle George telling us that ‘there’s still a lot of Star Wars stories to tell.’ This is a great look at the TV show, including the already aired shows as well some of the forthcoming ones, including the Jar Jar centric episode where he gets mistaken for a Jedi which will no doubt get the Phantom Menace haters all stirred up again. I have been really enjoying the show so far and all the other episodes teased here make me even more excited for the rest of the run (which better come out as one box set as opposed to individual volumes).
The three trailers on offer are the ‘Launch Trailer’ (2:16) ’Dark Trailer’ (2:09) and the Clone Wars Video Game on Wii & DS (1:10).
Last up, and to show this is a kids’ TV show, we get a ‘Hologram Memory Challenge’ where you are rewarded with clips from the TV show’s future episodes, depending on how good your memory is. Disc two is a digital copy of the film for your portable pleasures.
Despite being a huge Star Wars fan, I concede that this first introduction to Lucas’s new project has been handled quite badly. A spotlight has been placed upon The Clone Wars in which the theatrical focus on it has been too heavy a burden. If Lucas had reined this one in a little and let The Clone Wars first appearance be on the small screen and given it the chance to blossom over time, the media response may have proven to be a little kinder. Frankly, the bad press you may have read really isn’t reflective of what’s actually on offer here. Yes, this is a very average pilot episode of a TV show but the continuing episodes are proving to be far more rewarding.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 11th November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dobly TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Featurettes, Video commentary, Gallery, Trailers, Hologram Memory Game, Webisodes, Deleted scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dave Filoni
Cast: James Arnold Taylo,r Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, Tom Kane, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and War
Length: 98 minutes
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