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"Star Wars Clone Wars" Sets New Standards for Tartakovsky

Sometimes, it's tough enough to catch full half-hour or hour-long programs with a modern busy schedule. So I found it quite difficult to catch any of Cartoon Network's "micro-series", as it had been dubbed, after its initial premiere. 5 minutes a pop isn't exactly easy to schedule to fullest accuracy, despite how easy it would be to insert. Thankfully, Cartoon Network aired the complete two seasons of it a couple of weeks ago, and also the whole series is viewable on the Internet at their website (as long as your hard drive isn't a piece of junk, you should be okay). Therefore, with the series so readily available and at anyone's beck and call, it would be unnecessary to go any farther with the matter of the 5-minute scheduling difficulty. I can sit back and review these shorts for what they are.

Genndy Tartakovsky is well-known for his superb action series Samurai Jack, which utilizes visual flatness in the most three-dimensional ways possible and treats its audience with long, thrilling, and uniquely edited fight scenes and action sequences. With Star Wars: Clone Wars, Genndy had a difficult task ahead of him: to succeed in translating conceivably the most popular sci-fi epic of all time into animation without obliterating the reality of these live-action figures. I believe he does this admirably. He makes no effort to pretend that he can match the visuals of the films identically, and so he leans into heavy favor towards his Jack-type stylization. This makes the characters far easier to accept; by placing these stylized characters in a world as stylized as they are, the series creates its own sense of the Star Wars reality and thusly makes it all fit. Of course, even so, this is still some of the most technically advanced work that Tartakovsky has ever done, even with his style; he indulges in many computer-generated shots that allow him to manipulate the camera in very Lucas-ish fashions. There's even a fair share of Kurosawa-esque (and thusly, Lucas-esque) swipe cuts. The whole thing feels very authentic, even while being a visual blood brother of Jack.

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The voice characterizations are just slightly less impressive. Typical of Jack, there is not that much that needs to be said in these shorts, as the characters spend more time kicking each others' behinds. But dialogue scenes are an eventuality with Star Wars (depending on your opinions of the prequels, this is either a good or bad thing), and so recreations, or at least impressions, are required of most of the characters seen in the prequels thus far. Dialogue-wise, I can safely say that nothing especially struck me as difficult to listen to, although Mat Lucas' version of Anakin Skywalker seems based upon imitating the worst (and therefore, most famous) of Hayden Christensen's deliveries. On the upside, Mat gets appropriately wild upon the climax of Season 2. Most of the actors, though, do some really great work for what little they get, especially Tom Kane's Yoda, James Arnold Taylor's Obi-Wan, and Corey Burton's Count Dooku. Anthony Daniels is the only real cast member present, doing his standard C3PO blubbering; hey, nobody does it better. For new characters, the standout is Asajj Ventress, voiced by Grey DeLisle (Vicky from The Fairly OddParents), which is a better piece of work than her impression of Padme Amidala. She's a sinister Sith wanna-be, and skilled with using two lightsabers at a time, which makes for one of the best fights in the whole series in Season 2. The rain on the lightsabers is one of the most excellent details I've seen in an animated series in a long time.

What does Star Wars: Clone Wars provide, exactly? Well, it's a little difficult to say. It is neither one continual story nor 20 separate stories. Some shorts end at actual endings or appropriate cliffhangers, while a couple seem to just stop because the time limit was hit. The primary story is a basic extension of the main Anakin/Obi-Wan conflict from Episode II, with Anakin seriously losing his cool by the end. It will depend upon Episode III to determine whether such midway examination of Anakin's decline is all that crucial. If Anakin starts off Ep. III in a place arguably close to the Dark Side, then this is absolutely a necessity. If not, it's just one more sign that he MIGHT go to the Dark Side (as if there's some sort of doubt about this). There are also several side stories and conflicts, including a hard-to-kill bounty hunter working for Dooku against Obi-Wan, the inimitable Mace Windu up against an entire fleet of droids singlehandedly on a sand planet, and the "introduction" of the Mon Calamari. These all have little beginnings and ends of their own (and the series ends with the foreboding introduction of a certain lightsaber-wielding machine that is sure to be even more terrible when it pops up in Episode III).

To answer the question posed by the previous paragraph, this series is a booster. A cinematic appendix, if you will. Lucas has clearly decided, in the way he is creating the prequels, that the Clone Wars themselves are not entirely central to the themes he means to examine with the films themselves. But he has allowed Genndy Tartakovsky to craft these little looks into said war that continue to expand and deepen the marvelous universe that the Star Wars films have created. It is that amazing universe that I, as a humble filmgoer myself, love the most about the film series, and it is just that which Tartakovsky is feeding into with this micro-series. A little unfocused here, a little jarring there, but always thrilling and always expanding. It is a significant victory for the entire Star Wars license that these shorts have been created, as they are of exceptional quality and can put to rest any doubts that the prequels' stories are unworthy of examination, no matter how well you feel they have been examined so far. And as for Tartakovsky? I say it's his best work yet, both in pure adrenaline creation and in potent, powerful action storytelling. Everything that is great about Tartakovsky is present in this micro-series, and wherever he goes next after this, it'll be this he has to top.

Three and a half (***1/2) stars out of four (****)

A critique by Alex Weitzman
First Published on April 23, 2004

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