Saw The Clone Wars yesterday and while the Mannion boys were trying to talk themselves into believing they enjoyed it I was scratching my head over this: Whose idea was it to model all the characters after the puppets in Team America?
Strange and I thought off-putting choice for the animation style, but the movie might have been better if the producers had actually used puppets. You can make marionettes do a lot of interesting things, including have sex, it turns out. (Thanks for that innovation, South Park guys.) But, compared to CGI cartoons, the amount of leaping around while engaging in wholesale slaughter and mayhem they can manage is extremely limited. Having to worry about their lead characters' strings getting tangled if the action sequences get too wild might have forced the filmmakers to focus on character and story instead of blowing things up.
The first hour or so of Clone Wars is a big noisy mess, much like the first hour of Revenge of the Sith. It's like being trapped inside a video game controlled by somebody's cat walking back and forth over the console. There's no logical consistency in the courses of the battles, in the plans of attack of the two armies, in the capabilities of the technology and weaponry, or in the thinking and motivations of any of the characters. Guns that can reduce tanks to jumbled heaps of scrap metal can't shatter rock. Characters say mutually contradicting things sequentially. Obi-wan, Anakin, and Anakin's new apprentice bounce back and forth between being superheroes with powers and abilities far beyond mortal men or any Jedi we've seen in any of the live-action movies, even in the duel between Yoda and Darth Sidious, and just a couple of brave and clever guys and a junior high school girl who happen to be rather handy in a sword fight. No battle actually ever ends because both sides have an endless supply of reinforcements and new material. Not that this matters because very quickly it becomes clear that all the fighting and blowing things not only has no point or direction for its own sake, it is irrelevant---to the story of this cartoon and to the arc of the larger story of the live-action movies.
What little story The Clone Wars has on its own revolves around George Lucas' bizarre and persistent belief that we care about the details of the background politics of the Republic and that there is or could be an outcome to the Clone Wars worth rooting for. But nothing Anakin, Obi-wan, Yoda, and the other Jedi do is worth rooting for because, win or lose, whatever they do helps the Emperor further his goal of destroying the Republic and wiping out the Jedi. The filmmakers, though, insist on treating the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt's baby son as something we need to care about. Since in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter whether or not Jabba allows the Republic to use the trade routes he controls, it doesn't matter whether or not Anakin rescues little Rotta the Hutt. The movie tries to make us care by making Jabba a worried daddy and Rotta cute as a bug in a rug. So now, thirty one years after Jabba sent Greedo to kill Han Solo, twenty-eight years after he had Bobba Fett bring home Han frozen in carbonite, twenty-five years after he tried to feed Luke to a Rancor and made a sex slave out of Princess Leia, we're meant to think of Hutts as sympathetic?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas decided that he would allow the novels, comic books, and video games that grew out of the movies to fill in all the holes and gaps he didn't fill in himself in his movies. The Star Wars epic now includes a lot more than what's in the six films, just as the myth of the Trojan War includes a lot more than the Iliad and the Odyssey and the story of King Arthur far more than what's to be found in Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur. The Clone Wars does not add anything to that epic.
But it could have.
About a little more than half way through, The Clone Wars settles down and actually starts to tell a story with a plot, narrative direction, and (minimal) character development. This story is the story of Anakin's attempt to return Jabba's son to him safe and sound while Count Dooku plots to prevent him. But this is also the story of Anakin's return to Tatooine, which besides not being a garden spot in its own right---as Luke says of the place in the original movie, "If there's a bright center of the universe, you're in the spot that it's farthest from."---is the last place in the galaxy Anakin wants to re-visit.
Tatooine, as we all know, is where Luke Skywalker grew up the adopted son of a hardworking moisture farmer and his wife, but, for those of you who never bothered to see any of the "prequels," it's also where Anakin grew up the fatherless son of a slave. Anakin left Tatooine to begin his Jedi training when he was ten, but he had to leave his mother behind and for some reason went ten years without seeing her or getting in touch with her, which broke her heart. The last time Anakin went back was to witness her death, for which he blames himself, and to slaughter the Sandpeople who killed her in an insane fit of vengeful anger, and we all know where anger can take a Jedi when he lets it get the better of him.
Tatooine, then, is the site of Anakin's first great moral failure, the place where he just about went over to the Dark Side all on his own, without any help from Emperor Palpatine. Coming "home" makes him understandably grumpy, but it ought to have been the cause of a more heroic psychological struggle and torment for him, and all it would have taken to dramatize this was an encounter with some Sandpeople and a chance meeting with one character from the first movie.
Luke's uncle, Owen Lars.
It's clear in the movie I'll always call Star Wars and think of as the first movie but which has been officially renamed A New Hope and which younger fans know as Episode IV that Uncle Owen holds a grudge against Luke's father, and this is without his knowing that Anakin Skywalker has become Darth Vader. (How could he have known? George Lucas didn't even know it at the time.) What you can't know, unless you read the novelization of Episode II: Attack of the Clones is why Owen has it in for Anakin.
Owen blames Anakin for breaking their mother's heart.
Owen Lars and Anakin Skywalker are step-brothers.
Shortly after Anakin went off with Qui-gon Jinn to become a Jedi, Owen's father freed Anakin's mother from slavery and married her. Owen was a boy at the time and he latched onto Shmi who latched onto him back. They loved each other as mother and son. Owen then grew up joining his mother every night as she sat outside staring up at the night sky, wondering where Anakin was and hoping he would come back to her. It's no wonder that Owen learned to resent Anakin and all his Jedi friends as a pack of cold, heartless bastards who didn't care about the pain they caused lesser mortals, and it's no wonder he would have done his best to make sure that Luke didn't follow in Anakin's footsteps, following Obi-wan on "some damn fool idealistic crusade" and breaking Owen and Aunt Beru's hearts the way Anakin broke Shmi's.
This dynamic between the two "brothers," based on Anakin's guilt and Owen's resentment, is an important subtext to Luke's story, which makes it an important subtext to the story. The only reason Luke is tempted to give in to the Dark Side is the same reason he doesn't give in. Owen taught him to put other people's feelings and needs ahead of his own. Owen taught him how not to become Anakin. And this isn't dramatized at all in any of the movies.
It could have been worked into The Clone Wars easily enough. But it could have been and should have worked into Episode II. And this brings me to what I regard as the goofiest scene in all the Star Wars movies that does not involve an ewok, C-3PO, or Jar Jar Binks, and it occurs in Episode II.
It's Anakin's first scene after he murders the Sandpeople. Padme finds him sulking in a workshop in the Lars homestead and makes the mistake of asking him what's wrong. It's a mistake because he tells her. He confesses to having "slaughtered them like animals," the entire tribe, men, women, and children. Then he blames Obi-wan for what he's done, at least indirectly. Anakin starts listing all the ways he feels Obi-wan has failed to respect him as if they explain why he killed all the Sandpeople and why he's right to feel it's not his own fault.
In other words, he confesses to being a mass murderer and then throws a self-pitying temper tantrum in which he refuses to take any responsibility for his own moral failure and Padme reacts...by not reacting.
Not as if she's been listening to him, at any rate.
It's as if she hadn't been paying attention at the crucial moment and only half-heard him and she doesn't want him to know. She's aware that something's bothering him, but as far as she heard it might be that he's misplaced his lightsabre again or that he feels a headache coming on, the kind he used to get when he was growing up here and sand got up his nose. A sympathetic response of some kind is in order, though, so she gives him a kind of general purpose "There, there" pat on the cheek and then waits for her next cue. Since Anakin lets the matter drop, so does she and the scene ends without us finding out what she thinks about the fact that her boyfriend is a raging psychopath and petulant narcissist with very little impulse control and what amounts to superpowers.
The scene is goofy because of Padme's lack of reaction and the bad acting it elicits from Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman. What made it maddening for me to watch, though, was that it was totally unnecessary. Lucas had Anakin confessing to the wrong person.
Anakin wouldn't have told anyone, willingly, except maybe C-3PO. Why would he want anyone to know he just did a premature Darth Vader? But he might admit to what he'd done to someone who'd already guessed it, someone already inclined to think badly of him.
All Lucas needed to have done was have it not be Padme who finds Anakin at that point but Owen.
It would have been natural for the two young men to try to talk about their mutual loss and for the conversation would turn ugly quickly, with Owen unable to hide his anger at Anakin for the pain he caused their mother. And Owen would likely have guessed right away what Anakin did to the Sandpeople, first because it'd have been something he'd have wanted to do himself, but second because it was something he wouldn't have done because Shmi herself wouldn't have wanted it, and doing things that would have disappointed Shmi is something Anakin does as a matter of course. He'd have confronted Anakin---You killed them all, didn't you?---and Anakin would have shot back that he did, he was glad he did, and he'd do it again, and that would have settled everything between the "brothers." Neither would have wanted to see the other again and Owen's whole relationship with Luke would have been foretold right then and there. Owen would always be on the lookout for signs that Luke was at all like his father and jump all over him whenever he thought he saw one.
A scene like that is there but not there in the Star Wars story. Something like it must have happened. Shmi's two sons would have talked at some point during that visit, and it's unlikely they would have gotten along. George Lucas is probably content with its existing in the subtext and if he's not, he likely figures that if it isn't there now it will turn up somewhere in one of the novels or comic books or in one of the two TV series that are coming down the pike, the cartoon based on The Clone Wars or the live-action series about Luke's boyhood on Tatooine. But it could easily have turned up in The Clone Wars. Anakin could have, should have, bumped into Owen and Beru along with all the Jawas he keeps shooing away. But a scene like that is hard to work into a video game, I guess.
As it is, The Clone Wars doesn't add anything significant to the Star Wars universe except a new line of action figures and toys.
There are a few positive things about it though. We see Anakin acting as a true hero, which is not something he gets to do in either Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. In the first he's just a spoiled brat with surrogate daddy issues with Obi-wan; in the second, he's already a lost cause. It's good to know that in Return of the Jedi Luke set out to save a soul actually worth saving.
And The Clone Wars goes a little way towards rescuing Padme from the role of helpless worrywart Lucas reduced her to in Revenge of the Sith, although unfortunately even as a cartoon she's still forced to serve as a display mannequin for the costume designers' ugliest and most ridiculous creations.
The best thing about The Clone Wars, however, is that it gives Christopher Lee, who does the voice work for the cartoon version of his character from Episodes II and III, far more to work with than he had in Revenge of the Sith---Count Dooku is more of a living character, and a more worthy adversary for the Jedi, in cartoon form than he was as the live-action version of himself we last saw him as.
I still think it would have been better all around if Lucas hadn't made him a Sith and allowed him to be the fallen idealist and hero we're told he once was, if instead of being a mere henchman for Darth Sidious, he'd been as much an unknowing puppet as any of the Jedi.