Star Wars: Clone Wars Volume 1 (2003)

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Okay, let’s get this out of the way. The prequels aren’t bad.

Okay, fine, scratch that.

The prequels are bad.

But they aren’t only bad.

I like to think of it this way; If the Star Wars prequel trilogy was just three bad movies, no more, no less, I wouldn’t know who Kit Fisto is.

It’s this guy.

Much digital ink has been spilt about how George Lucas, once he got the chance to make the prequel trilogy and had the clout to do it without having to listen to a single solitary other human being, revealed himself to be a talentless hack who was lucky enough to have some really talented people to collaborate with the first time around.

That’s not true.

Sorry, scratch that.

That’s not entirely true.

The prequel trilogy sees Lucas’ worst faults as a film-maker on display; a love of cringe-inducing, borderline offensive comic relief, little to no inclination or ability to get believable performances out of his actors and the little matter of being one of the worst dialogists on the Hollywood A List.

But he does have skills, not least a knack for world building and for crafting character arcs that tap into deep, universal themes.

One of the great misconceptions about The Phantom Menace is that it’s boring because it’s about politics, which is like saying that Westerns are boring because they feature gunfights. Politics is one of the most inherently thrilling subjects that fiction can tackle, particularly in times of unrest (Christ, have you looked at the news at any time in the last ten years and thought it was a snoozefest?). The movies themselves may be largely terrible, but the world they conjure, an ancient and increasingly corrupt democracy slowly sliding into fascism against the backdrop of an impossibly vast conflict spanning the galaxy, is incredibly fertile and (if I’m honest) a good bit more interesting than the war between the squeaky clean rebels and the boo-hissable Empire.

The subject of today’s review is an odd beast. Released in 2003 when Attack of the Clones was still steaming on the sidewalk and Revenge of the Sith was just a relatively watchable glint in Lucas’ eye, Star Wars: Clone Wars was a series of shorts released online filling in the adventures of Obi-Wan and Anakin set between episodes 2 and 3. The series was overseen by Genndy Tartatovsky, creator of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack and master of having characters do something very, very slowly while a violin chord plays and I’ve looked everywhere for the name of that thing but it doesn’t seem to have a name so whaddyagonnado?

These cartoons were a huge hit, winning awards and critical acclaim and with fans the world over joyously proclaiming them to be the one good thing to come out of the prequels. And then George Lucas came along and said “Nope, none of this is canon. I’m doing a new Clone Wars series. All in CGI. And do you know who’s going to have whole episodes devoted to him? Jar Jar Fuckin’ Binks, that’s who. You’re welcome.”

And the fans were all: “…………………………………………………why do you keep doing this?”

Star Wars: Clone Wars (CW) has a weird relationship with its sister show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TCW), launched in 2008 under the supervision of Dave Filoni. TCW had a really rough roll out, with Lucas making the truly baffling decision to release the two-hour pilot as a stand-alone movie meaning it would draw inevitable comparisons with the original trilogy. Season 1 rarely rose above the level of competent kiddie fair and the fandom wailed for poor, wronged Genndy. But then, something odd happened. TCW started getting better, and kept at it, expanding on existing characters, introducing new ones and telling some of the best and most compelling stories ever told in this universe. If you saw Solo and were confused as to why Darth Maul seemed in rather rude good health it’s because TCW realised what a waste it was to have killed him off in Phantom Menace and brought him back. After initially meeting only scorn, TCW’s prestige in the fanbase is such that it was actually genuinely difficult for me to research this review because Google kept assuming I was looking for information on the later show.

So CW has gone from critical and fandom darling to almost forgotten afterthought. Which is more deserved? Which show is better? Will I ever find a better way to end an introduction than asking rhetorical questions?

So the first season consists of 20 episodes, each one just about long enough to make a sandwich. This is because it was originally an online series, in a time when the internet was still largely turned by hand and the water mill. In narration, Yoda fills us in an all that’s been happening. Really? You gave narration duty to Yoda? Who was your second choice?

Fair enough.

Yoda gives us the skinny; the Galactic Republic, led by Sheev Palpatine, is locked in civil war with the Confederacy of Independent Systems, also led by Sheev Palpatine who is secretly playing the galaxy’s greatest game of “Stop Hitting Yourself”. Yoda explains that the Republic’s greatest hope is young Anakin Skywalker, one of the most talented and naturally gifted Jedi there has ever been.

“But fooled be not, an utter tool he still is.”

So, rather than dragging this out until the end, let me just tell you where I stand on the debate as to which Clone Wars series is better. The animation fan in me loves CW, but the writer in me loves TCW. CW just looks amazing, the animation is fluid, the designs are all faithfully translated from the movies but with a little indefinable zip that’s hard to describe and the action is fantastic. Tartatovsky does motion better than…honestly maybe any animator ever. Every movement is just so precise and perfectly calculated. But where CW is a show that’s meant to be seen, TCW is a show that’s meant to be watched. Wait, does that make sense?

“Nope.”

What I mean is, CW is a visual delight but TCW is a better story. For instance, TCW manages something that neither the prequel trilogy or CW can; it gives us an Anakin Skywalker that you don’t want to force choke every second he’s onscreen. Now, I personally think Hayden Christensen actually gave a very good performance…just maybe not in the way George Lucas intended. If you watch Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith as a story about the origins of a serial killer, then Hayden absolutely knocks it out of the park. The narcissism, the arrested development, the possessive jealously. I absolutely believe that that guy would grow up to be Asthmatic Space Hitler. But the fall of Anakin is supposed to be a tragedy, the story of a noble hero who loved not wisely but too well, and so fell to the dark side. Lucas couldn’t give us that. Tartatovsky couldn’t either. But Filoni did.

Anyway, our story begins with Obi-Wan, Anakin and Kit Fisto (I’m joking, I know it’s Yoda don’t @ me) meeting with Chancellor Palpatine to tell him that the banking clan on Muunilist has been building droid armies and secretly providing them to the seperatists (Lehman Brothers used to pull that kind of shit all the time). Also, how the hell have the Jedi not figured out that Palpatine is evil yet? He’s literally doing a Mr Burns pose.

“Excellent…”

Obi-Wan says it’s time to head over there and Occupy Muunilist. Palpatine agrees and suggests that Anakin should go too and should be given command of Obi-Wan’s “space forces” and Obi-Wan’s all “actually sir, in space we just call them “forces”.” Yoda and Obi-Wan are both not sure that Anakin is ready for command yet but Palpatine overrules them, much to their annoyance.

“That fucking guy.” “I know right?”

So Obi-Wan and Anakin and shit ton of clones set off for Muunilist, with Anakin hovering with his ship outside Padmé’s window because this couple spend 90% of their time staring mournfully at each other through windows over the Coruscant skyline.

Still a better love story than Twilight.

En route Anakin tells Obi-Wan that he knows that he doesn’t think he’s ready for command but that he is the best pilot in the order and wow, they are not even trying to get us to like this guy. The amount of whining, neediness and narcissim that he manages to squeeze into that one line must be some kind of force power. I also don’t really like his design with his stupid butt-chin and weird hockey-stick lookin’ eye-brows. I do love their design for Obi-Wan, particularly how he looks super suspicious of everyone every single second of this thing.

“So. You’re Clone Troopers designed to be utterly loyal and never turn on your Jedi Masters. OR SO YOU SAY.”

“Maybe YOU’D have trouble trusting people if you’d been abandoned on the planet Melida/Daan during a civil war by your master when you were a frickin’ TEENAGER.”

“Your knowledge of obscure Star Wars trivia never ceases to amaze and arouse me.”

“When we met I was but the learner, now I am the master.”

While Obi-Wan and Anakin attack Muunilist, Kit Fisto is leading at attack on the planet Mon Cala where the loyalist Mon Calamari are waging a civil war against the separatist Quarren…

Okay, the “It’s a Trap!’ guys are throwing down with some Cthulhu looking fools. Got it? Good.

Kit Fisto is being sent here because, as Yoda tells him, “trust your judgement in these matters, we do” and he’s all “it’s because I’m a squid-man, right? You just naturally assume all we squid-men are alike. Bunch of racist mother…”

Anyway, he goes and kicks ass underwater and that’s basically it.

Sorry, if it seems I’m jumping around a lot it’s because these things are like ninety per cent action scenes. It’s like recapping the plot of a wrestling match.

On the planet Rattatak, Count Dooku is in the market for a new hench-thing and is shown into an arena where your typical ruck of slavering space beasties are hacking each other to pieces with axes and whatnot. And I have to say, I think his hosts are misreading their customer here. Does Dooku really seem like the kind of guy who’d want a massive green drooling cyclops with a mace as his body man?

“Ugh. How gauche.”

His host is killed by a mysterious figure who emerged from the shadows. This is Asajj Ventress, who started out initially as a concept for the villain of Attack of the Clones before Dooku was developed. She was one of the few elements of this show that actually survived and made into canon so you know she’s badass. She cuts through all the gladiators like a white hot Stujonian knife through Hoth perma-butter (it’s Star Wars guys, we can’t be doing with simple idioms) and Dooku gives her a polite clap.

He tells her that she’s got the moves and skills and the cool outfit, but that she’ll never be a Sith because he senses great fear in her.

Which, I’m sorry, what?

I thought Fear leads to Anger leads to Hate leads to Suffering leads to the third exit off the N11 past the McDonald’s which heads straight to the Dark Side? Surely all Sith should have great fear? Surely that’s them well on their way? Well anyway, Fear does indeed lead to Anger which leads to Asajj declaring that Dooku knows nothing of the Dark Side (quite possibly) and attacking him. And then he blasts her force lightning until she passes out so, yeah, okay, maybe he knows a thing or to about the Dark Side.

She wakes up in his tastefully minimalist Doom Cave and Dooku introduces her to Darth Sidious. Sidious congratulates Dooku on finding a worthy apprentice because apparently in this continuity the Rule of Two is like an open relationship: You can have other apprentices, as long as you tell your partner and stay safe. They give Asajj her orders; kill Anakin Skywalker.

Wait a minute, Sidious? I thought you were trying to cause Skywalker to fall to the Dark Side, not ice that fool?

“My evil plans are like jazz, man. I just do what feels right in the moment.”

Meanwhile, back on Muunilist, the centre of the Galaxy’s Banking system, is burning like Wall Street will once Bernie gets elected. Obi Wan battles Durge, a vast collection of pink and purple tentacles crammed into a suit of armour who keeps coming back after being seemingly defeated like the measles. Durge pulls Obi Wan inside him and, before you can yell “KANEDA!” Obi Wan blows him up from the inside. Bad ass.

“Well, this IS the guy who mastered both Attaru AND Soresu and is considered in canon to be the greatest light saber duellist of all time.”

“Fuck that’s hot.”

Meanwhile, over the planet, Anakin and his clone troopers try to take out the Seperatists’ gun platforms while battling a frankly ridiculous number of flying droids. Anakin tries spinning (which is a good trick) and succeeds in blowing up the platform. But then, Asajj Ventress shows up in her ship, wipes out a load of clone troopers and baits Anakin into following her over Obi Wan’s orders who tells him that…

We now jump to the planet Dantooine, where an entire two minutes is given over to watching Mace Windus singlehandedly take out an army of hundreds and hundreds of droids. UNARMED.

It’s honestly kind of ridiculous, the character has always been depicted as being powerful but here he’s operating at full on Superman level. If you’re watching Season 1 as a continous movie then it does absolutely bupkiss to advance the plot but it’s probably my favourite stand alone sequence in the whole thing. It is just frickin’ cool.

Meanwhile Anakin tracks Asajj to the planet Yavin 4 and they battle in the ruins where, decades later, the Rebels will make their base in A New Hope. What I love about this sequence is just how beautifully it’s staged, and the use of light and shadow. Absolutely stunning.

On the roof of an old temple, Anakin gives in to his hate and takes one of Assaj’s red light sabres and seemingly kills her, all while John Williams epic “Dual of the Fates” plays. Just to really drive the point home that he’s turning to the Dark Side. Y’know, in case that scene in Attack of the Clones where he wiped out an entire tribe of indigenous people (children included) left you thinking that he was a good kid who just made a few bum calls.

Actually, that’s kinda grim isn’t it? Basically every time you see Anakin Skywalker in TCW or the comics or this show, you have to remember that he’s already committed mass murder, that his wife knows about it, and they’ve just managed to keep it a secret form all their friends. And they’re…fine.

They’s just fine.

Until you look into their eyes.

Brrrrrrr.

Also, what a weird picture. She’s holding her own hand like she’s trying to figure out what human contact feels like and he’s using her as a standing desk.

Anakin returns to Muunilist and gives an almost-apology to Obi Wan saying that Obi Wan was right about it being a trap but that he totally won anyway. And Obi Wan’s all “Well, did you at least learn something?”

“Nah bro.”

God, how does Obi Wan put up with this guy?

“Oh this is nothing. There was the time Obi Wan…”

“Wait a minute. Why are all your super deep Star Wars cuts about Obi Wan Kenobi?”

“You mean Obi Wan KenoBAE?”

“OH MY GOD THIS EXPLAINS THE SHRINE!”

Okay, so the series actually ends on a cliff hanger with a small group of Jedi being hunted down by General Grievous. You remember Grievous?  The wheezing loser from Revenge of the Sith who kept running way from every battle. Yeah, he was introduced in this show and he was ever so slightly different.

“I WILL WALK INTO A COURT WHILE IT WRECKS ALL ERECT SCREAMING “YES! I AM GUILTY MOTHERFUCKERS I AM DEATH!””

I am at a loss to describe how awesome this version of the character is and I am slightly aghast as to how they could have nerfed him so badly in the movie.

As Grievous prepares to cut down the last surviving Jedi, we cut to Yoda on Coruscant as he watches a storm gathering on the horizon and murmurs that the worst is yet to come.

***

Clone Wars might not have the depth of storytelling and characterisation of The Clone Wars but damned if it’s not one of the coolest looking things ever to come out of this franchise. This is like pure, uncut, top-tier Star Wars delivered in little super-concentrated doses. The force is strong with this one.

Animation: 14/20

Great character designs and it just looks so cool.

Leads: 13/20

Not the Anakin Skywalker show and thank the Force for that. This is the first time I think a lot of Star Wars fans got the young Obi Wan we always wanted. Mace Windu, Kit Fisto and Yoda don’t get much fleshing out other than: “These guys are so freaking awesome” but there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Villains: 16/20

Disney Workhorse Corey Burton does a damn fine job of capturing Christopher Lee’s sepulchral tones Dooku. And Grievous would never be this amazing again.

Supporting Characters: 15/20

No Jar Jar. Automatic 15 points.

Music: 17/20

Makes excellent use of John Williams, but on a TV budget the orchestration can’t help but sound a little small.

FINAL SCORE: 75%

NEXT UPDATE: 13 March 2018

NEXT TIME:  Domo origato, Mister Mutton Chopo…

 

40 comments

  1. Oh man I should rewatch the whole thing before I read this, it’s been so longok I’m done. Hmm. Shows seem longer when you’re eight and starved for any kind of new Star Wars. These new kids don’t know how good they have it with their Last Jedis and Oberyn Martell The Mandalorian! And, also their new season of Clone Wars. Which I’d forgotten about. Yay!

    These remind me of the Vader scene at the end of Rogue One. Cool, beautiful, almost completely pointless but I’m so glad to have it! Gimme Filoni and Rian Johnson reinventing the way characters in-universe perceive the force anyday!

  2. Cool review. I was wondering how you’d handle how so much of it is an excuse for cool fight scenes.

    Wanna know something kind of sad? I commissioned this back during the ACLU drive of ’17. (No complaints!) In that two-year span–which has felt about 50 times as long–the bombed-out wreck of a human being I have become has kind of burnt out on Star Wars for now. (And Last Jedi can only take maybe half the blame, tops, next to the cavalcade of nonsense we’re still wading through.)

    Looking forward to what you make of The Wolverine. It’s like if Two-Face from Batman directed it, one half each.

  3. I’ve always admired Genndy Tartatovsky’s ability to portray so much with minimal animation, expressions contain even more emotion than dialogue and even then the dialogue is usually on point.

    As for the debate between Clone Wars versus The Clone Wars, I think they both have their merits but will agree that The Clone Wars had better storytelling, though I think it took them most of the first season before they found their footing. Which is fine, that usually happens with TV series.

    But one thing that I feel that the Prequel Trilogy (and by extension the animated series attached to it) succeeded in where the Sequel Trilogy failed was immersing the audience in the galaxy of Star Wars. You truly got to see the length and breadth of the galaxy by visiting the various worlds that were in it and the aliens that occupied them. And one thing the animated series really did well was when they found an element or character that they knew had potential they made sure to take full advantage of them. Case in point: Asajj Ventress, General Grievous, Cad Bane, Hondo Ohnaka etc.

  4. Yeah, The Clone Wars had better writing….mostly by the virtue of actually having a plot while Clone Wars was mostly just a series of action scenes. (Though, I think the writing on TCW was more hit-and-miss than people give it credit for, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

    And the reason (or at least the one I’ve heard) for the difference between animated Grievous and Episode III Grievous is that Tartakovsky was only told the basics of the character–cyborg, uses lightsabers, four arms–and nothing else, basically being given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with him.

  5. That bit wit the weird photo of Anakin and Padmé (hey, phone automatically adds an accent mark, nice) freaking killed me. Prequel press photos were weird and minimalistic.

    I have very fond memories of the Kit Fitso and Yavin fights. I need to rewatch these.

  6. Another great review Mouse! I totally agree that the CGI show is a better story while this show is a better feast for the eyes, but until now, I wasn’t able to put it in words as well as you.

    Btw, I was under the impression that this show was originally aired on TV. Both Wikipedia and TV Tropes (the two most reliable sources for pop culture, lol) seem to say so and I’ve seen commercials on YouTube which imply it was a TV show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlDBgnAzeME. Is there something I’m missing?

    Anywho, great review as always and I’m glad you liked this. (Leans in close and whispers: So, are you gonna review Volume 2 at some point?)

  7. I really need to watch The Clone Wars. But I heard it takes like a season to get it’s footing so I’ve been holding it off.

  8. Does the Lying Cat reference mean you read Saga? Because if so that’s awesome.

    Corey Burton is one of my favorite voice actors of all time. Shockwave, Dooku, Ludwig von Drake, and Captain Hook are all the same person. Guy’s nearly Welkerian.

    1. The Prequels were also MY gateway into the STAR WARS universe (with a little help from KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC) and, while they’re not Perfect, there’s more than a little good in them – I’m especially fond of REVENGE OF THE SITH.

      I also have a soft spot for Jar Jar Binks – poor much maligned simpleton – so make of that what you will; having said that Obi-Wan Kenobi remains my favourite character in all of STAR WARS, so you should be able to see I have SOME taste.

  9. Agree that CW is more style than substance that is understandable given that it’s pretty hard to tell a good action story in three minutes or less without devolving into just action sequences. It´s one reason why I find volume two be better than first one, as instead being twenty 3-minutes shorts following 5-6 plot lines, we have five 12-minutes mini-episode with only two plotlines, making a better story.
    As for Geroge Lucas and his contribution to the franchise (both good and bad), SFdebris made fantastic mini-series of documentaries detailing the making of the first movie, then the rest of the original trilogy and finally the prequels. https://sfdebris.com/videos/special/herosjourney.php

  10. Please allow me to compliment you on a very fine review Mouse!

    Out of curiosity, may I please ask which planet in the STAR WARS galaxy is your particular favourite?

  11. TCW really does become a great show after about a season and a half. One of the weirdest decisions they made which I think really hurt the show in it’s first two seasons was that the episodes weren’t in chronological order. It was really confusing trying to piece together the timeline of events because it just jumped around randomly. But eventually it came together and was fantastic, Ahsoka is just an excellent excellent character. It’s a really tough call for me between TCW and Rebels as to which one is better, but I think I probably do have to go with TCW overall.

  12. After the opening about the prequels I hope you will review all of them. Have you seen the Red Letter Media reviews by the way? And I love the sequel trilogy but not enough politics is their issue with not trying enough new things regainding the plot and world rather than the characters and themes which some fans have issues with. I would have wanted both.

    And I know “better love story than Twilight” is a meme but Anakin and Padmé truly have the worst love stories ever. Anakin is pretty much a sociopath in the prequels and Edward never killed Bella when he though she was interested in someone else. And every since scene of prequel romance apart from funnily enough the window scene is cringe worthy or makes little sense form Padmés perspective. At least Twilight is kind of moody melodrama in certain angles.

      1. You’re not missing much. Red Letter is overrated tosh that seems to delight more in saying what’s *wrong* with a popular series than what’s *right* with an unpopular one(ostensibly one of the goals of criticism, no? Balanced and fair reviewing of stories people might not have heard of?) It’s right out of the Cinemasins school of “the movie made me think so it’s bad. plot hole. boom” …thought.

        That said, I’m curious; since you did this, do you plan to tackle TCW at all? I’d love to read your thoughts on Umbara if nothing else!

      2. Well, if you focus on their Plinkett videos and Half In the Bag, sure. But you are doing yourself a disservice if you are avoiding their Best of the Worst series, which is one of the best review shows on YouTube.

  13. Oh, *that’s* the story behind the Clone Wars and The Clone Wars! I was always very deeply confused before this. Great review.

    “The movies themselves may be largely terrible, but the world they conjure, an ancient and increasingly corrupt democracy slowly sliding into fascism against the backdrop of an impossibly vast conflict spanning the galaxy, is incredibly fertile and (if I’m honest) a good bit more interesting than the war between the squeaky clean rebels and the boo-hissable Empire.”

    This. This is the best articulation of why, despite better-written space operas and space stories being out there, it’s Star Wars that’s grabbed my attention and never really let go. Not that there’s no room for such stories later on–particularly in the early years of the Rebel Alliance, when ex-CIS and ex-Republican personnel get to uneasily rub shoulders–but I’ve always found the chaotic years of the late Republic and early Empire to be among the most interesting settings in science fiction.

  14. *Hi-fives Ms. Mouse* FELLOW PERSON WHO READ THE AMAZING ROTS NOVELIZATION. I have a weird soft-spot for the prequel era and a ton of it is Obi-Wan and Padmé. (Separately, not as a couple. I mean the good timeline would clearly be them in a triad with an Anakin who managed to get his shit together, but I digress…) I also just devoured the new Padmé book that came out. SO MANY FEELS.

    I pretty much agree with you, Mouse, when it comes to CW. It’s so very pretty but the fragmented structure doesn’t always work for me. I haven’t made it super-far into TCW but I want to get through the old episodes before the new ones come out. And Rebels as well.

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