Cartoon Network

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?

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Steven Universe

So here’s something hilarious; I actually thought this was going to be an easy review. “Three episodes of Steven Universe?” I thought “That’s only half an hour’s worth of animation! I can do that in my sleep! I can wrap this review up in one night and take the rest of the week off to maybe work on some other things and actually be a writer for once!”
“Oh Mouse! You are a FOOL!”

“Oh Mouse! You are a FOOL!”

Of course not. Because before I can get into reviewing Steven Universe I actually have to explain what Steven Universe is and the backstory of the show to people who have never seen it. And with a backstory this epic, I have been forced to employ special tools. Please click this link.
(NOTE this link may not work on all devises, I’m working on getting a video to embed in the post but that may take some time. In the meantime, the Mary Sue gives a good run down of the backstory)
So yeah, that is the incredibly dense and rich mythology that the series has built up over one hundred episodes and is IN ABSOLUTELY NO HURRY TO LET YOU IN ON. Seriously, this show is such a goddamn tease, I’d say it drip feeds its backstory but these aren’t even drips, these are molecules of plot moisture.
Oh goodie. Another episode where Steven eats ice-cream.

Oh goodie. Another episode where Steven eats ice-cream.

I kid, I kid (mostly). One of the show’s charms is actually how it carefully builds up its world and devotes time to the various characters that make up Steven’s social circle, whether it’s the gems, or the various residents of Beach city, or his father Greg. And all these characters are so wonderfully layered and charming that even episodes where nothing substantial happens to move the main plot forward feel worthwhile.
Except Ronaldo because oh my giddy Aunt, FUCK RONALDO.

Except Ronaldo because, oh my giddy Aunt, FUCK RONALDO.

So this show first aired in 2013 on Cartoon Network and is the creation of Rebecca Sugar, a former writer and storyboard artist on Adventure Time. At the top of this post there’s some concept art from the original pilot which was much more “Adventure Timey” in its animation and style but the actual series looks quite different. The show has a simple but very elegant art style favouring beautiful painted backdrops and clean, uncomplicated character designs. The music is also really inventive with original songs featuring in many episodes (it helps that the main and supporting cast are crammed with professional singers). But all that would just add up to a very good looking and sounding children’s cartoon. To understand what makes Steven Universe so special we have to talk about fusion.
So, when the Crystal Gems are battling a threat that’s too powerful for them to take on alone, they can fuse together to form more powerful gems. Okay, hardly revolutionary. Power Rangers, Digimon and Transformers have all used a version of this trope to one degree or other. But here’s the thing. In Steven Universe fusion is very explicitly a metaphor for, well…
giphy-1
Okay, well maybe that’s a little simplistic. The metaphor is fairly elastic and, depending on the episode, fusion can be a stand in for a romantic relationship, platonic friendship or sometimes just the hard fucking. It’s also really important to remember that within the universe (heh) of the show, it’s none of those things. In the world of Steven Universe, fusion is not sex, or relationships or anything else, it’s fusion. It’s its own thing with its own rules and norms and etiquette. This is important to remember because if you treat the metaphor too literally it can go to some weird places. Like, the episode A Giant Woman where Steven first learns about fusion and sings a song about wanting to see Amethyst and Pearl fuse. If you take it to literally mean sex then it becomes the story of a creepy little boy wanting to watch his two foster mothers fuck.
So. Don’t do that.
So today we are going to be looking at three episodes from Season 2; A Cry For Help, Keystone Motel and Friend Ship. Let’s take a look. (Oh and, needless to say, there will be spoilers both for this episode and the series more generally so be warned.)

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