'Star Wars' empire still strong

Review: B-

August 15, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun movie critic

Lucasfilm's new feature-length cartoon, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, has a light heart and a spring in its step. It's not exactly thrilling, and it doesn't cover much new ground. But young audiences will lap it up like ice cream, and its good humor and faith in the Force will put adults in a Saturday-morning frame of mind even at midnight showings.

Ever since Luke asked Obi-Wan, "You fought in the Clone Wars?" in Star Wars: A New Hope, fanboys (and, let's face it, fangirls too) have wondered what the cataclysm would look like on the big screen. Here's their chance to see sweeping images of the Jedi using their clone armies to protect the Republic against the Dark Lords of the Sith and their droid armies. (There's already been a 2004-2005 Cartoon Network "micro-series" about the Clone Wars, and a new Cartoon Network TV series will pick up where this movie ends come fall.)

The animated style blends stylized human figures, whose forms and faces could have been whittled from soap bars, with atmospheres and backdrops that are saturated with light, shadow and color. The writing style combines Star Wars banter and gobbledygook with the usual Lucasfilm life lessons about humility, discipline and honor. Thank God the characters keep repeating that Jabba the Hutt's cooperation is essential "for the Jedi armies to control the supply routes on the Outer Rim." I think I got it the fourth time.

Most of the time, director David Filoni's teams of writers and animators send up George Lucas' creations without mocking them. It's amusing to hear Jabba say stuff like "Nobata bargon! Eechuta rotta me peedunkee mufkin wajeekee!"

It's even more amusing to meet Jabba's downtown Coruscant uncle, Ziro the Hutt, who looks ready for Mardi Gras and sounds like Charles Laughton's drawling Dixiecrat in Advise and Consent, especially when he asks Anakin Skywalker's true love, Galactic Senator Padme Amidala (Catherine Taber), "A senator? In this neighborhood?" Corey Burton's exuberant voice work as Ziro, and as a general who sounds like Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond doing Sean Connery, steals the show, or at least the soundtrack. (Matt Lanter and James Arnold Taylor play Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi, respectively; Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee return as Mace Windu and Count Dooku.)

The plot centers on the evil Dooku and his Separatist Alliance kidnapping Jabba's son - the Hutt's beloved "punky muffin" (others call him "Stinky") - and attempting to frame the Jedi for it. The scene-by-scene dynamics rest on the exploits of Jedi Generals Obi-Wan and Anakin as they rally their clone armies to defend the Galactic Republic against the Separatists and the sleek bald hit-woman Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman). Now more than ever, the Separatists' droids are slapstick fall guys - intragalactic Keystone Kops.

The emotional core is Anakin's bickering affection for his first Padawan apprentice, a teenage Togruta girl named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), who looks like a punk Cleopatra and dares to call him "Skyguy." Because he finds her snippy, Anakin calls Ahsoka "Snips." Everything's so young adult that all they'd have to do is break into song and Clone Wars would turn into Sky High Musical.

Given the potential for pomposity in fantasy franchises these days, I mean that as a compliment.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

ONLINE

See a preview and more pictures of Star Wars: The Clone Wars at baltimoresun.com/starwars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

(Warner Bros.) With the voices of Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by David Filoni. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking. Time 98 minutes.

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