May The Twenty-Sixth Be With You: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (The Series)

James Proclaims (4)

Star_Wars_The_Clone_Wars

In all honesty, when I started this month long homage to Star Wars, I wasn’t actually planning on doing much more than writing about the nine movies of the ‘Skywalker Saga’ in episode order over the first nine days of the month. Then I thought, given that I’d seen both ‘Solo‘ and ‘Rogue One‘, I might as well write about those. Then it occurred to me that as I had, in the past, sat through the appalling ‘Holiday Special‘ I should probably write about that too. And once I’d committed to that, it seemed a shame not to include the Ewok movies, especially as the first of those was the very first movie I ever saw in the cinema.

Throw in a few posts with pictures of the various Star Wars merchandise that I own, and I probably had enough material to write about Star Wars for quite a few days.

But to write about it for the whole month?

To achieve that I’d have to watch the various TV series. And, aside from the Ewok cartoon of the eighties and the 2003 show ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars‘, I hadn’t seen a great deal of the animated shows really. And I hadn’t seen the Ewok cartoon since the eighties, so I’d definitely have to re-watch that in order to be able to write about it.

So, as well as writing a lot about Star Wars, I have spent most of this month (and quite a lot of the previous month) watching Star Wars in its various guises.

Which has been made easier, thanks to the UK launch, in March, of Disney Plus, which has made a lot Star Wars content available in one place. Although my quest has still meant some foraging around elsewhere on the internet. Particularly for Ewoks.

But still, it has been quite an undertaking and I have rather failed in my bid to watch everything.

Obviously if I was experiencing the kind of lockdown that the media would have us believe is the norm, I would have had plenty of time, but I have mostly still been working and when not working I have my little girl to look after. And she isn’t a massive Star Wars fan.

Yet.

I’m working on it but she still prefers Peppa Pig.

I have made a pretty good effort to cover the whole Star Wars back catalogue.

And I’ve watched enough episodes of enough of the series to be able to post something about most of them.

Which is a relief, because if I’m going to undertake a pointless month-long project, I’d hate to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Like the Empire frequently does.

But it would be lying to claim I’ve watched every episode of every show.

Part of the reason I’ve struggled to watch everything in it’s entirety is the series I’m writing about today. Because there are a lot of episodes of ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’.

I have managed to get through most of them, but at the time of writing I’ve yet to see series six and seven. I will watch both of them (because I am now a big fan of this cartoon) but as the show essentially wrapped up at the end of series five in 2014, with series six almost being viewed as bonus material (it’s subtitled ‘The Lost Missions’) and series seven essentially a short revival of the series made this year specifically for Disney Plus, it’s fair to say I’ve probably got a relatively good handle on the show, having watched the first 108 episodes (and of course the movie, which I’ve already written about).

But before I go any further, I will issue my now customary spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: This is a brilliant show and you should definitely watch it, but I am potentially going to reveal some plot details from this point onwards. Although there are a lot of episodes and consequently there are also a lot of intersecting plotlines and there’s no way I could cover them all, so it’ll probably be fine.

Not to be confused with the excellent, but very brief, 2003 cartoon, ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars’, which is only a definite article away from having the same name, ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ essentially renders that earlier cartoon null and void in the sense that both tell the story of what happened between ‘Attack of the Clones‘ and ‘Revenge of the Sith‘ but they tell very different stories.

Nonetheless the 2008 cartoon is arguably even more brilliant than its shorter predecessor.

It didn’t have the most auspicious of beginnings.  The movie which introduced the series was not beloved by critics. I can understand some of the animosity directed towards that particular cinematic release, not least when viewed as a stand-alone movie, but I still think the critics were overly harsh. And when viewed as part of the series as a whole, the movie does work quite well. However, it’s nowhere near as strong as the series would go on to be.

Obviously a lot of the action is centred around Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi, with the former being easily the best incarnation of that particular character. This is an Anakin Skywalker that is played by someone who can act, which really helps, but he also benefits from some well written storylines and some actual character development (as opposed to just having different hairstyles). It’s easy to believe that this Anakin was a genuine hero, but equally, his darker traits, though often subtle, are also there to see and once in a while he really loses it and is not a million miles away from the Darth Vader we know and love from the original movies. The dialogue is also well written, with this version of Anakin quite often adopting a turn of phrase that we hear Darth Vader say in the movies. Which as writing goes, is impressive. Most impressive.

However, one of the strengths of ‘The Clone Wars’ is the way it brings the other characters to life. We see a lot of Jedi in the prequel movies but we never get to know very much about them and in this cartoon we’re able to explore that world in greater depth. And although there are definitely good guys and bad guys, a lot of the time it’s more nuanced and very few of the good guys are completely good and very few of the bad guys are totally bad. Apart from Palpatine, who is palpably evil. And Count Dooku is pretty much always bad too. And General Grievous doesn’t have any redeeming features. But everyone else is more nuanced.

While it’s the characters from the movies that you start out invested in, it’s other characters who come to the fore. Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s Padawan learner, was initially disliked by many, but, possibly because she is not weighed down by any preconceived expectations, her character has one of the most interesting journeys throughout the series. The same is also true for villain turned antihero Asajj Ventress, who’s only prior on-screen appearance was in the 2003 cartoon.

The other standout characters from the show are the clone troopers. I had huge misgivings about the clones in the movies, but in the cartoon, although they all look the same (although are distinguishable by having differing hairstyles, facial hair, tattoos, etc) and they are all voiced by the same actor (who is frankly incredible), they all have distinct personalities and some individual troopers (notably Rex, but there are others) have the most interesting narrative arks. There a several episodes that focus exclusively on a group of clones and they are some of the best.

A lot of the promotional material surrounding the later series did focus on the resurrection of Darth Maul, who absolutely and conclusively died in ‘The Phantom Menace‘. I was apprehensive about this particular storyline, but it’s done really well, and far from dominating the later series, he’s really only in a few episodes. They are some of the best episodes though, which confirms that killing him off in ‘The Phantom Menace’ was a stupid decision. Although that movie is full of stupid decisions…

‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ is by no means perfect. At times it gets bogged down by some of the same problems as the prequel trilogy, and any episode that focuses on ‘the politics’ tends to be a bit dull. Jar Jar Binks, although not a prominent character, does pop up a few times and is generally as annoying as he was in the films.  But there are far more good episodes than bad ones and in many ways this series serves as a far more satisfying prequel to the original Star Wars Trilogy than the actual prequel trilogy ever did.

Best character – Ahsoka Tano

ahsoka

When I was still on series one, Anakin was my favourite character, but as the show develops, Ahsoka comes more and more to the fore and you could make a convincing case to say that she, rather than Anakin, is the central character in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’. 

Worst character – Tan Divo

tan di

Despite it’s brilliance, there are quite a few annoying characters who pop up from time to time. The aforementioned Jar Jar Binks obviously and Ziro the Hutt, who irritated me in the film version of this show. But I think Tan Divo, who is a pompous, yet fairly inept, police officer is the one that probably annoyed me the most. Fortunately, like all the other annoying characters, he wasn’t in that many episodes.

Unsung hero – Riff Tamson

riff

OK, he was absolutely a bad guy. But he was also a shark. And he was hard as nails. He was only in three episodes. If you look like a shark, you should be in more episodes. 

 

Frankly I could I write about this series for days on end and still only scratch the surface. It’s utterly brilliant. But I must stop writing now, so I can cram in a few more episodes of the show I’m planning to write about tomorrow before my daughter wakes up from her nap.

May The Twentieth Be With You: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (The Movie)

James Proclaims (4)

clone wars movie

So, what’s the worst Star Wars movie in existence?

Many people will have their views. A lot will tell you it’s ‘The Phantom Menace‘ and they might have a point. Others will tell you it’s ‘The Last Jedi’ and, although they are entitled to their opinions, they would be wrong, because ‘The Last Jedi’ is great.

Some of us, those of us who count the two stand-alone Ewok movies as Star Wars movies, would point out that they aren’t great.

And if you include 1978’s ‘Star Wars: Holiday Special’ then one would imagine that you would have to believe that is the worst of the worst.

Fortunately we no longer need to rely on our own opinions because there are websites that tell us what to think.

Probably the best known of these websites is Rotten Tomatoes and although they don’t have a score for the 1986 Droids feature length special ‘The Great Heep’ (presumably because no-one ever actually watched it in the first place, let alone reviewed it), they do have scores for every other Star Wars ‘movie’. And I’ve collated them into a handy little table below:

Star Wars Movie Rotten Tomatoes Score
The Empire Strikes Back 94%
The Force Awakens 93%
A New Hope 92%
The Last Jedi 90%
Rogue One 84%
Return of the Jedi 82%
Revenge of the Sith 80%
Solo 70%
Attack of the Clones 65%
The Phantom Menace 53%
The Rise of Skywalker 52%
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor 51%
Star Wars: Holiday Special 27%
Ewoks: Caravan of Courage 23%
Star Wars : The Clone Wars 18%

Which should leave us in no doubt that 2008’s ‘The Clone Wars’ is officially the worst Star Wars movie ever.

Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t necessarily agree with the Rotten Tomatoes scores, but that is because opinion is subjective, and frankly if websites could think, there’d be none of here…

Nonetheless, Rotten Tomatoes is an attempt to be objective by collating lots of reviews and extrapolating ‘meta’ scores from those reviews. In that context, although my favourite Star Wars movie is the original, I’m not surprised to see ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ topping the list. And while I personally feel that ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ was ultimately a better movie than some that are listed above it, I know it wasn’t well-received by a lot of critics and so it’s not a huge surprise to see it score as low as it did.

But to see ‘The Clone Wars’ score below ‘The Holiday Special’ and both Ewok movies is definitely a surprise.

Because it is in no way as bad as any of those.

And I actually quite like it.

Before I get into that though, here is a spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen this then you might be put off watching it based on the ‘data’ I’ve shared with you. And frankly this is only something you should watch if you are a completist (as I apparently am) because it isn’t a brilliant movie. But it’s not the worst thing ever made by any stretch of the imagination and it is definitely better than the ‘Star Wars: Holiday Special’. By some distance…

This movie has nothing to do with the similarly named 2003 TV show that I wrote about yesterday, but it was a forerunner for the identically-named  2008 TV show and could be viewed as an extended episode of that series.

But this movie did come out before the TV show and it was released in cinemas so it’s reasonable to view it as a separate entity too.

Indeed, until recently, I hadn’t seen the TV show, but I did see this movie quite soon after it was released. I don’t think I saw it in the cinema, but I’m pretty sure I rented it on DVD, because I think renting DVDs was still a thing back in 2008.

And I definitely didn’t hate it.

But obviously I didn’t love it enough to bother with the subsequent TV series.

Which was my mistake, because the TV show is excellent. Or what I’ve seen of it is, because I’m watching it on Disney Plus at the moment. Well not at this exact moment because I’m writing this. But when I’m not writing blog posts and not working and not looking after a toddler, I’m watching ‘The Clone Wars’ series. It’s slow going. I don’t know if I’ll finish watching it in time to write about it because there are a lot of episodes.

But what I’ve seen of the TV show is really good.

So why is the movie so hated?

I think there are a few reasons.

One reason would have to be that, when viewed as an extended episode of the TV show, this is one of the weaker episodes. The storyline is about the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt’s son. Who even knew Jabba had a son? But the underlying rationale behind the kidnapping is that the bad guys want Jabba to agree to give them access to his ‘trade routes’ and the good guys try and rescue Jabba’s son because they also want access to those ‘trade routes’. And there is something about ‘trade routes’ that makes any Star Wars offering seem a bit more boring than it should be. It was the curse of the prequel trilogy and it’s here again too.

Also ‘The Clone Wars’ TV show, and by extension this movie, are all about what happens between two of the prequel movies. So it’s heavily linked with the prequel trilogy and, as we all know, people didn’t really love those movies. And even though the subsequent TV series is generally beloved by fans, when this movie came out there was still a fair bit of animosity towards those movies, so it would have needed to be excellent to overcome the negative preconceptions. And it isn’t excellent, it’s only OK.

The main thing would probably be that, because this came before the TV show, it asked a lot of its audience. The character of Ahsoka Tano was introduced for the first time in this film and, although she is now fairly firmly established as a fan favourite, she was an unknown quantity in this movie and for a major character to be introduced (as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan learner no less) was a bit of a stretch for audiences. You were either going to hate her (in which case you would have to hate the movie because she’s in it a lot) or you’re going to quite like her but be constantly troubled by the fact that, given her absence from ‘Revenge of the Sith’ she’s probably going to die at some point.

And while (double-spoiler alert) she doesn’t die and indeed pops up in subsequent Star Wars shows (and is due, I believe, to make her live-action debut in series 2 of ‘The Mandalorian’) back in 2008 her inevitable death was the only reasonable conclusion you could reach.

Also, if you were unfamiliar with the unrelated 2003 Clone Wars cartoon, then Asajj Ventress, one of the principal antagonists in this movie, would also be a character that you’d never met before. Because she also isn’t in the movies (although to be fair [triple spoiler alert] she does die prior to ‘Revenge of the Sith’), and while, again, she is now very much a fan favourite, to give her so much weight in this film when no-one really knew who she was, perhaps didn’t help people warm to this movie.

Ultimately it is not a great stand alone movie. It’s an ok episode of a TV show that no-one had seen yet.

It’s still way better than the ‘Holiday Special’ though.

Best character – Anakin Skywalker

anakin

Finally an Anakin that is actually pretty good. Every inch the hero, but with subtle hints of the darkness that would eventually lead to him becoming everyone’s favourite Sith Lord.

ziro_the_hutt_sw_2518

Inexplicable. Doesn’t get better in the TV show. Fortunately he’s only in a few episodes and then he gets killed off.

Unsung hero – Captain Rex

rex

If you’re unfamiliar with the TV show then he might seem like just another clone trooper. Which he is. But despite the regular and somewhat unceremonious deaths of lots of clones throughout the series, the clones do have their own distinct personalities and none more so than Captain Rex. But even though a lot of that character development hasn’t taken place at this point in the narrative, he is still, hands down, the hardest clone out there and single-handedly takes on a lot of the bad guys.

And that’s in for the most critically panned (but definitely not the worst) movie in the Star Wars back catalogue. Why not come back tomorrow and see if I’ve written about something else Star Wars related?