Originally published Aug. 15, 2008, in the Post-Dispatch
Why did George Lucas approve a feature-length cartoon about a minor event in the "Star Wars" timeline that has already been milked for a TV series, comic books and video games? And why is this animated movie from one of the richest moguls in show business so dull and ugly?
The answer to both questions is that "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" is an afterthought advertisement for yet another product: an upcoming series for the Cartoon Network.
Maybe it will make sense on a Japanese kid's iPod, but presented on a movie screen for English-speaking grown-ups, this stupefying mess marks the return of the juvenile.
Lucas' imagination has had a lasting effect on popular culture, but he's notoriously poor at telling a story, and this one doesn't have a single event or character that will interest anybody who's not already a "Star Wars" fanatic.
Chronologically, the story takes place between the movies "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith." We're told that the ongoing skirmish between the Republic's army of clones and the Separatists' army of droids is blocking commerce through the space lanes. Apparently, that's bad.
When the son of blubbery crime lord Jabba the Hutt is kidnapped by Separatist leader Count Dooku (voice of Christopher Lee), Jabba seeks the help of the Jedi knights. Answering the call are Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor, decidedly not Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), the conflicted youth who is secretly married to Queen Amidala (Catherine Taber) and hasn't yet become the evil Darth Vader.
The Jedis agree to find Jabba's son in exchange for his allegiance to the Republic. But the insufferably wise, sideways-speaking Yoda (Tom Kane) makes the mission trickier by saddling Anakin with an apprentice: a "Padawan learner" whose name is Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) but might as well be Britney.
With her miniskirt and tube top, the sassy Ahsoka is the most modernized character ever inserted into a "Star Wars" movie.
Apologists might suggest that the big-headed character design is derived from Japanese animé and that the wooden movements are an homage to the sci-fi puppet series "Thunderbirds." But there's a clearer comparison. With it's simplified textures and inept rendering of humans, the movie resembles a cheap video game.
That's understandable. "The Clone Wars" wasn't supposed to be released in theaters, but when Lucas saw what director Dave Filoni had done on a TV budget, he OK'd a big-screen preview for the upcoming series.
So while his old company Pixar is cranking out animated masterpieces like "Wall-E, " Lucas expects paying customers to coo because characters with familiar names are swooshing those stupid glow sticks. Never mind that those characters are worse than one-dimensional, the dialogue is moronic and the plot is so inconsequential it makes "Scooby-Doo" look like Shakespeare.
The "Star Wars" franchise has become what the marketing executive always thought: an excuse to steal money from children. The Lucas empire has finally succumbed to the Dark Side.