Star Wars: The Clone Wars
It really isn’t fair to watch an early Extended Universe entry like Star Wars: The Clone Wars in 2020 after we’ve been given the gift of the Abrams-Johnson sequel trilogy. If modern Star Wars were to be described developmentally, then the original trilogy is its stellar parents, the prequel trilogy is its stumbling childhood, and this movie is its awkward pre-teen years.
The Clone Wars kicks off in the thick of a broader conflict set in the Outer Rim. The Hutts control the trade routes and thus the supply lines in the area. The Separatists, led by Count Dooku (and Palpatine, of course, on the down low), hatch a plan to kidnap Jabba the Hutt’s son and frame the Jedi for it. Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Anakin’s new Padawan Ahsoka set out to save Jabba’s son. And… that’s pretty much it. 80% of this movie is repetitive clone-droid battles, another 10% is lightsaber battles, and in the last 10% you get heavy-handed “banter” dressed up as character development.
Star Wars mainstays are a crutch this film leans far too heavily on, refusing to take risks with its narrative. The Clone Wars serves up a buffet of Jawas, a brief C-3PO cameo, Tatooine, the Mos Eisley jazz band, Obi-Wan’s circle light speed ship thing, lots of holographic intercoms, etc. all trying to hide the obvious: the world didn’t ask for an animated Star Wars movie. Only two years after Revenge of the Sith, it’s hard to even say this strategy wins any points in the nostalgia category. Instead, we’re left with a whole lot of nothing dressed up in royal clothes. It almost feels like sacrilege to hear the Skywalker theme played as often as it is here.
That’s not to say there aren’t good moments. This is the first entry in the Star Wars universe to have the droids talk as far as I remember, and it makes for some self-aware humor that the later movies definitely iterated on.
Droid 1: “Concentrate fire on Sector 11374265!”
Droid 2: “1137— what was that again?”
Droid 1, grabbing the other one’s head and pointing: “Just fire right there!”
— Star Wars: The Clone Wars, 34:32
The relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka is also nice, when it’s not corny. Anakin even shows some level-headed maturity and humility in reminding Ahsoka that she doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone. There’s a nice touch of psychological safety and assurance there (though it seems totally constructed when compared to his raging tantrums in Episodes II and III).
It’s also worth mentioning that the portrayal of women in this movie is painful (though it was 2007). At one point, a droid addressing Ventress — Count Dooku’s apprentice — accidentally salutes her as “sir” and then stumbles to correct itself, only to again call her “sir.” Obi-Wan condescendingly refers to her as “darling” in his British accent during a lightsaber duel, to which she just responds by clenching her teeth and growling. Anakin gets to play the aloof and displeased male around the baby Huttlet; Ahsoka does most of the caretaking and connecting with it. The Huttlet’s mom/Jabba’s partner, who you’d think would be concerned with this whole kidnapping situation, is not even present as a background character.
So, was this a good movie? Not really. But I’m interested to see how the TV series evolved over the next decade, and especially how it matures into the backdrop for Rise of Skywalker that it so clearly is today.