The son of Jabba The Hutt has been kidnapped, so the Jedi Council dispatches Anakin Skywalker (Lanter) and his feisty new apprentice to save the child and win the Hutts support.
Brad Bird famously promised to punch anyone who refers to animation as a genre - it’s just a technique. It’s with a similar, if rather less belligerent, ethos that Lucasfilm brings us The Clone Wars. Animation, they argue, is just a new way of continuing the story that began in 1977. Whether or not you agree is up to you, but regardless of the nomenclature used, this latest offering is a very different experience to that of Episodes past.
The spiritual (and chronological) successor to Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series, this computer-generated tale boasts similarly stylised visuals and over-the-top action. The hyperreal outlook takes some getting used to, but once you’ve made the transition, the beauty of Filoni’s brave new world becomes apparent. The cast of caricatures bear an intricate, textured aspect like that of hand-painted models, each familiar face lovingly exaggerated to fit the new mould.
There’s little reference to the larger saga here, focusing instead on the action, which unfolds through a series of slick skirmishes and colossal set-pieces. The stand-out is a giddy, vertical firefight on the craggy side of a plunging rock face - an arresting sequence that dares to try something genuinely fresh and inventive.
Traditional lightsaber duels are here as well, of course, thanks to the welcome return of Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress, whose sinister looks and dual ’sabers are as crowd-pleasing here as in Tartakovsky’s cartoon.
Ahsoka Tano is the main addition to the roster: a precocious youngling who serves as Anakin’s unwanted padawan. Probably the most worrisome aspect of the film for fans, this sassy, smart-mouthed Jedi-in-training is actually surprisingly affable, striking up a snappy rapport with Anakin, who casts aside his usual pouty petulance. In fact, there’s a lightening of tone all round, allowing some tremendous fun with battle droids (who have finally found their natural habitat) and the introduction of Zero The Hutt - a drawling, cross-dressing pimp of a character and the closest Star Wars has to an intergalactic Huggy Bear.
If this doesn’t sound quite like the Star Wars you remember, that’s because in many ways it’s not. The absence of the Fox fanfare (substituted by Warner Bros.’ theme) is followed with no opening crawl, and the main title feels awkward without John Williams’ iconic score – replaced by a proficient but less grand offering from Kevin Kiner. All of this detracts from the film’s cinematic impact. Indeed, serving as an elongated introduction to the new Clone Wars series (destined for British TVs next year), this feels more like great television writ large than a movie in its own right.
The biggest grumble for fans will be that Clone Wars skews towards a younger audience than the live-action films. Despite the occasional hint of darkness (Ahsoka’s omission from Episode III bodes ill), this is a more frivolous affair than we’re accustomed to. However, Lucas has oft said that while the fans have grown up, Star Wars never has, and in many ways The Clone Wars accomplishes exactly what he set out to do 30 years ago: take people out of themselves to a galaxy far, far away. It may not be what the (now older) fans are hoping for, but this is entirely in keeping with Lucas’ original vision - whether you like it or not.
An enjoyable escapade and a great introduction to the forthcoming series - just not the seventh Star Wars film fans were hoping for.