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CLONE WARS Rockets Alexandra DuPont Into A Fit Of Depression!!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: FAQ (by Alexandra DuPont) ____
Q. What's the upshot? I know Harcourt Fenton Knowles hated this thing with a nuclear fury, and that Moriarty maybe liked it, but personally I just found the theatrical release of the television pilot for "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" kind of depressing. I found it depressing because "The Clone Wars" does the following: 1. It takes the premise of an epic, big-screen movie series and downscales everything (the ideas, the special effects, the music, the dramatic stakes) to children's-television size. But then, for whatever reason, Lucas and Warner Bros. decided to project this downscaled version of "Star Wars" back up on a big screen -- and they want you to pay to see it. Which of course makes all those TV-sized ideas, special effects, musical notes and dramatic stakes feel kind of tiny. 2. I also found "Clone Wars" depressing because it's so nakedly designed by Lucas to feed the fanbeast so the fanbeast will keep feeding him. Which is fine. If Lucas wants to make a lower-stakes TV project that generates revenue without provoking much passion or discussion, that's his business. But it leads to my next point .... 3. I found "Clone Wars" depressing because of the sense of finality it created among the older "Star Wars" fans at my screening: Whatever emotional investment we had in "Star Wars" as the prequels unfolded is absolutely over. "Star Wars" is no longer even trying to be clunky big-budget cinematic mythmaking: It's an episodic TV show that sells toys. Little kids -- the budding "Star Wars" merchandising victims the corporations really care about -- will probably kind of dig "Clone Wars." I'm guessing older fans will walk out of the cineplex realizing this series simply isn't made for them. If this 98-minute TV pilot is any indication, the impending Cartoon Network series is going to have the same diminishing-returns vibe as the later "Star Trek" movies and TV shows. Every episode is going to follow a pattern: Boring, chatty, invincible Jedi Knights will holographically teleconference and get in generic lightsaber duels. (You'll already know who can't die, because the show's set between "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith.") The phone calls and lightsaber duels will be interrupted by longish war scenes in which expendable clones and expendable droids march toward each other and fight. Each side's ranks will be fully replenished for next week's go-round. Rinse and repeat. If I'd first seen this on television, I'd be nicer, because the animation is really clever with its shortcutting and manages to feel more epic than it actually technically is. But walking out of a movie theater, I found myself -- for the first time in my longish "Star Wars"-dissecting career -- totally not giving a shit. It's all spoilers from here.

Q. What's the story? There's no 20th Century Fox logo, which feels weird. Then there's no opening-title crawl, which feels weirder. Instead, a breathless narrator brings us up to speed with a verbal recap so gung-ho, I thought for a second that it was going to end up being a "Starship Troopers"-style propaganda newsreel. But it doesn't. I think they just took out the title crawl because, you know, reading is hard. This is basically the first three Cartoon Network "Clone Wars" TV episodes welded together, and they more or less break down as follows: Episode 1: Against his wishes, Anakin is assigned a Padawan -- a snotty, smirky, profoundly annoying little brat named Ahsoka -- while he and Obi-Wan Kenobi fight an endless battle on Christophsis (which looks like Coruscant with half the buildings removed). In a gleeful flouting of child-endangerment laws, Anakin and Ahsoka bicker and bond while trying to disable a defense shield. Meanwhile, during surrender negotiations, Obi-Wan stalls the opposing droid commander, who is named, I shit you not, "General Loathsom." Episode 2: In the Teth System, Anakin, his Scrappy-Doo of a Padawan and a clone-army detachment attempt to rescue Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son from the Separatists and Asajj Ventress (who apparently survived her death at the hands of Genndy Tartakovsky). Meanwhile -- in a development that will delight any "Phantom Menace" fan -- both Obi-Wan and Dooku are negotiating with Jabba the Hutt in a valiant, desperate struggle for ... ... get ready ... ... the right to use Jabba's trade routes! Ah, negotiations over trade routes. How I'd missed them. Anyway. Dooku is also trying to convince Jabba that the Jedi Knights kidnapped Jabba's son -- because Dooku's boss, Darth Sidious, is trying to drain the Republic's resources by getting the Republic into a secondary war with the Hutt Clan, and.... Sorry, I nodded off there for a second. Episode 3: Anakin tries to deliver the rescued "Huttlet" back to Jabba's Palace on Tatooine (which is now the most over-visited backwater planet in sci-fi history). Meanwhile, on Coruscant, Padme tries to escape the clutches of lisping sleazeball Ziro the Hutt (more on this outrageous gay stereotype in a second) after Padme accidentally learns of Dooku's double-cross during a diplomatic visit. I know: plotty.

Q. What's good? 1. The thing moves at a pretty decent clip, even with all the meetings and holographic phone calls and endless recapping of plans. If anyone tries to suggest that "Clone Wars" is better than the prequel films, I'm guessing they'll bring up the pacing. 2. I liked the way the filmmakers tried to differentiate the clonetroopers by giving them different hairstyles and tattoos, even if it makes them look like they're in some sort of Maori cosplay boy band. 3. I like the way Obi-Wan at one point floats out some slabs of rubble to create an impromptu negotiating table. He's a cool cucumber in his scene with General Loathsom. 4. I also really liked that the filmmakers finally put a junked-out, clunky, asymmetrical spaceship with problems in a prequel story. Anakin steals a piece-of-shit spice freighter to fly the rescued "Huttlet" to Tatooine -- and the ship's shields and guns refuse to work while he's getting chased and shot up by bodyguard droids. Although the dialogue and characters in this sequence are annoying for reasons I'll explain below, it still gave me just a tiny nostalgic twinge for the greatest "Star Wars" sequence ever -- and it also made me realize I would totally poop Froot Loops if Lucas would just spring for the voice cast and make an animated Han-and-Chewie movie, or even just animate the soundbed of NPR's 1981 "Star Wars" radio drama. 5. I want to praise the computer animation, but it's kind of a backhanded compliment -- because, again, I'm praising it for being so clever with its shortcuts and thus seeming more elaborate than it actually is. Near as I can tell, Lucas (who has made comments that suggest this movie cost less than $10 million to make) gave the animators an interesting engineering problem: Make the Clone Wars look vast without actually spending much money or time. And his team pretty much pulls it off -- thanks to a combination of camera movement, simple painted backgrounds, stark compositions, recycling/slight modification of existing character/vehicle designs in the Lucasfilm hard drives, extensive use of characters who wear helmets or lack eyes and mouths, and the use of looped movements and cloned characters. I expect the ensuing TV series is going to look fabulous on a small screen. That said ...

Q. What's not-so-good? 1. ... "Clone Wars" isn't being shown on a small screen right now -- so I was easily picking out all the corner-cutting devices listed above. This only really bothered me on the human characters, who barely move their faces and occasionally look like unusually lively totem poles as they gesture wildly to express emotions during moments that could use a lot more nuance. 2. There's no nice way to put this: The dialogue (and the delivery of said dialogue) is totally simplistic, totally flat, totally juvenile, and mostly foolish. A few examples (of many):
a. ANAKIN: "This smells like Count Dooku to me!" b. JABBA'S TRANSLATION DROID: "[Jabba] demands you bring back the slime who kidnapped his punky muffin." c. ANAKIN: "I knew you'd get here on time!" AHSOKA: "Always in time to save your life!" d. The whiny Anakin and the even whinier Ahsoka bicker like the anti-Bing-and-Bob, and immediately start calling each other "SkyGuy" and "Snaps." Ahsoka also refers to R2-D2 as "Artooie." e. On two different occasions, seemingly minutes apart, Anakin responds to one of Ahsoka's lame wisecracks by saying, "Very funny, Snaps." (The "very funny" rejoinder is, of course, the laziest possible laugh-track of a retort that you can use as a screenwriter.)
3. Because you demanded it, Lucas shovels out loads of all-new slapstick comedy with those "Roger Roger" droids. They can't remember simple strings of numbers! They trip off cliffs! They accidentally refer to Asajj Ventress as "sir"! 4. The stolen "Huttlet" baby looks like a bowling ball with a tadpole tail. It belches green fumes. I am also unclear on how Ahsoka can suddenly tell it has a fever. 5. There's a dull, repetitive sameness to the action scenes. This is partly because watching one faceless soldier fight another faceless soldier makes it monumentally tough to care. It's also partly because the movie is three episodes strung together -- meaning you get two or three marching-robot battle scenes that each would have been the high point of an individual episode. 6. The TV-sized music score is by "Stargate," "Enterprise," "Walker, Texas Ranger" and "Wing Commander" composer Kevin Kiner, and it isn't so much awful as it is deeply, generically uninteresting. (It's also apparently a lot less interesting than the score for "The Force Unleashed," if anyone here keeps track of that sort of thing.) I pity anyone who has to follow John Williams on this gig, but Kiner barely even uses Williams' themes; I've already heard more than one person compare Kiner's drum-driven version of the "Star Wars" main title (you can listen to it here) to something played by a marching band. (Over on the JWFan message boards, one poster wrote: "The [title] track sounds like Hans Zimmer's shot at the Star Wars main title. In other words, a personal nightmare.") If I want remixed "Star Wars" themes, I'll stick to the amazing movie-music mashups by serial-Katie-Sackhoff-interviewer Fatboy Roberts, thank you very much. 7. There's a moment where Anakin refuses to discuss with Ahsoka his bad memories of Tatooine. Oh, that's right: This children's-film hero is a mass murderer! 8. Unless I'm reading these Amazon pages wrong, this new "Clone Wars" is bumping Genndy Tartakovsky's vastly superior 2D-animated "Clone Wars" series out of print on DVD. Please, someone -- confirm or deny. 9. Finally, I have absolutely no idea what to make of Ziro the Hutt. He's a painted, feather-wearing old queen of a nightclub owner who speaks English in a lispy, Truman Capote Southern-fag accent -- reportedly at George Lucas' specific request. Phonetic spellings of Ziro's statements to Padme would read like this: "Ah KNOW!" and "A senatah ... in THIS nay-buh-hood?" and "Yuh TRIED to call fuh HELP, senatah." I honestly haven't decided yet if this character is SO wrong that it actually goes 'round the bend and becomes kind of perversely awesome in its totally-batshit-insane political incorrectness. But I'm guessing most everybody will hate the drag-queen Hutt, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if GLAAD issued some sort of statement.

Q. What did your friends who are first-generation "Star Wars" fans have to say about the film? "R.P.," console-gaming engineer: "Halfway through that screening I was like, 'Oh, so this is what people who didn't like the prequels felt like! I never quite understood their level of hatred, but now I'm kinda starting to get it.'" "R.H.," lesbian filmmaker: "Once Anakin said, 'This smells like Count Dooku,' there wasn't a lot left to add." "T.F.," Lutheran minister: "I suffered through the prequel trilogy enough. I hate the iconography of the prequel trilogy. Why would I bother with something advertising a cartoon show where all the major players' fates are already established? I simply don't -- and can't -- give a shit." "T.K.," pornographer: "I think I'm finally, truly giving up on anything Lucas has done since, say, 1986, or will ever do, because it's simply not worth the heartache (and the money) to keep throwing attention and money at someone who clearly has no idea what the fuck it is that he's doing. (Not that this particular 90 minutes of bullshit is exactly Lucas's fault -- it looks more like the product of a marketing cluster-fuck than it does anything one person could've cobbled together, but you get my drift.) You've read this thing, right?" Warmest, Alexandra DuPont. Arm yourself to attack my critical judgment! It's easy and fun! Visit The (recently updated) DuPont Bibliography!

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