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August 15, 2008 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | August 15, 2008 |

We can only speculate over what the hell happened to George Lucas. Somewhere along the line he lost it — the passion and energy as a storyteller which made him one of the more impressive indie mavericks of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Somewhere along the line he became the very thing he hated, transforming from fiery anti-industry roustabout into the very image of the soulless, disaffected media mogul. What happened? In my opinion, George Lucas is a paramount example of how success can be as detrimental to an artist as failure. It’s hard to believe, but at one point the fate of the first Star Wars film rested on the edge of a knife. Lucas poured all of his means, ambition, and ability into one go, and if it turned into a colossal flop, well, he was fucked. To make the situation more precarious, many of Lucas’s fellow golden boys thought Star Wars was shit. The delirious success which followed would render Lucas, vindicated on such a grand scale, impervious to self-criticism. Years later, after having every financial and technological means available to him, having been surrounded for decades by thralls declaring him a genius, millions of angry fans still can’t convince him that his “special editions” and prequel trilogy don’t blow Bantha balls.

Whatever the case, and much more germane to this review, Lucas and his cronies stopped really giving a shit about Star Wars. Good writing requires passion, and Lucas, sitting atop his mounds of money and bygone success, has no more demons to slay. His soul is inert. His franchise has become a novelty, a media monster with a built-in fan base and guaranteed merchandising blitz, and Lucas has obviously been content to surround himself with young “artists” willing to hold his coattails and unable to tell him his material has become wretched dross. Star Wars is no longer a story, but a playground for Lucasfilm Ltd. to fiddledick with new technologies and make millions.

The best new developments of the Star Wars universe have taken place at a distance from Lucas’s gnarled hands, in books and video games written by people who still care about the story he originally told and have that creative spark still in their souls. The “Clone Wars” shorts made by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network were exactly what the franchise needed, an impassioned reimagining, even within Lucas’s shitty prequel template. This short series made use of sound, image, action, and editing in every way Lucas hasn’t in decades, not to mention a story that was actually involving. The show was, in a word, badass, and succeeded in getting me excited about the franchise for the first time in ages (Lucas promptly pissed in my Kool-Aid again via Episode III). Tartakovsky’s input should’ve illustrated to everyone what cool things the series could do outside a photography-based medium, provided it was gotten the fuck away from its deranged creator.

The lesson didn’t take. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (redundant title much?) is as middling as the prequels and, though Lucas is only producing, his rancid imprimatur infects every frame. The same rampant faults of Episodes I-III take the same form here: horribly wooden (voice) acting; retarded comic relief; meaningless special effects; slim characterization; and an utter lack of any emotional involvement. The prequel oeuvre has, after all, felt like shitty fan fiction instead of a contribution to canon, merely throwing extant characters and references into a pile instead of forging something unique or exciting.

The premise itself is enough to elicit a groan: Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped…yes, the worm-monster and peripheral villain of the original trilogy has his own larva baby, meant to satisfy some imagined cuteness quotient, provided the audience will think a living turd is cute. Anakin (voice of Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) are bollixing around in various engagements in the war against Count Doodoo when the plot orchestrated by said Count threatens to bring the Hutts into war against the Republic. Meanwhile, Anakin has been saddled with a tweeny Padawan (Ashley Eckstein), a fucking Jedi Miley Cyrus, fulfilling some imagined quotient for one-liners and comic relief so bad it kills children.

Lasers fly, lightsabers twang, droids explode, and yet little in Clone Wars actually happens as characters whose fates we already know bumble around and spout gibberish. The animation, rather than Tartakovsky’s fluid, hand-drawn cels, is clunky CG which renders characters who look like polygons dipped in clay. It isn’t unattractive, but like most of the action in Clone Wars, it lacks a sense of immediacy. At least there is plenty of action, enough to keep the film skipping along so that the audience’s yawns aren’t leavened with snores, unlike Lucas’s last three films, where lulls in the action slowed the exposition to the speed of erosion. But this isn’t much to be grateful for; even the young children in my theater were squirming in their seats.

No, if you were holding out hope that Clone Wars and the television serial it’s meant to introduce might be a long overdue return to form, you’re going to be disappointed again. Lucas has stood astride us once more, prizing apart the butt cheeks of his merchandising and media machine in order to deluge us with the watery remains of a once beloved series and I, for one, have had all I can stand.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and still plays with his AT-AT Walker.

Where Have All the Jedi Gone and Where Are All the Gods?

Star Wars: The Clone Wars / Phillip Stephens

Film | August 15, 2008 |

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