Have you ever watched the Star Wars Prequels with someone born after say, 1995? I think all of us “OG Star Wars Nerds” have heard the stories of our younger cohorts being more enthusiastic about the prequels than the original trilogy, but it’s hard to really imagine this being the case, unless you’ve experienced it.
If you’ve never experienced that enthusiasm at all, stop reading this right now and jump around a bit in this video to get a feel for it. Don’t watch the whole thing, just jump around. You’ll get a feel for the excitement the prequels can inspire.
The original trilogy is a story of heroes, of individually significant figures doing epic, important things. Before 1999, if you were a kid who wanted to role-play as a Jedi, you were a Skywalker—either Luke himself or some long-forgotten relative that you made up because one of your friends was already playing Luke Skywalker.
In the prequel trilogy, anyone can be a Jedi. There are literally little kids with lightsabers in the prequels.
Anyone can get a mission, hear a distress signal and use their lightsaber and some force powers to rescue some clones. There’s hierarchy and structure and rules, and now you can make yourself part of the story. It’s telling that one of the clone commanders in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is named Cody—a name that peaked in popularity for babies born in the early 90s. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (and in this piece I’m talking about the movie, not the TV show to which this film is essentially an oversized pilot) is in some ways the apotheosis of this phenomenon, with a nakedly “audience surrogate” character, a mission-based story stucture, and tons of lightsabering and battling.
Of course, while I find this expansion of opportunity a good thing, not all results of this expansion are unequivocally good. (If you skipped watching “Little Jedis” before, now’s your chance.)
A theatrical release was never originally in the plans for “The Clone Wars”—it was only decided to be produced as a full length movie after George Lucas liked the way the first few episodes of the the namesake TV series played out on a large projection screen. The structure of the movie feels like it, dividing itself up into three roughly half-hour long segments that are fairly cordoned off into one location. The first segment is an extended battle sequence that serves as an introduction to our audience surrogate little Jedi, Ahsoka Tano. The second focuses on retrieving Jabba the Hutt’s son, nicknamed “Stinky,” from an abandoned temple, and introduces our new villain Asajj Ventress. The third allows Padmé to have a wacky adventure with Jabba’s gay* uncle Ziro and allows Anakin and Ahsoka to return Jabba’s baby, gaining the rewards and a new sense of respect for each other.
* The film doesn’t actually specify the Hutt’s sexuality; he just has a lisp, owns a club, and wears flamboyant feathers. Also, pretty much every review I’ve ever read of this movie has referred to “Jabba’s gay uncle” so I figured I was required to.
This structure makes sense considering the movie’s lineage, but hurts the movie as a whole, I think. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is a movie that works better if you watch it for a half hour, then stop and wait before watching to the next act break. If you’re older than 12, at least, this gives you a chance to take a break from the faithful-to-the-prequels-but-still-annoying terrible George Lucas jokes/attempts at humor, as well the nonstop cartoon action, which is like a video game in its generic repetition. It also helps prepare your mind for the rhythms of a kids TV show rather than a movie, and to be prepared for characters to be only introduced, not fully developed in any sense. Watching it as a movie allows all of the small irritations to build up over the course of an hour and a half, and by the end of the movie you’ll have sworn off ever watching the show. (Remember, the movie ends with Jedi returning Jabba the Hutt’s backpack-sized slug child who was stolen by Jabba’s gay uncle™. That’s an ending that’s even less epic than “Anakin has a secret wedding”).
If you watch it in pieces, you can start to appreciate some of the small touches that make this at least a little successful. As an introduction to an audience surrogate, it works pretty well, establishing that Ahsoka has both skill and naivete, and thus can be grown with over the years. It gives us our first real look at what it’s like to be a clone trooper, creating individuality in a horde of genetically identical beings (I especially love that there is nose art on the Clone Transport LAATs). Asajj Ventress is a villain with potential, and Count Dooku gets to be more physical than Christopher Lee could ever play him.
Ultimately, though, the grating elements of the movie end up sullying it and the series it was meant to lead into. The expectations of a Star Wars movie mean that something that really has the scope of three long TV episodes pales in comparison, and in turn that makes the idea of continuing to watch the television series even more undesirable. The idea to focus 2/3 of the movie around an annoying and disgusting slug baby named Stinky was pretty terrible too and makes one question the ability of these TV writers to make an interesting show.
With the original trilogy, all of the missions were of the utmost importance: save the rebellion by destroying the Death Star, save your friends from Darth Vader, save Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, etc. But when you’re just another Jedi Knight, sometimes a mission is just a mission: blow up this shield generator, save Jabba the Hutt’s baby. With a TV show, that’s acceptable—next week brings another mission, and you can build a more epic story over the course of a season. But for a movie, especially for a Star Wars movie, it’s pretty disappointing.