Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blu-ray Review... Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Complete Season One

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Complete Season One Ultimate Collector’s Edition, 2009.

Executive Produced by George Lucas.
Featuring the voice talents of Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Matthew Wood and Anthony Daniels.

Star Wars The Clone Wars Season One

As the Clone Wars rage across the galaxy the Jedi lead the Grand Army of the Republic into battle against the Separatist Confederacy of Independent Systems.

Star Wars The Clone Wars Yoda
Before we get into the review let me admit something right off the bat – I’m a life-long Star Wars fan and on more than a few occasions I’ve been known to overlook and at times defend the weaker aspects of the franchise. That’s not to say I’m a prequel apologist (while I find them entertaining there are more than a few sections where I’ll happily jump for the remote control) nor am I in love with all things Star Wars (Expanded Universe, Shmuniverse!), but I’m certainly fond of Lucas’ grand creation and have remained so through the bad times and the good.

That being said, I was very apprehensive back in 2005 when the announcement came that Star Wars would be heading to the small screen and with the horrendous theatrical ‘feature’ debut of The Clone Wars (2008) it seemed about time to pack away my lightsaber and head off to a small retirement hut in the Tatooine desert. However, while The Clone Wars put forward a mighty strong case for the absolute worst cinematic experience of my entire life, the Star Wars fan (or masochist) inside of me ensured that sooner or later I’d find myself coming back for more. Although initial forays into the subsequent television series did little to redeem the horrors of the pilot, having had a chance to see the show develop over the last couple of years I have to say I’m glad I gave it another shot.

Let’s face it - one of the main problems with Dave Filoni’s big-screen debut (aside from the travesty of Ziro the Hutt) was that it was never meant to be seen that way. Like any good Hollywood executive, the anti-Hollywood Lucas just couldn’t resist an opportunity to line his already well-lined pockets and quickly cobbled together a few episodes, no doubt thinking his latest cash-cow didn’t look half bad on those swanky Lucasfilm Animation monitors. Well, it certainly wasn’t anywhere close to the standard of theatrical CG-giants such as Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, but viewed the way it was meant to be - and in pristine 1080p Blu-ray High Definition – it would be hard to argue against The Clone Wars being the most visually impressive made-for-TV animation to date.

Okay, so maybe flashy visuals are what got us into this mess in the first place. The prequel trilogy unquestionably suffers from its reliance on computer generated special effects at the expense of story and character, and you could argue that the three movies are little more than high-grade animations themselves. And yes, many of the prequels’ faults remain on display here in the series - at times, even pushed up a notch (I’m looking at you, ‘comical’ Battle Droids) - while B.J. Hughes’ Jar Jar Binks makes me yearn for the a return to the days of The Phantom Menace. But if you can tolerate that (along with the 'cutesy' nicknames such as 'Snips' and 'Sky-Guy'), you will find some genuinely interesting tales sprinkled through-out the twenty-two episodes that are among the best Star Wars offerings since the Saga's rebirth in the early-90s.

The season is comprised of a number of standalone and multi-part stories, the majority of which are centred on usual suspects Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, along with the Sith-to-be's young female padawan Ahsoka Tano (who isn't quite as bad as you'd imagine and actually has a few good moments throughout the season). Of course our heroic trio are supported by a never-ending stream of Clone Troopers as they engage in a series of battles against the likes of Droid leader General Grievous, fallen Jedi Count Dooku and his assassin Asajj Ventress. Into that mix you can through a little political wrangling as Senator Padme Amidala and the Separatist Council vie for control of the galaxy's independent systems, along with a healthy portion of land and space battles and a bit too much comic relief (hey, it is for kids after all).

If you're still traumatised by the big-screen pilot and are yet to give the series a chance, don't be fooled into thinking the episodes that comprised the 'movie' were the pick of the bunch as that's simply not the case by any stretch of the imagination. While most are at the very least tolerable, the show really comes into its own when it steps out of the norm to focus on supporting characters such as fan favourites Kit Fisto, Yoda, and the Clone Troopers themselves. It goes to great lengths to ensure the Clones are far from carbon copies of one another (check out those funky hairstyles!), and some of the best moments come courtesy of these characters as they examine their loyalties and compulsory involvement in the conflict. Similarly the Jedi and their role as 'peace-keepers' is brought into question, blurring the line between good and evil which has always been so overt within the franchise.

So the question remains, is this a worthy purchase for the casual or disenchanted Star Wars fan? Well, as with the DVD releases of the movies, the Ultimate Collector's Edition comes stacked with bonus features including 7 Director's Cut episodes, an individual featurette for all twenty-two installments and a 68-page production journal to accompany the series (the Blu-ray also comes with a 'Jedi Temple Archives' feature, providing exhaustive behind-the-scenes info, artwork and animatic tests). There are also a host of subtle (and not-too-subtle) nods to the original trilogy such as Anakin and Obi-Wan sporting familiar Empire Strikes Back snow-gear and the appearance of numerous OT-era aliens and droids that are sure to please, but if the prequels really have turned you off Star Wars then The Clone Wars will do little to repair that damage. On the other hand if you're a fan of Episodes I - III (or maybe have children who are), then this is bound to prove a shrewd purchase and provide plenty of entertainment from the GFFA. Just forget the 'movie' ever existed.

Gary Collinson

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