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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

How much money could George Lucas possibly need? Forbes lists his personal fortune at $3.5 billion, so it’s not like he released Star Wars: The Clone Wars to keep the repo man away. He can already buy and sell Oprah with her measly $1 billion empire, so you wouldn’t think he’d need to have his ego stroked, or has it grown so huge that he simply can’t imagine a life without a Star Wars presence in the public eye even if his original saga has mercifully been completed. I say “mercifully” because I’ve been there from the beginning. As a college student at USC, where George and collaborator Steven Spielberg went to film school, I was one of a few hundred who were lucky enough to be invited to an actual pre-premiere screening of the original Star Wars, back before it became Star Wars IV: A New Hope. I’ll never forget that night and little did I realize then that what I was seeing was the birth of what would become a sales and marketing empire. I was too busy being blown away at the time, rocked by what were monumental special effects for 1977 and depressed too because I knew I was never going to be cool enough to create a movie like this even if I was in the same program as George.

But that was more than 30 years ago, with six other movies, at least three tv series and nearly a hundred video games since. Then there were the comic books, graphic novels, trading cards, costumes, action figures, board and computer games, cereals, spaceship models, fast food tie-ins, and even underoos. Dear God, Star Wars has become as much a part of our popular culture as Britney and Christina, but unlike the bottle blondes, Star Wars has lived far beyond a few years of fame and seems to cross all generational lines. Unfortunately, for us old geezers, the problem is just that: we’ve been bombarded by all things Skywalker for so long it’s hard not to suffer a level of fatigue.

So along comes Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which couldn’t be more perfectly titled if it tried. Basically, this is an animated version of “The Best of Star Wars’ Battle Scenes” because it is mostly chock full of X-wings and battle cruisers going at it in interminable clashes that you’ll begin to think will never end. Granted, there is an actual plot, but it is negligible to these long and yet underwhelming fight scenes. Of course, not all of these battles are in ships and for those on land we need the “stars” of the Star Wars saga, a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Both are played by veteran voice artists (Matt Lanter as Anakin and James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan); most of the other familiar characters from the Star Wars lexicon that make an appearance in this latest attempt to milk the teat of the Star Wars cash cow have also been replaced by unknowns. Surprisingly though, a few original “live version” actors do return; Samuel Jackson again voices Jedi Master Mace Windu, Christopher Lee breathes more loathsome life into Count Dooku, and Anthony Daniels refuses to let anyone else get hold of his signature role as C-3PO, even in cartoon form.

There are a few new characters introduced, like Padawan (apprentice) Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein; Sydney White), who is assigned to Anakin, and obviously she is there just for the cartoon show. She has no place in the continuing film series, so her presence here is oddly out of
place in the greater Star Wars saga. So is the inclusion of Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s flamboyant brother, with a voice reminiscent of Truman Capote, feathers stuck behind his ear and make-up across his face. Ziro is a gay stereotype that Lucas wouldn’t dare include in human form, but he makes it in here, mostly because who wants to think of a Hutt’s sexuality anyway? Unfortunately, one can’t help it (at least a little) because the thin as a thread plotline hangs on the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt’s baby son, referred to as ~ brace yourself ~ a huttlet. I guess that means the giant slug did the horizontal hula with another slug. Ewww. Just typing those words made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is really just a prelude to a television series with the same name that is set to premiere within the next month, so this theatrical release is actually a sneaky way of generating heat for the new show amongst the Toys"R"Us™ crowd, who will then want their personal ATMs, a k a their parents, to purchase the boatload of related toys, backpacks, sheets, stationery sets (!), light sabers, lunch boxes and assorted other paraphernalia available for them. In other words, by paying to see Star Wars: The Clone Wars, you are basically forking out money to see a long commercial for a tv show that you’ll be able to watch at home for free in a month, at which time your kids will expect you to cough up even more money for a bunch of junk that is made in China and will amuse them for about as long as it takes you to wish you’d have been George Lucas back in 1976 and thought his little story up so you’d have enough money to afford all the stuff the kids are screaming for. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is nothing more than a sad reminder to all of us that life is not fair.

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