Fans at Play
There is a lot that I, as a Star Wars fan, will never understand about other Star Wars fans. For instance, the belief among some that the Cartoon Network miniseries Clone Wars (the second volume of which is now on DVD) is superior to George Lucas’s recent live-action prequel trilogy.
Certainly, Clone Wars has its uses. Animator Genndy Tartakovsky energetically took on the task of bridging the gap between the beginning of the Clone Wars in Episode II and the tail end we see in Episode III. The series originally aired in 10-minute episodes; here, they are strung together into a sort of de facto animated Star Wars movie. (The first series was also edited together on DVD but, conceived in smaller bites, it felt even more like an anthology, like The Animatrix.)
“I wanted to get the feel right,” Tartakovsky says on the commentary, and he did. Clone Wars has Star Wars’ energy and visual imagination; it also has the same corny dialogue and, minus the driving stories of the main trilogies, less urgency. If kids like all this color, older fans like to think they’re getting the kick-ass jedi action denied them by the prequel trilogy, ignoring the fact that some of the action sequences are beyond outlandish, with Mace Windu fighting off hundreds of droids at once with the flick of his wrist. Some of this stuff is great fun—excess frosting from the prequel cakes—but it also grows wearying, especially in the first series. There are more quiet moments on the new DVD, but I’m not convinced that Tartakovsky is any more astute at character sketches than Lucas, an expert at using a charming actor as a shortcut.
Anakin Skywalker’s story in the second half of this series is especially hokey, as he communes with an alien race (they look like cats bred with dogs), seeks guidance from their shaman, and goes on a mystical jedi-trial journey that ends when he uncovers nefarious genetic testing on members of the alien race. I suppose this technically shows us an interesting facet of Anakin’s character, exploring his skill and heroism as a young Jedi, but it’s hard not to wait impatiently for the intercut battle sequences between Shaak-Ti (a female Jedi briefly glimpsed in the prequels who gets substantial ass-kicking time here) and General Grievous. These stories are detours—a whole world made out of deleted scenes (albeit often entertaining ones).
The DVD does include character-building moments that work better than Anakin’s trip. One storyline explores the working friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and though the cartoon versions lack the joshing chemistry of their live-action counterparts (Ewan McGregor is especially missed), you can feel the animators’ delight in playing around with these characters. They’re happy to elaborate on this delight. “A lot of Star Wars is about reveals,” Tartakovsky says in “Connecting the Dots,” a featurette that considers the direct connections between the cartoons and the live-action films. He goes on to note that the animators were allowed to show off C-3PO’s new gold plating, and how new bad guy General Grievous got his Episode III cough.
Maybe it’s that sense of play that pleases those unfathomable fans of Clone Wars, as Tartakovsky was essentially allowed to lead his staff through a spiffy, Lucas-approved fan-fiction epic. Some fans like to believe that, given the time and resources, they might come up with something this respectful and amped-up.
Some fanboy scrutiny (hated the movie, loved the tie-in what-if prequel novel from 1994) can wear you down. But watching others play in George Lucas’ universe can also be sort of heartwarming. The Star Wars sandbox widens further on this DVD’s extra feature, “Revenge of the Brick,” a short Star Wars film with the characters animated in Lego form (it’s computer animation, not stop-motion, but the Lego look is maintained, bumps and all). It may be an extended commercial for the Star Wars Lego videogame, but it has a cartoony wit, as when Jedis use the force to disassemble and reassemble their Lego ships at will to dodge lasers. At their best, the Clone Wars DVDs make fan devotion seem productive again.