The Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated movie that came out this summer was meant to stoke anticipation for the new Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series (Cartoon Network, Fridays, 9 p.m.), which premieres this week. But the movie was derided by critics and even by many hardcore Star Wars fans, and made little money at the box office. So the show arrives with diminished expectations and probably even a bit of resentment on the part of Star Wars completists. The good news is that the Clone Wars show isn’t as bad as the Clone Wars movie, but that may only be because the show comes in 22-minute installments rather than 90 minutes all at once.
It also doesn’t, at least in the first two episodes, feature Jabba the Hutt’s gay uncle or his flatulent offspring. It does include annoyingly spunky teenage Jedi padawan Ahsoka Tano, who teams up with the pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker to take on separatists who are trying to tear the Republic asunder (the show takes place in between the Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith live-action movies). Franchise guru George Lucas has promised an expanded-universe tapestry for the show, but right now we’re dealing with some pretty familiar characters: Anakin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, R2-D2, Mace Windu, Chancellor Palpatine, Count Dooku, etc.
The stories so far are also less than thrilling and like the movie suffer from an inevitable feeling of inconsequentiality. Any casual Star Wars fan knows that the Clone Wars themselves are a farce, manipulated on both sides by Palpatine, and that the major characters will all emerge more or less intact. Furthermore, the light adventure tone is undercut by the knowledge that both Anakin and the numerous clone troopers will turn irredeemably evil by the time Revenge of the Sith comes around. Lucas and series overseer Dave Filoni (who directed the movie) are thus just marking time here, sending Anakin and Ahsoka to investigate a new separatist super-weapon or Yoda to curry favor with a random alien race.
The animation isn’t markedly different from what was seen in the movie, which is both a good and a bad thing; there’s no real decline in quality, but the characters still have that stiff, woodblock appearance, and the dialogue often doesn’t appear to be coming out of their mouths. And speaking of dialogue, most of the original actors didn’t bother showing up to voice their characters in the Clone Wars movie, but of the three who did, two—Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu and Christopher Lee as Count Dooku—aren’t back for the show. Anthony Daniels, who voices C-3PO, presumably has nothing better to do.
Lucas must not have anything better to do, either, because what’s going on here is the opposite of breaking new ground. There’s a whole world of Star Wars characters and scenarios detailed in novels, comic books and video games that Lucas had very little to do with (not to mention a popular previous non-CGI Clone Wars animated series), but the biggest Star Wars project since the live-action prequels merely gives us more whiny Anakin, pseudo-profound proclamations from Yoda (22 minutes of Yoda-speak, annoying it is) and lame droid humor. Like anything that Lucas foists on his audience these days, Clone Wars is bound to have its apologists; this time, though, they’re more likely to encounter shrugs of indifference than anything stronger.