Is this a Star Wars movie, or isn't it?
In a lot of ways it's half-way between one thing and another. The animation, aiming for "Thunderbirds" (bold choice, George), is half-way between live-action and the manga-esque Clone Wars cartoon series. Similarly, the Jedi powers are about half-way between the physically "real" versions in the films and the much more now-that's-what-they-OUGHT-to-be-able-to-do powers evinced in the cartoon. Particularly the bit where Mace Windu shows you what he can do with his PURPLE LIGHTSABRE.
In the same way, The Clone Wars cannot QUITE decide if it's a Star Wars movie or not. So it starts with "A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away…" and then promptly DOESN'T have a title scroll (which at least, I guess, avoids the ungainly need to decide how to do 2½ in Roman numerals), giving us an heroic narration instead (which does EXACTLY the same as a title crawl would have done, except with less class). It opens with John William's classic Star Wars theme… but they've remixed it using an oompah band and a bath tub making it sound… er… a bit naff.
And, in fact, far from being set between "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith", it feels much more set between season one and season two of the Clone Wars cartoon itself. So there's a welcome return for Sith Witch Asajj Ventriss, and a slightly less welcome return for protracted battles between clones and droids on Planet We've-Never-Heard-Of-Before.
A lot of people have said that the Vertical Battle up the side of the B'omarr Monastery on Teth is the highpoint of the film, and to be fair they are absolutely right. It’s the point – maybe the one point – where the film does what a Star Wars film is SUPPOSED to do, which is show us a new and unique battle. (The original Star Wars showing us a dogfight in SPACE; "The Empire Strikes Back" bringing us a ground assault with giant walking shooty things; and so on…)
But the opening scrap between the two sides manages to be both unoriginal and static – marching droids and shield generators, how very "The Phantom Menace" – and the cityscape is not nearly so interesting as the very similar battle that takes place in the first Clone Wars series nor the Coruscant fight from the second. And it just goes on far too long, with several scenes of Obi-Wan literally padding in front of our eyes to keep the Separatists busy while Anakin and his new apprentice bring down the shield generator.
Ah, yes, did I not mention little Ahsoka, the Padawan we never knew he had.
Well, it's not like Master Lucas hasn't sprung unexpected bits of new mythology on us before. Hello, Qui-Gon, goodbye. Nor is the IDEA that Jedi don't just start training very young, they also start TEACHING very young, completely at odds with an order that is supposed to be about knowledge and learning rather than chopping people up with energy weapons.
But the idea of Anakin having a Padawan apprentice whom we've never heard of before or since just seems totally bizarre. (Although, of course, later, as Darth Vader, he certainly has no doubts about his ability when offering to train Luke.) It really is like something out of a daytime soap, worse than the whole Anakin was Padawan to Obi-Wan was Padawan to Qui-Gon was Padawan to Dooku was Padawan to Yoda moment in "Attack of the Clones". The character clearly has "tragic destiny" written all over her. In fact she has "Ahsoka is dead, Master Obi-Wan, let's agree never to mention her again" written all over her.
So the battle on Planet Whatever is clearly staged to give us some time for Anakin and Ahsoka to go through every cliché they can find on the way to a love-hate relationship. Or the "annoying sarcastic backchat" as some people call it. I guess it's meant to be "cute".
All this makes it look very much like this was "episode one" of the proposed television series, the "let's introduce the characters" episode, with part two (and three) being the main (and more interesting) story, about the kidnap of Jabba the Hutt baby, Rotta.
Once it finally gets going, though, a lot of the plot hinges on Jabba simply believing whatever Count Dooku tells him. Because obviously, as head of a criminal syndicate, Jabba is ever such a trusting individual and certainly not the type to have, oh say, bounty hunters and guards at his disposal to send off to check anything.
And certainly Jabba's bounty hunters come back in pieces from their mission to find baby Rotta. But they HAVE reported in before then – did they not think to mention the large separatist droid army that was guarding the kidnapped Huttling?
Nor is there any consistency to just how powerful Jabba's crime syndicate really is. Here it seems he has power to control the very space-lanes of the Outer Rim, whereas in "A New Hope" he's going around menacing two-bit smugglers like Han in person.
It might have made more sense for the BABY Hutt to be Jabba with the Hutt crimelord being his father (yes, that would have necessitated the Hutt in "The Phantom Menace" being this hypothetical parent too). It might have explained why digital Jabba is physically SMALLER in the re-mastered "A New Hope" than he is in "The Phantom Menace", and why he's doing his own enforcing. (i.e. he's a junior bouncer in his father's empire but on his way up).
Or possibly having a fascist dictatorship like the Empire take over the galaxy is just VERY bad for business.
And it has to be said, Ziro the Hutt is the GAYEST ever thing in Star Wars, yes, even gayer than C-3PO in the oil bath. It ought to be horribly offensive… but the truth is that he's probably the most entertaining thing here and to be fair he's the character that Peter Lorre would have been playing if these prequel stories really had been shot in the 1930's the way that Lucas likes to pretend.
There is also the slightly interesting question of just who Palpatine is playing for a sucker here.
Superficially, the Sith plan is to help Ziro to kidnap baby Hutt and then let the Jedi take the blame, so that the Confederacy can use the Hutt shipping lanes and the Republic can't.
This all comes to grief because Palpatine just happens to mention to Senator Amidala that Anakin might be in danger because of a Hutt plot, and she goes off to see Ziro and uncovers his role in the plot.
This seems like a lose for the Dark Side. But then you remember, Darth Sidious's entire scheme with Dooku and the Confederacy is a TITANIC deception. The actual plan is for Dooku to LOSE the war (though not until Sidious has secured his grip on power), and indeed for Dooku himself to die as an inevitable part of Sidious's subtle training of Anakin as his REAL new apprentice.
Incidentally, did anyone else get the impression that everyone up to and including Anakin and Padme seems to have forgotten that they got MARRIED at the end of the preceding movie?
"Clone Wars" has, of course, been critically mauled. Not so much panned as chained into the stocks and pelted with rotten tomatoes.
It's not ACTUALLY that bad. There have certainly been many much worse movies made. George Lucas has made several of them personally.
Yes, Ahsoka is a pain, but she's no Jar Jar Binks. Yes, someone has lobotomised Jabba and probably the plot too, but there are still moments of brilliance here and there – that fight up the monastery, Ventriss versus Obi-Wan. And yes, the character development amounts to "gee, I guess you're ok after all, annoying little Padawan". It's always going to be difficult to engage your sympathies when almost all of one side are identical silly robots and almost all of the other side are identical Kiwi-accented Storm Troopers (though in one nice touch all with individually styled hair. Cute.) But it's difficult to be totally awful when you have the honest-to-gosh talents of Mr Anthony Daniels, Mr Sir Samuel L Jackson and Mr Lord Christopher Lee on hand.
As a pilot for a CGI television series this is… okay. Admittedly, there probably aren't the deep roots of ongoing plot that are laid down in a pilot like Babylon 5's "The Gathering"; but equally some of the CGI puppets are actually less wooden than some of the B5 cast. Naming no names.
Anyway, this is George Lucas we're talking about. In true "Young Indiana Jones" style, he's going to make the whole telly series anyway – all a hundred episodes of it – no matter WHAT the rest of the world thinks.