October 2, 2008

Clone Wars Begins

By Scott D. Pierce Deseret News

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Believe it or not, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" is pretty cool.

Not the theatrical film, which underwhelmed critics and died at the box office. But rather the computer-animated TV series, which debuts tonight with back-to-back episodes at 10 and 10:30 p.m. on the Cartoon Network.

Yes, in most ways it's the same thing that (a few of) you saw in the theaters. With three differences:

1. While the CGI animation looked, well, not so great on the big screen, it looks pretty darn good on the small screen. Part of that has to do with expectations, and the TV "Clone Wars" looks better than most of what television has to offer. And part of that has to do with just the difference in size -- the stiff characters look stiffer when they're blown up for the widescreen.

2. At 98 minutes, the theatrical movie was just too darn long. At 30 minutes, the TV show episodes are a lot easier to sit through.

3. You can watch the TV show for free (assuming you already have a cable or satellite hookup), so you don't feel like you've spent too much on the price of admission.

Supervising producer Dave Filoni said that while the movie introduced (or re-introduced) the characters, it was intended to be "stand alone."

"Then you come to the series. It has its small arcs and shows you the war from across a broad spectrum of episodes," he said.

Rob Sorcher, the chief content officer of Cartoon Network, said each episode is like "a mini movie every week." And that even if you've never seen "Star Wars" before, "This will inspire a whole new generation of fans."

Well, maybe.

The episodes will feature familiar characters such as Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Senator Palpatine and Count Dooku, but they also will focus on other characters.

"That's really exciting about the series -- to get to explore the galaxy in a bigger way," said Filoni.

With the exception of "one guy who painted some of the backgrounds," this is an entirely different production staff from the one that worked on the earlier "Clone Wars" animated series, which used traditional (not computer-generated) animation. And the writing staff is "completely different."

There are 22 episodes in this first season. "There's no more three years between films," Filoni said. "It's just a week."

And he wants to make it clear that the series is "not just telling Anakin Skywalker's story. If we were doing that, we would be stuck on one single arc."

Which is all well and good, but the narrative can get bogged down by the weight of the six movies. Particularly by the three prequels.

"I do keep acutely aware of what happened in the 'Attack of the Clones' and what happened in 'Revenge of the Sith,' and I know any time I go near one of the principal characters like Obi-Wan or Anakin or Padme, that we have to pay very careful attention that it's going to hook up. For the most part, it's just having a lot of fun and talking to George about what the Jedi really were like."

When "The Clone Wars" really gets fun is when the characters are in action -- slashing their light sabers, shooting their weapons, flying their ships into battle. It's cool to look at.

If there's enough of that, "Clone Wars" can overcome having to be the latest prequel in the "Star Wars" saga.

And Filoni rejects the notion that we've already had plenty of "Star Wars" and don't need any more.

"I mean, every time I go to Toys R Us, there are kids picking up light sabers and imagining they are in that galaxy far, far away," he said. "And, if that inspires them, then I'm happy to make more."