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Published: Friday, 8/15/2008

Movie review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars ****

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Seeing "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ... " on the big screen again is sure to warm the hearts of most Star Wars fans.

Not seeing George Lucas' name in the credits as writer or director of the new Star Wars film, The Clone Wars, is sure to warm those hearts even further.

Lucas is an idea man. His brilliance, beyond his undeniable skill at marketing and merchandising, lies in his vast imagination. But to translate those ideas to celluloid ... well, most everyone has seen Phantom Menace, the bastard child of the Star Wars saga.

With the computer-animated Clone Wars, though, the Star Wars creator has turned an ambitious creative team loose in the worlds he spawned and challenged them to take his cultural icons in new directions.

Fortunately, he was sensible enough to get out of their way.

The result is a Star Wars film that is epic in scope, breathtaking in action, and warmly familiar.

The Clone Wars takes place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, with the Republic brutally engaged in a civil war with a band of separatist planets, led by the villainous Count Dooku. Leading the Republic are the noble Jedi Knights, backed by a vast army of clone troops, while the Separatists counter with a seemingly endless supply of mechanized soldiers.

Both armies appear to be battling to a stalemate, but Dooku has plans to turn the tide in the Separatists' favor by kidnapping the slug son of Jabba the Hutt and framing the Jedi, thus causing Jabba and his powerful Hutt Clan to align with the Separatists.

To carry out his scheme, Dooku is relying on his apprentice, Asajj Ventress, a pasty-skinned Sith armed with a double-bladed lightsaber who provides a welcomed villainous presence to the movie.

Meanwhile, Yoda has dispatched Obi-Wan Kenobi to meet with Jabba, while Anakin Skywalker and his new padawan Ahsoka are sent to rescue the infant Hutt.

The battles between the droid army and the clone troopers are often intense, with the filmmakers not afraid to cut away from a ferocious gun battle, or the aftermath of a fiery explosion.

The Clone Wars maintains much of the darker tone of the PG-13-rated Revenge of the Sith. But, unlike Sith and the other prequels, there's a sense of fun among the characters, much of it between Anakin and Ahsoka. He's reluctant to be saddled with the responsibility of an apprentice, while she's eager to prove herself to him, and not afraid to call attention to his mistakes. Their game of verbal one-upmanship is reminiscent of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the first Star Wars film, A New Hope.

The computer-generated animation, while not groundbreaking, is often a visual feast. And, though the characters have been recast - with the exception of Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Dooku (Christopher Lee), and C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) - the new actors' voice-over work more or less faithfully replicates their film counterparts.

As for the story ... this is the Star Wars film Lucas should have written, but couldn't. He was a slave to the story arc of Anakin's dark descent into Darth Vader.

While The Clone Wars is only a 98-minute film, it's part of a new series of half-hour cartoons to air on Cartoon Network in October and rebroadcast on TNT. Lucas has said he wants 100 episodes of the series.

Certainly he knew the Clone Wars was rife with potential, and this movie launches the TV series in the right direction.

Even though it's animated, The Clone Wars is a worthy chapter to a long-ago saga set in a galaxy far, far away.

And that, no matter whose name is in the credits, is reason to celebrate.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com

or 419-724-6734.



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