…and then a step to the ri-i-i-i-i-ight.
March 16, 2005
I did catch a sneak preview of the debut episode of the next season of Clone Wars. However, I had to suffer through Mark Hamill to do it.
Was it worth it? That’s the first real question. Was the forty minutes of watching a pasty, slightly bitter has-been pace a stage and answer Star Wars questions through gritted teeth worth the twelve-odd minutes of animated glory that followed a few hours later? Did the greatness of the Genndy Tartakovsky-crafted short outweigh the lameness of Luke Skywalker stumping for his direct-to-DVD “mockumentary” about the comic book industry, a project in which I am as uninterested as I have ever been about anything in my entire life?
I can only say this: I nearly fell asleep during Mark Hamill’s appearance. NEARLY. FELL. ASLEEP. At a con. In a room packed with nerds.
I did not, however, fall asleep during “Chapter 21” of Clone Wars, a good sign. I did smile often and laugh at the coolness of it all, two more good signs. And I am now very excited about the upcoming run of Clone Wars episodes, which is perhaps the best sign of all.
As you might expect, “Chapter 21” picks up right where “Chapter 20” left off, with a daring rescue by a fiercely-painted Republic gunship of Ki-Adi Mundi and several other Jedi who were mercilessly attacked by the terrifying General Grievous. From there, the episode dives into some juicy character business, including the knighting of Anakin Skywalker, a clandestine meeting between secret lovers Anakin and Padme, and even an eerie dream sequence in which a Jake Lloyd-era Anakin is depicted with Qui-Gon Jinn facing a cave much like the one Luke entered on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.
The other real question is a simple one: Is Clone Wars still good, and is it Star Wars, and is it good Star Wars?
That’s a really good question. The animated series isn’t a full product of Lucas’ brain, although he has had some input, so it’s not technically Star Wars canon, to the best of my knowledge. It’s also animated for the small screen, and thus it lacks the scope and impact of any big-screen Star Wars adventure.
But there’s been a sense all along, through the shorter episodes of the first season of Clone Wars and now already in the first chapter of the second season, that Tartakovsky understands what makes Star Wars Star Wars better than Lucas himself. Maybe it’s because they have so little time to work with, but the Clone Wars team craft some truly fun, exciting action sequences, packed with the kind of details that made Samurai Jack so cool. These bad boys MOVE, and again, they have to, but I also think they want to. They want to capture the breathtaking momentum of the classic sequences from the original trilogy of films, and avoid the plodding dullness of some of the modern Star Wars action sequences. (11 minutes of chasing Zam Wessell through Coruscant? Why, George, why?)
There are also the small moments, which in their execution are more uniquely Tartakovsky but in their emotional content fall more in line with the best moments of the classic films. When we first see Anakin making his way to meet Padme in “Chapter 21,” we have no idea where he’s going; he’s a hooded dark figure moving through the streets of Coruscant. Tartakovsky uses close-ups and pacing to great effect in establishing that this part of town is strange and more than a little seedy. Instantly, because we know the path Anakin will tread, we suspect the worst. Instead, a thin arm grabs him from an alley, and he’s reunited with his lover.
It’s a short sequence, but it’s packed with character and mood. It’s very thoughtfully done, and not just in its style, but in its substance as well. It says that the creative team knows these characters, cares about them, and wants us to care about them too.
I haven’t felt that in Star Wars on the big screen since Return of the Jedi, and that’s why I’ll be tuning in for each new episode of Clone Wars, and also rushing out next Tuesday to pick up my DVD of the first season. Because Clone Wars is better Star Wars than Star Wars at this point, almost better than Star Wars deserves, and it’ll get me more excited for Episode III than any of the other goddamn prequels ever could.