Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Two-Disc Special Edition
Director: Dave Filoni
Voice Cast: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane, Nika Futterman, Ian Abercrombie, Samuel Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Corey Burton, Catherine Taber, Matthew Wood, Kevin Michael Richardson, David Acord
Star Wars:The Clone Wars is a CG animated film that takes place in the time period between Episodes 2 and 3 in the Star Wars Saga during the war between the Separatists, with their droid armies, and the Republic, with their Jedi-led clone forces. As the film begins, jedi knights Anakin Skywalker (Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Taylor) are leading an army of clone troopers in a pitched battle against separatist droid troops. In the midst of this conflict, Anakin is reluctantly assigned a Padawan learner named Ahsoka Tano (Eckstein). After earning Anakin's begrudging respect in battle, Ahsoka finds herself accompanying him on a mission to rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt (Richardson) in the hopes that a grateful Jabba will allow Republic passage through the star systems his Hutt family controls. Their mission becomes more complicated than they anticipated when they are confronted by significant droid army forces and mysterious assassin and dark jedi apprentice Asajj Ventress (Futterman) at the temple where the Hutling is being held. They discover the kidnapping was the idea of Separatist leader/dark jedi Count Dooku (Lee) in a plot to frame the Republic for the kidnapping and murder of Jabba's child. Meanwhile on Coruscant, Padme Amidala (Taber) uncovers some additional intrigue surrounding Jabba's cousin Ziro (Burton), which draws her into the kidnapping drama.
The history of Star Wars in TV animation got off to a rocky start in the 1980s with somewhat half-hearted kid-oriented series called Droids and Ewoks. Nearly two decades later, Lucasfilm decided to produce an animated product actually targeted at the same demographic as the film series with a two-part "micro-series" called Star Wars: Clone Wars that aired on the Cartoon Network cable network in the years leading up to the release of Revenge of the Sith. This was received quite favorably by fans, and no doubt convinced George Lucas that a more extensive action-oriented animated series could be developed from the premise. The theatrical feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars was originally conceived as part of a CG animated series to be aired on the Cartoon Network cable channel. After seeing production footage coming back, George Lucas apparently decided that the initial set of episodes would work as a big-screen theatrical feature.
...and in some ways, it does. The film does not quite live up to all of the expectations fans of either the "Star Wars" brand or of modern CGI animated features might bring to it, but it does manage to provide an enjoyable action-oriented time passer with a recognizable Star Wars "feel". While the film itself benefits from the context and Joseph Campbell-style mythic themes of the overall arc of the live action film series, it adds little to them by design. In their place, we get action, action, and more action along with some straightforward character development. I was surprised by how much of the Star Wars flavor is conveyed through the relatively modestly budgeted animation process, although certain small items may take some mental adjustment for the hardcore Star Wars junky. For instance, the opening crawl has been replaced with a narration reminiscent of old radio shows and Flash Gordon serials. Additionally, seeing the Warner Bros. logo over a clip of "As Time Goes By" somehow does not put me in the Star Wars mindset the way that the 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare would. (Conversely, the film on disc is preceded by the "Amazing Life" THX Trailer, which does not put me in the Warner Bros. DVD mindset - whatever that is).
From a technical standpoint, the CGI team creates some interesting environments that both liberally plunder and build upon designs from the original film series. The complexity and detail of these environments exceeded my expectations given the project's television origins. Access to the sound effects and John Williams themes in the Star Wars library and the use of a full orchestra for the score also help the perceived production value. The film stumbles a bit with character renderings and animation that are a bit crude by theatrical CGI standards, particularly for the humanoid characters who sometimes seem like inexpressive wooden puppets [insert your own Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christensen "Mannequin Skywalker" joke here]. In some ways, the designs are similar to the earlier hand drawn Clone Wars, series, but they seem less expressive in their 3D CGI renderings. Some corners also seem to have been cut by applying extremely similar levels of "shading" to items resulting in blandly repetitive textures.
The fast paced action and peril-heavy plot is in keeping with the B-movies and serials that were a large part of the inspiration for the original film series. Even the best of those vintage films and series installments would get fatiguing when stretched out to feature length, though. Those who were upset with the more juvenile elements of the prequels will no doubt cringe at elements such as the dopey "Roger Roger" battle droids being played for laughs, but they are part and parcel with Lucas' vision for the series at this point, so it was no worse than what I expected. At least the film remains a Jar-Jar free zone, although he will reportedly be used in some episodes of the TV series.
In short, I may have felt somewhat shortchanged if I had dropped the price of movie tickets for my whole family to see this, but as a home video proposition, it is a fun bit of Star Wars flavored popcorn chomping eye candy. It also works as a pilot for the TV series, which will have the advantage of metering out the unrelenting action in half-hour episodic doses consistent with where its serialized heart truly lies.
The film is presented on disc via a 16:9 enhanced transfer letterboxed to a 2.4:1 aspect ratio. The digital origin of the material results in the expected zero source flaws. Compression artifacts are minor but noticeable with critical viewing. Edge ringing is minimal to non-existent. Each location in the film is given a distinct color scheme and look with different challenges for the video presentation and encoding, and for the most part things go quite well.
Audio is courtesy of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 384 kbps. While the mix is not quite as dynamic and directional as those for the recent (or recently remixed) Star Wars theatrical features, it is still a very active mix compared to most other theatrical releases and goes way beyond what one would expect for a product derived from a television production. The extensive battle scenes provide frequent opportunities to aggressively exercise the surrounds and LFE. Fidelity is decent even given the relatively low bitrate. Alternate Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs are available in French and Spanish.
When the disc is first spun up, a Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV Series Trailer plays (1:32). It is presented in 4:3 video letterboxed to 16:9.
A feature length Audio Commentary is referred to on disc as "A Creative Conversation with Director Dave Filoni, Producer Catherine Winder, Writer Henry Gilroy, and Editor Jason W.A. Tucker". Although it is not selectable from the menu screens, there is an English subtitle stream of the entire commentary as well. This is useful because the subtitle stream identifies speakers, who never introduce themselves on the audio track, in addition to providing the text of their comments. Tucker and Filoni sit together. Winder and Gilroy were recorded separately. This is the best and most comprehensive of the behind the scenes extras with notes on a wide range of topics from story elements, tips of the hat to hardcore fans, design origins, and various production and development decisions. The depth of discussion in this commentary is a welcome improvement over the subsequent featurettes. For a specific example, Winder's interview comments in the video based featurettes are almost all variations on how wonderful and special the Clone Wars film and series are. In this commentary, she offers useful background information on a wide range of topics including production logistics, technical challenges, and character development discussions with Lucas.
These extras are presented in 16:9 enhanced video with English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio with available English SDH or French subtitles.
Star Wars: Clone Wars - The Untold Stories (24:51) starts with a brief introduction including a discussion of the Clone Wars in the film series, how the animated Star Wars: The Clone wars TV series and film fit in to that context, the construction of the series, and the use of thematic quotes at the begiining of each episode. The balance of the featurette becomes a preview of Season One of the series with a synopsis and clips from several of the forthcoming episodes. Interestingly, even though the series airs on television in a 16:9 aspect ratio, every clip shown in this preview featurette is letterboxed to 2.4:1. On screen comments come from George Lucas, Director Dave Filoni, Writer Henry Gilroy, and Producer Catherine Winder.
The Voices of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (10:01) looks at the voice actors involved with the project. Filoni sits for an interview about the voice actors who appear in both the Star Wars: The Clone Wars film and the television series. A number of the voice actors are shown recording their parts, many of them at a single session. You see and hear from most of the major voice players from the film in the cast list above and a few unique to the series (such as Seth Green). Among the various voice snippets, you get to hear Corey Burton's take on Count Dooku which sounds remarkably close to Christopher Lee, who reprised his live action role in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars film, but not the subsequent TV episodes.
A New Score (10:45) Looks at the music of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars film and TV Series. Composer Kevin Kiner discusses the daunting task of playing in John Williams' musical sandbox and bringing his own sound into the well-established Star Wars world. Filoni and Winder discuss the difficulty of finding a composer who would be able to make the series feel like Star Wars across the variety of story types in the series. They also discuss Lucas' desire for different environments in the film and series to have signature sounds and how ethnic music and instrumentation was used to accomplish this. The interview footage is interspersed with behind the scenes footage including meetings with George Lucas at the Skywalker Ranch, recording sessions with a 90 piece orchestra in Prague, and footage of Kiner sitting at his synth workstation explaining how he composed a theme for Ahsoka Tano. The latter is unintentionally funny through no fault of Kiner's due to how similar it is to a scene in Spinal Tap where Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel explains how he is composing a song in D-minor, the saddest of all keys, the title of which I cannot repeat in a family friendly review.
Gallery is a collection of over 40 stills of concept art, production art, color studies, maquettes, and other such material. In a nice touch, the responsible artist is identified for each still.
Webisodes (20:56) is a collection of behind the scenes promo pieces that were created for web distribution to preview what the film and series would be about. The individual segments are Introducing Star Wars: The Clone Wars (3:40), Epic Battles (2:44), The Clones Are Coming (3:26), Heroes (3:26), Villains(3:57), and Anakin's Padawan(3:40). The featurettes are held together by on-camera interviews with Filoni combined with clips from the series and behind the scenes production footage. Additional interviews excerpts with Producer Winder appear in the final segment. Almost all of this information is redundant with topics covered in the commentary, although in some cases, such as the explanation of how the Clones were given their own personalities, it is more efficiently presented here versus being spread out throughout various points of the feature commentary.
Deleted Scenes (10:50 w/Play All) covers four scenes that were eliminated from the film, usually for the sake of running time. All four scenes feature full or nearly completed animation. While no explanation of the editorial process that led to their deletion is included here, most of them are covered at the appropriate point in the feature length commentary on Disc One.
- Through the Tanks (:49) is an extended sequence of Anakin and Ahsoka's infiltration of the Droid Army via the old cardboard box with legs trick. This is among the more ludicrous plot conceits in the film, and reading between the lines of the feature commentary, it was shortened at least partly because the filmmakers were embarrassed about it. Maybe Lucas will revisit the film in later years for a "Special Edition" that replaces the box with a pantomime horse.
- Rancor Pit (4:02) is an extended fight between Anakin Ahsoka, and Asaaj Ventress in a pit with a live Rancor creature. It is a fun action sequence that was cut for time, with some of the action beats in the battle given to a fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ventress in the finished film. It may also have been cut because, from a plot standpoint, it requires R2D2 to do something illogical to make it happen.
- Platform Droid Fight (4:12) is another extended action sequence with Anakin and Ahsoka battling space fighter droid ships on an elevated platform. It was cut for time.
- Cargo Bay (1:45) is an extended sequence with Anakin and Ahsoka attempting to escape in a cargo ship with the baby Hutling with droid fighters in hot pursuit that was also cut for time.
Finally, a digital copy of the film is also available on the second disc that is compatible with Windows XP and Vista computers, Microsoft Vista/Playsforsure compatible portable devices, and iTunes/iPods as well. Once I entered the authorization code provided on an insert to the disc packaging, it took about six minutes to download the 1.12 GB digital copy file from the DVD into iTunes.
The discs are packaged in an Amaray-sized hard case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate both discs. The hard case has a cover image of Anakin backed by an army of clone troopers. The hard case is in turn inserted into a cardboard slipcase with a lenticular motion cover that switches between the image of Anakin backed by clones and an image of Asajj Ventress backed by battle droids. The case has an insert with the code for unlocking the digital copy.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars does not live up to the expectations for mythic epic storytelling that hardcore fans of the live action film series have come to expect, and it betrays its TV origins somewhat due to the limited character animation techniques. That being said, if expectations are kept low, it is a fun Star Wars flavored action cartoon that works as a pilot for the television series of the same name. It is presented on DVD with excellent audio and video quality and decent extras highlighted by an informative commentary on the first disc and an interesting set of nearly completed deleted scenes on the second disc. If fans can get by without the deleted scenes and are not interested in a digital copy of the film, they may be best served by choosing the single disc edition over this Two-Disc Special Edition since it still includes the commentary which is the best of the behind the scenes supplements.