Wednesday, August 13, 2008

a commercial break from my normal program

The other day, my son and I were treated to a sneak-peek of the new animated Star Wars movie, The Clone Wars.

First, some disclaimers: I am a Star Wars geek. While not the most overboard person I know, I am a big fan of the mythology. I LOVED the first chapters (4-6) released for mass consumption, also known as the “original trilogy”. I was disappointed with episodes 1-3, probably mostly due to the fact that I had such immense expectations for them.

SO to keep from setting myself up for disappointment, I went in with lower expectations. Excitement and cool Jedi tricks are par for the course, so I was sure that I would see those elements--and on this score I was not disappointed. Also, I was “hopeful” that the end of Hayden Christianson and Natalie Portman as the actors portraying some key players in the story would make for more tolerable storytelling between some cool action scenes.

I did not get that.

Let me call the movie what it is: it’s a video game that you don’t have any control over. There was very little--I mean VERY little--storytelling between action scenes, much like the narrative breaks you might be treated to if you are playing a multi-layered strategy game. Even the characters look like something that you’d see on your gaming system.

And about those characters: there isn’t very many of them. You get plenty of Obi Wan and Anakin, the latter being the focal point of the story. Check that, he’s one of the two focal characters of the story, the other being his new Padawan, Osaku. She is much like he was as a Padawan, which is to say remarkably talented and immensely disrespectful of the discipline of being a Jedi Knight. There’s a decent-sized appearance of Padme, but precious little of Yoda or Mace Windu or any other Jedi. On the “bad” side, you see a good bit of Count Dooku and his “assassin”, a character named Ventress (REAL fans of Star Wars will recognize her from the previous Clone Wars animated movies, released on DVD as a bridge between Chapters 2 and 3’s theater runs--which is the same timeframe covered by this movie). You also get to see at least one too many Hutts, as Jabba and his sordid family tree are key elements of the story.

Okay, to the story: in the interest of not being a spoiler, I’ll skip over the details of the plot and just tell you that there’s nothing “mythological” about this story. In other words, there’s nothing added to the legend of Anakin.

This movie is not a self-contained story, by the way. Yes, there is one storyline that is played out in full--but there is still an awful lot of space to fill in between the end of episode 2 and the start of episode 3. That "space" will be filled by half-hour installments later this year on a cable channel (I think it's Comedy Network, but don't take that to the bank). This movie is, both in effect and in practice, a theater release for a television program's pilot episode.

So why pay to see a TV show? Well, I finish with one grand observation: this movie is clearly not directed at the SW geeks among us; it is an attempt at a kid-friendly Star Wars movie that will spark excitement for the upcoming Star Wars program on some cable network. To that end, my 10-year old LOVED it. I mean really really LOVED it, ranking it higher than Wall-E, Iron Man and Indiana Jones after the first viewing. It is quick-paced, it is funny (seriously, there’s more laughs to be had than in Wall-E), and it is EXACTLY the “style” of the entertainment medium that kids of the 7-to-tweener age group will recognize and immediately welcome.

Will it work big in theaters? Well, I imagine it will probably have a pretty good first weekend--but I don’t think it has great staying power. The “target audience”, as near as I can tell, may enjoy it immensely--but their parents probably won’t, as it is anything but standard kids’ fare. And the Star Wars geeks out there, the ones that would give it a lot of repeat viewership if they are so inclined, will likely be underwhelmed.

Which means instead of seeing this movie multiple times, they’ll be at home, watching the previously-mentioned Clone Wars DVD that adds much more to the mythology of the series.

While counting down the days until the Clone Wars show hits the air.


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