Mar 22, 2012

[TV] Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005)

The Star Wars Expanded Universe has certainly grown into unique and rather interesting as the Star Wars franchise has expanded its reach to include books, toys, comics, TV shows and so on. And what makes it more interesting is how most of these seeming deviations are actually considered to be canonical in terms of the internal consistency of the overall universe, which says a lot about the continuity teams that manage the whole creative process across the various Star Wars properties.

Sure, the continued expansion of the Star Wars media empire really just drives new revenue as it touches new media formats, but that's just how the business goes. And for Star Wars fans like myself, the payoff isn't too bad since it means we get more stories involving characters we love (and a few stories for characters we pretend don't exist).

This particular venture really stood out for me, probably because I'm quite the fan of Genndy Tartakovsky and his previous endeavors like Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack. Applying his particular creative vision to the Star Wars universe just made sense to me and I'll forever respect this particular animated series above many of the other Star Wars properties.

Star Wars: Clone Wars began as a 2003 "micro-series" considering it consisted of 3-minute episodes (and later 12 minutes) broadcast between other Cartoon Network shows. The stories were pretty much based on direction from George Lucas with Genndy Tartakovsky as director.

The series was originally conceived as a way to bridge the gap between the movies Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Considering there's pretty much three years worth of stories to be told between the two movies, that's a lot of potential storytelling to be segmented into 3 minute installments. The series lasted for three seasons / series runs in total, all of which are now available on DVD or whatever format you prefer.

Beyond the brevity of the medium, what made the series so great was Tartakovsky's appreciation for more Asian-style direction in terms of how he told the story. I say this in the sense that he made extensive use of silent action instead of lengthy dialog to move his narratives forward - something he clearly mastered in this time handling Samurai Jack. And this totally worked with a lot of the action, whether it involved a lone Jedi on an important mission or the elite ARC troopers trying to execute their key role in a larger military campaign.

The first two volumes really did a lot of stories of this nature that really expanded on the rest of the conflict raging across the galaxy. It was well enough for the movies to focus on the lead characters - these cartoons were designed to bring focus to the actual clone trooper tactics along with how the different Jedi fulfilled their roles as generals.

The series was also important not just for helping to flesh out some of the stories of the other supporting Jedi who didn't get as much screen time in the movies. More importantly it helped introduce newer characters like General Grievous and of course Asajj Ventress.

Asajj Ventress is certainly a character that would have been great in the movies themselves, although finding someone to fulfill her role well enough probably would have been the greater challenge. I suppose it makes sense that she has largely existed in the Expanded Universe alone whether in terms of the animated shows or even in the comic books. She's just one majorly badass lady with a chip on her shoulder beyond belief. She's probably one of the more interesting bits of the current CGI series Star Wars The Clone Wars (since the "the" makes it different from this cartoon).

Admittedly my favorite episodes in this series were the ones with little to no dialog. Thus the episodes focused on the commando skills of the ARC troopers, Kit Fisto engaged in an underwater battle and of course demonstrating just how kick ass Mace Windu is as he faces off with a whole army of Super Battle Droids alone. Oh yeah, you go token black Jedi!

But beyond the silent components, the series helped build up characters. General Grievous was a pretty awesome villain in this animated series and it's sad to see how badly he was changed once the final prequel movie came along. The guards attached to Chancellor Palpatine also had bigger roles here and I'll forever mourn the sacrifice of Shaak Ti. She was such an awesome character and I wish she had more of a role in the movie as well.

With the current CGI having just wrapped up its fourth season, I found myself missing this landmark series. While brief in terms of its screen life, I felt this series did a lot more for the franchise than the entire CGI series has done over four years. This cartoon really showcases what's great about the prequel period - and I know that doesn't seem like much since we had to deal with the likes of Jar Jar Binks. Plus the series had a much more mature focus and slant whereas the current series is a lot more youth-oriented (to be somewhat generous in my terminology.

Star Wars: Clone Wars is the show that I wish had been continued on further instead of the recent CGI bonanza. I still enjoy that series as well, of course, but this one really made my jaw drop. Thus this Tartakovsky masterpiece gets a full 5 scenes of even Amidala being useful in a combat situation out of a possible 5.

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