Artificial Continuum

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The state of the Star Wars universe has long been a subject of debate for fans of George Lucas's sprawling space opera. The original trilogy considered to be among the best films of all time, have become tarnished by the less then stellar prequel trilogy. Though I and many other fans have a certain appreciation for the prequel saga, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith remains one of my favorite films. However, the increasing commercialism and critical slump of Star Wars has tarnished its once high reputation.

Star Wars fans continue to love their saga though, and Lucasfilm has seemed to find the right balance between pleasing their adult fans, with video games and novels, and their younger fanbase with toys. However, the biggest announcement in years of Star Wars fandom came during 2005, mere months before the prequel trilogy was to be concluded. Two Star Wars television series were in the works, one animated and one live-action. The announcement thundered through all of the nerd community.

The excitement was electric. Then came the first warning sign. The animated series was to be based upon the controversial prequel trilogy. The series was to chronicle the Clone Wars, the event that took place between Episodes II and III of the saga. This decision seemed odd to many fans. The Clone Wars was an area in the Star Wars chronology that had already been extensively covered, and the idea of creating a series upon the event seemed bizarre to say the least.

However, Lucas promised the fans that their worries were unfounded. He promised a high quality, action packed show that would rival the movies in quality. This quieted some of the anger, but many were still skeptical. This was the same man that had conceived of Jar Jar Binks after all. Then the first preview premiered, and the skepticism fell quiet once again. The animation was beautiful. The CGI provided for a great 3D feel that felt beyond that of any television series. The action, music, voice acting were all there and the show looked phenomenal. Faith was once again behind Lucas's newest baby.

Lucas couldn't keep his fans pleased for long though. Almost minutes after the jaw dropping first preview, another bizarre announcement was made. A new character was to be introduced to the series, Ahsoka Tano, and she was to be Anakin's Jedi Padawan. Fan's jaws dropped. A padawan!?! With Anakin!?! Fan's were outraged. What would happen to the continuity!?! What would be come of the years of story and work that the films, comics, and novels had built around Anakin!?! However, once again Lucas asked us to believe in him, a phrase that was slowly becoming a double edged sword.

Yet Lucas's greatest mistake was still to come. As 2008 opened, the Clone Wars animated series was to make a television debut that fall. Lucas's love for the series had grown great, and he felt that a show of this caliber deserved a better venue, the big screen. Dave Filoni, supervising director of the series, was shocked and hurriedly took his team together to try and splice together the first four episodes into one cohesive whole. The idea was doomed from the start. The Clone Wars were never fit for the big screen. The animation style though spectacular for a television series, was out of date and almost wooden in appearance when compared to the work of Pixar and Dreamworks. The characters were also seen as flat and uninteresting, the action as boring, and the writing a mess. Another common complaint about the movie was its use of bland and uninteresting humor, given by the villainous battle droid grunts. Their use of lame puns, and slapstick was seen as unnecessary and distracting. Overall, what might have worked on the small screen, was never fit for film. The act was almost as bad as forcing a talented child star to perform in competition with a group of trained professionals.

The fan view of the Clone Wars had slipped from excitement, to skepticism, to disdain. Thousands of older fans turned their backs on the series never to watch again. Many more became embarrassed that their once proud franchise had become children's fare. Despite the controversy, Filoni and Lucas decided to continue the series as scheduled, and on October 3rd 2008 the series premiered on Cartoon Network. At once some issues with the film were solved. The writing, animation, and action all worked much better in the scope of a half hour television show. Each episode worked easily as a cohesive whole.

However, one major problem remained with the fledgling series, and that was one with tone. The show, as stated by Lucas was written for both young and old fans in mind, but overall the series has had trouble finding its footing. The show featured many blatantly childlike areas, particularly the bland humor. It's focus on Ahsoka also made it feel as if the show was preaching towards a younger audience. The series also wanted an older audience as well. Death, and violence on the show were common, and often felt out of place. It seemed as if Filoni wanted to tell a story about war, but had trouble showing it on a program that supposedly favored a young audience. This was especially apparent in the shows' first major story arc revolving around a large battleship constructed by Seperatist leader General Grievous. The episodes featured many dark moments and themes such as loss, betrayal, and murder, but all these elements were undermined by the need to make the show appropriate to children. This dumbed down the action, and emotion to what would have otherwise been an amazing addition to the Star Wars mythos.

Then Clone Wars introduced the great game changer. An episode that would not only energized the fan base, but likely saved the series as well. Entitled “Rookies”, the episode followed a battalion of clones, who find themselves defending their outpost against an onslaught of droids. For the first time Clone Wars found its footing. Telling a mature, violent, humorous, and even emotionally wrenching story, “Rookies” proved that Filoni and the team could create not only true Star Wars material, but good stories overall. Energy had finally been pumped into a series that very much needed the love of its core fanbase.

The series would have several missteps and stumbles throughout its first season, but the series had found where it worked, and churned out such stellar episodes as: “Trespass”, “Lair of Grievous”, “Cloak of Darkness”, and “Storm Over Ryloth”. The show ended its first season on a positive note with the incredibly violent and dark “Hostage Crisis” ,following the invasion of the Republic Senate building by bounty hunter Cad Bane. The introduction of Bane marked a high in the series. This old school badass of a character has become an over night fan favorite, and smartly Filoni has made his role in the upcoming second season larger.

Overall, the Clone Wars has quickly jumped from being lackluster attempt at Star Wars to being a powerful and well produced show on its own. It has personally become one of my favorite shows, and the novelty of having quality Star Wars entertainment on a weekly basis is something that leads almost any nerd to pure electric excitement. The shows faults are still there: the writing can still stumble into corny cliches, the humor is still poor, and episodes can vary in quality ,yet these are small complaints. Expect to here more about the Clone Wars every week on Artificial Continuum.


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