When this movie released in 2008, 3 years after Revenge of the Sith, I had all but forgotten of my love for Star Wars. But even if I still loved it, I might not have bothered seeing this one in theaters. I remember talk of this movie in the news and a couple advertisements, but it kind of came and went. The animation looked cheap for a theatrical release. It looked like the creators were talking more about how creative the action was then why people should care about the story. So I didn’t see this movie at all until after The Force Awakens released.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one. The movie only earned $66 million in theaters, making it by far the least profitable Star Wars movie to see a theatrical release. Yet despite that very mild income, it still made a profit. Its budget was only $8.5 million. In a decade where animated movies often costed above $100 million, what were they thinking releasing a movie with a budget smaller than 1981’s The Fox and the Hound? That’s right, unadjusted for inflation, this movie’s budget was less than an early 80’s Disney movie, during their first dark age where the company was barely making anything.
Just a note – almost none of these gifs are actually from the movie. Read on and you’ll be able to figure out where they’re actually from.
When I finally saw it a couple years ago, I thought it was really lame. It felt like one of two things. Either one 30 minute TV episode stretched into a 2 hour movie, or a couple of episodes shoved together into one story. It had some good moments, like Anakin receiving an apprentice when Obi-Wan originally expected one. Yoda hoped the responsibility would help Anakin move away from the dark side of the force. Both he and Yoda hoped she would help him overcome his biggest weakness – his inability to let things go.
But the story itself isn’t worth a theatrical release. It all revolves around Jabba the Hutt’s son being kidnapped, and there’s a battle between the Republic and the Separatists to return his son, in hopes to gain safe passage through the Outer Rims territory. The makers of this movie do what they can with the story, and it’s not necessarily bad, but why does this deserve theatrical attention?
Well, that’s where the backstory comes in. After Revenge of the Sith released, Lucasfilm started working on an animated Clone Wars TV series. The series as a whole would be directed by Dave Filoni, who previously acted as a director for a number of episodes in Avater: The Last Airbender’s first season. He already sounded like a good choice to run the show. After George Lucas saw some of the show’s test footage, he wanted them to turn the pilot into a theatrical release.
Although producer Catherine Winder said the sudden decision to make the pilot a theatrical release added to the already large challenge to establish a show as complex and sophisticated as they were planning, she felt it was a good way to kick it off. The budgetary constraints forced them to think creatively. And yes, some of the battles and story beats in this movie are creative. There’s a battle where the Clone Troopers, along with Anakin and his new apprentice, are climbing up a Cliffside. There’s a betrayal plot within the huts clan related to the kidnapping of Jabba’s son. These are all things that, with more focus and a higher budget, could have made a better movie.
Between watching this movie the first time and a second time for this blog, I’ve watched the entire Clone Wars animated series. And as much as this movie doesn’t feel like a movie, I enjoyed it a lot more after watching the show. The show itself is definitely worth a look if you’re willing to invest the time. It’s usually divided into larger stories made up of four episodes, yet each episode still stands on its own. It makes each season kind of like a group of serials that make up larger movies. Ahsoka, Anakin’s apprentice, grows throughout the series from a somewhat reckless padawan to a fairly wise, intelligent potential Jedi. It makes what ultimately happens to her at the end of the show all the more tragic, and also leads to Anakin’s growing distrust towards the Jedi order. It explains at least some of his issues heading into Revenge of the Sith.
You also see Anakin and Obi-Wan working together a lot, and unlike the prequel movies, actually acting like friends. After watching the show, I felt like the duel at the end of Revenge of the Sith works much better from a dramatic angle. It doesn’t hurt that overall, it’s a great show. The animation does improve over the course of the series, from the awkward, robotic movements in the movie and the first couple seasons, to more natural movements and more detailed environments in later seasons.
Some of the 4-part episodes are very good, like one where Ahsoka is faced with a Die Hard style situation in deep space. There’s a story arc focusing on a group of clone troopers, being commanded by a Jedi who is not only kind of brutal, but seems to know something about their ultimate purpose and is trying to get as many of them killed as possible. It introduces Saw Gurerra, the extremist that shows up in the Rogue One movie, in a story arc where Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ahsoka work together to train Saw’s group as guerrilla fighters on a Separatist controlled planet. And then Darth Maul comes back in Season 4, and all of his episodes are hardcore.
I won’t go so far as to say that the Clone Wars show fixes the prequels, but I will go so far as to say it completely justifies their existence. And while I haven’t yet finished Star Wars Rebels (I’m about half-way through the final season), it’s also a great show.
Another fun fact – this movie, and the show as well, were actually released by Warner Brothers and not 20th Century Fox. Even after Disney bought Lucasfilm, Warner Brothers retained distribution rights to the Clone Wars show.
I wouldn’t recommend this movie on its own, but if you’re interested in checking out the show, this is the intended pilot. And if you even find yourself mildly entertained by the Clone Wars animated movie, you’ll likely enjoy the show. Just know that the series continually improves with each season, and for some reason, it’s not set in chronological order. In fact there’s a season 2 episode that takes place before the movie, and a season 1 episode that takes place in the middle of season 3. The actual order is posted here on the official Star Wars website.
Anyway, next up is The Force Awakens, which set so many records when it released that it’s ridiculous. Then it’s Rogue One, and I’ll try to post my look at The Last Jedi the day it releases on Blu-ray. And then I’ll get to those mystery posts I promised.