It is. Really. If it wasn’t for the Rebels cartoon and its friends, the A New Dawn book and the Kanan comic, I’d still be able to not care about the Clone Wars cartoon. Well, that and someone deciding to reboot the entire line a couple of years ago…
If we go back but three years you’ll find I was quite adamantly defending the first Clone Wars run from being steamrolled by its fatter, younger brother! So, what changed? How did I end up in a position where watching the The Clone Wars’ opening movie came to be not only a good idea but a fun experience too? There hangs a tale…
I became interested in Rebels due to brilliance of John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn, which focused on Kanan and Hera. Before then I had no reason to be interested, but those two characters got and kept my interest. Marvel also released a Kanan comic which delved into his origin tale in more detail. The first arc of that book also presented an entirely new take on the clones’ betrayal of the Jedi with Order 66. For anyone who had watched the Clone Wars cartoon, they’d likely have the full story of the chips in the clones and the sense of violation they inflicted. I did not have it but was intrigued enough by the pieces I had.
Even so, what about that animation style? I was far from an immediate fan – cartoony? Sure, but a bit too stylized. That cannot possibly work, can it? Again, all the fault of Rebels. Sure, Rebels is a few years on, the animation has advanced, it’s not quite so stylized – I can notice that only now, but nonetheless the series convinced me that Star Wars can work just fine as animation in the modern era. (Go back far enough and you’ll encounter the Droids and Ewoks cartoons which were fun as a kid, not sure how they’d hold up thirty years on.)
Finally, there is the Great Reboot to factor in. Over two years later the one abiding conclusion I take from that is that the canon status of material is not that important to me. It also opens up a door to being able to enjoy the Clone Wars cartoon for, with the reboot, the first Clone Wars I so enjoyed is technically out of the picture. As it is no longer canon, it no longer gets flattened by the cartoon behemoth! Now why didn’t I realize this sooner? I had no real incentive or reason to do so. Then Rebels, again, finishes its first series with Ahsoka turning up, which, by all accounts, leads to further links back to the Clone Wars series. It’s starting to look like I might need to look at this after all.
Still, even with the box set offered at a bargain rate, I’m not certain. A test run is needed – what’s that, they don’t bundle the 2008 movie with the series 1-5 box set? Sounds dumb but it is the ideal opportunity. Plus it can be bought cheap? Deal. It also has an excellent voice cast, though sadly, of that trio of original film actors, Sir Christopher Lee is no longer with us. It can’t be denied that voice is brilliant and so unmistakable as Dooku.
So let’s get the flaws out the way first – Jabba has a son? Ugh, the image of that fat bastard breeding is not a pleasant one. Similarly, while I can see the appeal of Ahsoka for some, the character doesn’t work that well for me – too many flippant one-liners. And? Oh, you were expecting more? Nope, those were pretty much it.
Of far greater interest to me was how the series leveraged its knowledge of the start and end points of its story to start off in a far more ambitious way than the earlier, now Legendary variant. It is interesting to note that the way Disney has chosen to develop its new material has a great deal of similarity to what was done in The Clone Wars in 2008. Just as the cartoon radically expanded the conflict, with far bigger battles than we saw in the earlier material, which in turn take full advantage of the animation medium, so too is the rebellion far more significant. In each case, it feels far more like a galactic conflict.
One of the things that really made the cartoon stand out, which Rebels has continued, is the extensive lightsaber duels. The six films had a tendency to do short sequences and cut away. With respect to filming there is a logic to that, but no one can be blamed for wanting something more. What’s particularly good for the duels here is that the moves have a certain sense of style, but style is not the end point. There are evasions and dodges, counters and ripostes and the camera pulls back for a nice, clear view of them. It makes for a unique and excellent presentation.
Then there are the battles, and the Battle of Christophsis really throws down a gauntlet. Heavy cannon emplacements versus tanks underneath a rolling energy shield? Now that’s a good mix of strategy and tactics right there. Later it has a literally vertical battlefield, which is the kind of sequence that would be murder to do as film. At the same time there is reason to it that renders it both exciting and not so extreme as to break the spell of plausibility. After all, there’s no real reason why a walker, if designed to be all-terrain, couldn’t handle a really severe incline.
For all the greater freedom that the animation medium gives both Rebels and Clone Wars I think there is a lacking sense as to what it costs. Animation, like its more infamous cousin, CGI, is neither as quick nor as easy as it is perceived to be. In both cases all of what is seen has to be crafted by hand, sure computers can help to a degree but they are only as smart as the person using them. In this respect crafting a movie and eight seasons over two series of material over eight years is quite the achievement.
With that in mind, it is time for me to explore the rest of The Clone Wars, before hitting the Star Wars Rebels season two DVDs. Especially as this is still all Rebels’ fault.