Star Wars was born as a special baby. The first film, 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, was a thrilling rediscovery of old-fashioned heroics in a sci-fi setting with then state-of-the-art special effects. It had lively, likable characters, a coherent, engrossing plot and an exciting, rousing finale. It was the first and is still the best Star Wars movie ever made.
But as with many great TV series whose very success ensures endless repetition and eventual stale decline, Star Wars has become less with more. That was never more true than with the plot-challenged prequels and their slavish devotion to computer generated animation. And now it’s true yet again with another chapter to the saga, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Set between the second and third prequels, The Clone Wars is another case of childish infatuation for splashy visual dazzle melded to the thinnest of storylines and the lamest of characterizations. The character animation is surprisingly primitive for a George Lucas production, and the 98-minute running time feels bloated.
What’s to like? Well, that same visual dazzle can be a mind-bending and eye-candy-gorging treat. I’m never clear who’s zapping whom and why, but the manic intensity of it all works well from a pure action standpoint. And the new music by Kevin Kiner is refreshingly different for Star Wars, with an often eerie vibe to accentuate the tale’s otherworldliness.
Beyond that, you can appreciate this film’s fleeting nostalgic evocations of previous and better Star Wars movies, from seeing a stout little R2 to beholding vivid lightsaber battles. But that very nostalgia may make you yearn more mightily for the good old days, when a promising start evolved into a strong trilogy, after which a magnificent franchise began to settle for a wildly lucrative but creatively soulless morass of spinoffs, merchandising and prequelitis.
I wish I could say otherwise, because I love this saga’s original incarnation and all that it stood for. But Lucas now seems as insulated by yes-men and immune from questioning minds as a certain soon-to-be-former president. He was once a revolutionary and a fanboy’s dream. Now he’s just a marketing machine. And to whatever degree the original and true spirit of Star Wars still lives, it lives only in its first and finest films, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. At least we have those, and for that we should be grateful.