Friday, August 15, 2008

The Clone Wars

There was a time in a galaxy far, far away that lightsabers, blasters and a few well timed quips could keep me enthralled for hours on end. There was a powerful magic in those ancient weapons and hokey religions, a place where the imagination could run wild and free, born aloft on repulsor engines that carried one through the stars and realms of creativity and fantasy. With my lego Millennium Falcon and Republic Gunship still intact and dozens of other memorabilia and games regretfully stuffed somewhere in cold storage, there was never any doubt about whether or not I'd go to see Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I find myself now almost regretting my allegiance to a man by the name of Lucas, betrayed by a vision that has served to inspire millions and now serves to do little more than bleakly pacify us for ninety minutes of heinous dialogue, horrible plot and incredibly disappointing action sequences.

Five years pass between the end of Star Wars Episode II and beginning of Episode III, five years of constant war and strife, a time where the mettle of the great heroes of the Republic, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, was tested again and again, and the best Lucas and director Dave Filoni have to throw at audiences is a terribly conceived and executed plot to choke off Republic supply routes in the outer rim by creating a rift between the Republic and the Hutts, the controllers of the shipping lanes. We are asked to forget for a moment that hyperspace allows an infinite number of paths to take from A to B and actually believe a virtually incomprehensible turn of events led the Separatists to kidnap the infant son of Jabba the Hutt and use him to sow dissent between the Hutts and the Republic that led Kenobi and Skywalker to attempt to rescue the Huttlet (I wish I were kidding) with Skywalker's brand new apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, in tow. Without even the famous scrolling introduction, I expected the narration at the beginning to turn into one of those annoying newsreel spoofs of our boys fighting heroically on the frontlines, only to realize that it was in fact dead serious. Perhaps the joke is on me, but I trully expected a punchline at the end of the narration and got only a mess of all that can go wrong with a movie.

There is a chance I could be wrong, but I was vaguely and probably mistakenly under the impression that the title of the film was The Clone Wars, which in a mottled and mixed up world should mean the film actually portrays the war, not a few poorly sequenced skirmishes. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, they do after all amount to a few paltry action sequences of the Jedi flicking their lightsabers back and forth for what seems more like pendular hypnosis than swordplay. Even the lightsaber duels do terrible justice to a saga that is as well known if not more so for its spectacular one on one fights as it is for its sweepingly epic battles. Never once do we get a sense of cosmic scale and barely do we understand the consequences to be life or death.

We are expected to assume Skywalker and Ahsoka would instantly develop a back and forth banter deeply connecting teacher and apprentice, one that is punctuated by irrelevant, pointless and poorly written dialogue of what is supposed to sound like mentoring but instead seems like continuous brainfarts. It almost feels as if Lucas is pointing to Ahsoka and saying: See, a nubile female Jedi who fearlessly deflects blaster bolts, fights Sith assassins and even stands up to Anakin Skywalker without hesitation, what more do you want from me?

What do I want? I want Star Wars to have good plot, compelling action, funny and fun dialogue. I want a world of fantasy where the imagination is swept into a cosmic scale, impossible odds and endearing hope in the darkest corners of the galaxy. I want action sequences that weren't thrown together with a couple of flashlights in some schmuck's basement. I want an intelligent construct where we see depth, light and darkness and all the shades of gray in between, not a constantly poorly timed and nonsensical mess of charging and jumping and screaming and the illusions of the endless possibilities six year olds will find themselves stripped of should they mistake this movie for quality science fiction.

The Clone Wars has the contextual markings of greatness. Spaceships, robotic dispensers of death, coming of age, mentorship, lightsabers. To a young mind who does not realize Star Wars used to be something more than epic, it may do as a means to stave off boredom. But there will be a time where the children who walk out of the theater captivated by the lights and whirring and battles watch A New Hope and they will realize just what Ozymandias means when he says "Look Upon My Works Ye Mighty and Despair." For the longest time, I associated with the name Lucas grandeur and adventure, now I must add to that association a half life, a continuous decay from the glory days of the early 1980s. Lucas has allowed this dark lord of cheap laughs and meaningless plot to twist his mind until now, he has become the thing a little movie called Star Wars swore to destroy, a trivial footnote in the book of science fiction. The Clone Wars is perhaps the blackest of marks, proof that even Hollywood's greatest minds can turn out mindless and inescapable trash.

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