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STAR WARS: CLONE WARS
Volume One

Review by Ed Nguyen

Voices: James Arnold Taylor, Matt Lucas, Tom Kane, Anthony Daniels, Corey Burton, John DiMaggio, Grey DeLisle
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Audio: English, Spanish, or French Dolby 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, 1.78:1 widescreen
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Featurettes, commentaries, galleries, trailers, game demo
Length: 69 minutes
Release Date: March 22, 2005

"Sith have no fear, and I sense much fear in you."

Film *** ½

At the end of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, fans worldwide finally witnessed the commencement of the fabled Clone Wars after decades of build-up and anticipation.  Hoorah!  But by the start of Revenge of the Sith, the Clone Wars was suddenly almost over!  What happened?  Did we somehow miss a movie along the way somewhere?

Alas, we did not, but for fans clamoring to see something, anything, of the Clone Wars, cable's Cartoon Network valiantly came to our rescue.  With the blessings of George Lucas and Lucasfilm, the Cartoon Network in 2003 handed directorial carte blanche over to Genndy Tartakovsky to flesh out a stylized, animated version of the Clone Wars.  For folks not in the know, Tartakovsky was the creative genius behind the Cartoon Network's acclaimed Samurai Jack series, making him an ideal choice for another high-profile cartoon series.

Star Wars: Clone Wars, Volume One (2003) represents a compilation of twenty episodes from Tartakovsky's animated series.  These episodes, mostly three minutes in length apiece, were designed to play in between regular programming on the cable channel in much the same format as Samurai Jack was shown.  The short length of these episodes virtually guaranteed that there were no dull, expositional mumbo-jumbo scenes about Senate this or political intrigue that.  Yawn, right?

In fact, after maybe a minute of introduction, Star Wars: Clone Wars leaps right into the midst of a non-stop thrill ride.  Character development?  Sappy dialogue?  Mushy romances?  Fuggeddabuddit.  Star Wars: Clone Wars is just start-to-finish explosive action, baby!  Admit it, that's what we all really wanted, right?

These episodes fill in the large narrative void between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  At last, fans get to see what the Clone Wars really looked like.  Star Wars: Clone Wars focuses upon multiple battles across the Star Wars universe as Jedi Knights everywhere are called upon to lead the newly-formed Army of the Republic in a galactic struggle against the formidable Count Dooku and his league of Separatist worlds.

Clone Wars opens with a clash on the Banking Clan world of Muunilist, where huge factories are suspected of amassing Dooku's drone armies and tremendous warships.  The Jedi Knight Obi-wan Kenobi and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker are sent to lead the Army of the Republic in a massive assault on the planet.  Under General Kenobi's command, ARC troopers deploy to knock out the chief cannon defenses of the drone city on Muunilist while in the skies above, Skywalker keeps the drones occupied in an epic space battle.

Kenobi and Skywalker are not the only Jedis facing stiff resistance.  Elsewhere on the water world of Mon Calamari, the drone army of the Quarren Isolation League moves against the Calamari Council as amphibious Jedi Master Kit Fisto is instructed by Jedi Master Yoda to intervene on behalf of the Calamari.  On Dantooine, Jedi Master Mace Windu single-handedly takes on a massive drone ship that threatens to literally crush all opposition.  On the ice planet of Ilum, Master Luminara Unduli and her Padawan Barriss Offee courageously defend a sacred Jedi Crystal temple against an invisible drone attack until Master Yoda himself can arrive for the rescue.

Clone Wars introduces some impressive new villains, too.  The nigh-invincible Gen'Dai commander, Durge, leads a cavalry charge of IG-88ish war droids on Muunilist.  Asajj Ventress is the dual saber-wielding female Dark assassin chosen by Count Dooku to kill Anakin Skywalker among the Sith ruins of Yavin 4.  The half-drone commander General Grievous, who plays a major role in Revenge of the Sith, is introduced in the cliff-hanger finale on planet Hypori, where he mercilessly takes on a ragtag band of Jedi led by Masters Ki-Adi-Mundi and Shaak Ti.

For really cool Jedi bravura, Clone Wars is the film to watch.  Animation frees up the action considerably and allows the Jedi and Sith warriors to truly demonstrate their Force might and melee talents to the max.  No need to mask a lack of sufficient skills on the part of human actors here!

Did you feel that the light-saber fights in either Star Wars Episodes Two or Three were somewhat lacking in authentically acrobatic moves, à la Darth Maul?  Did you sense that quick and fancy editing, close-ups, and flashy computer enhancements were all designed to somehow pass off the illusion of non-martial artists engaged in light-saber fighting?  Clone Wars should alleviate any such fears.  With its epic interstellar free-for-alls, massive army-versus-army assaults, engaging light saber duels, and much more in the grand Star Wars fashion, Clone Wars makes for a perfect lead-in to Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

Video *** ½

Star Wars: Clone Wars is presented in a single-layer, widescreen format.  The animé-style artwork is quite similar to the stylish look of Samurai Jack.  The ships are computer-enhanced, but everything else is rendered through traditional cel animation.  The separate episodes have been seamlessly woven together through screen wipes and an interlinking musical score.  As a result, Clone Wars, though necessarily episodic in nature, plays out rather smoothly as a single film.

The transfer itself is very nice with no grossly discernible flaws.  Colors are bright, and the images stay sharp and smooth even in the film's numerous quickly moving action sequences.

Audio ***

For a television show, the sound on Clone Wars is surprisingly absorbing.  The audio is THX-certified, after all (as with all Star Wars DVDs).  Too bad the audio is presented only in 2.0 surround sound, or else the film could have been ever better!

The voice actors capture the nuances of the characters quite well.  And yes, John Williams' memorable Star Wars scores are generously sampled.  Furthermore, the wall-to-wall sound effects in Clone Wars are quite faithful to those from the live-action Star Wars films, more confirmation that this is truly a canon Star Wars product.

Features **

Watch the menu screens carefully!  They change from time to time, much as they do on other Star Wars DVD releases.

The main bonus features are the two director commentaries.  In the first commentary, Genndy Tartakovsky allows his comments to essentially narrate the on-screen action.  This would be a fine commentary for the visually-impaired, but it is otherwise useless.  In the second "Hyperspace" commentary, Tartakovsky focuses his discussion much more on character design, the voice acting, and the visual and sound effects.  Tartakovsky points out some of his personally animated scenes, too.  The second track is decidedly more interesting for its trivial tidbits.

The featurette Bridging the Saga: From Clone Wars to Revenge of the Sith (8 min.) offers interviews with George Lucas, Genndy Tartakovsky, and art director Paul Rudish.  Clips from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith can be seen alongside storyboards and fight choreography for the Clone Wars episodes.  The filmmakers also allude to the five twelve-minute episodes in Volume Two of Star Wars: Clone Wars.

The "Behind-the-Scenes" featurette (4 min.) presents a quick interview with Genndy Tartakovsky, who describes the general brainstorm behind Star Wars: Clone Wars.  Also shown are the voice actors at work, some conceptual designs, and numerous clips to enjoy from the episodes.

For folks who can't get enough of Star Wars promotional stuff, there is the awesome Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith teaser as well as an Episode III video game trailer.  For more video game merchandise, check out the nifty Star Wars Republic Commando video game trailer and the included Xbox-playable demo of the game.  Lastly, there are two art galleries, one with forty character design art panels and posters, the other with twenty-seven sketches and storyboards.

BEST FEATURE:  No Jar Jar Binks anywhere in Star Wars: Clone Wars.  'Nuff said.

Summary:

Star Wars: Clone Wars, Volume One gives fans what we really want - action, action, and more action.  This disc is essential viewing for avid followers of the Star Wars films.  Be sure to check out Volume Two as well!

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