At its worst moments, Star Wars: The Clone Wars was a series that provided mere fan-service action sequences in stories that didn’t enrich or develop the world or mythology of the mega-franchise in any meaningful way. At its best, it explored the concepts and ideas merely hinted at in the films and filled in the gaps with imagination and a daring to go in wild directions revealing just how elastic a Star Wars story could be. The film that launched the series is very much a case of the former with none of the latter.
It’s better than 2/3 of the prequel trilogy in that it manages to actually tell a coherent story with a clear emotional trajectory and goals in mind, with present villains and the tenants of story beats accounted for. This is admittedly not a huge compliment, but it’s not the worst thing with the words Star Wars slapped onto it. That honor is still held by Attack of the Clones.
Much like the show, there’s anywhere from two to three different stories going on at any given time that eventually tie together into one central plot. Some of it is more fascinating than the rest of it, and some of it is just downright embarrassing. Chiefly, Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s effeminate uncle that lisps and sasses like Truman Capote for no discernible reason. He’s not a very interesting antagonist, and more interesting characters like Asajj Ventress is shackled by being tied to Count Dooku as his apprentice. She’d go on to be a completely thrilling and engaging anti-heroine in the show, but that isn’t present at all here.
Reading up on the production of this thing, it’s no shock to learn that George Lucas decided that the animation on the series was good, and it would be cool to launch it with a film. It was an afterthought from the beginning, and this sense of inconsequentiality permeates throughout. Actually, the film feels like it’s been marinating in it, and the resulting 90-some minutes is more a shrugged out entry in the ever-expanding space opera. There are numerous four or five episode arcs in the series that put this film to shame.
The central relationship between Anakin and his apprentice, Ahsoka, is as grating here as it was in the earliest seasons of the show. Ahsoka would eventually become a more intriguing character when she dropped the know-it-all smugness and became an apostate of the Jedi order, but she’s squarely in whiny brat territory here. I said in my review of the show that you had to power through the first season to get to the really juicy stuff, well that carries over into the film that launched it all. All of the problems of the first season or so are writ large here, and then bolded and underlined. They hadn’t quite figured out what they wanted to do or use the template to tell about the wider mythology just yet.
There’s some great stuff attached to The Clone Wars, just not this particular story.