Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume 1 Review

From what we're led to believe "The Clone Wars" lasted for a span of almost three years as the republic army fought separatists led by Count Dooku. During this time the republic's clone army fought many fierce battles, while many a Jedi fell at the hands of the Sith.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith picks up ten years after the events of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the episode that I originally thought was going to cover a lot more of this aspect but in fact only just began to reveal the beginning of the epic struggle. That has always been the trouble with the Star Wars films though - there's far too much back story and not enough time to cover it all in an ever expanding universe. The films have always covered up their tracks with the inclusion of the famous scrawl sequences but this time George Lucas has decided to get right to the heart of the Clone Wars and build upon it over the course of a few series made up of short episodes, the first lot of which has been gathered for this DVD.

Genndy Tartokovsky, who worked on Samurai Jack and my personal favourite of his Power puff Girls was drafted in to provide the animation for Star Wars: Clone Wars and the decision works surprisingly well. The series keeps Tartokovsky's bold line work and stylised art, matching itself to the Star Wars universe with ease and creates many distinctive characters that can easily be recognised next to their live action counterparts. Most of the series is finely hand drawn and it looks as if a lot of effort was put into its creation as many a time the lightsaber duels offer plenty of brilliant choreography and when it comes down to simple dialogue scenes there are several little nuances added to certain characters. When it comes to its high-end space battles the animation shifts to 3-D, creating the kind of fluidity needed to show off its epic scale. Traditional cel animation and computer technology is blended perfectly using great shading techniques and skin work which leaves the production looking neat and tidy and is reminiscent of the techniques used on Matt Groening's Futurama.

In addition a fine voice cast has been assembled to take over those starring in the films, curious though as I'd have thought the cast would be up for this. Anyway the actors brought onboard do excellent jobs at conveying their respective characters and sound damn close in the process. Anthony Daniels is back to provide the voice of C-3P0, which marks his second stab at voicing animation after the relatively bland Droids in 1985. That's as far as real character authenticity goes but in the end I can't really fault any of the participants regardless of this as they seem to put 100% effort into their work.


Volume 1 picks up after the events of Episode II when Yoda exclaimed that the Clone Wars had begun and so the action kicks into gear as Obi-Wan Kenobi and his padawan, Anakin lead their clone troops into battle against the Banking Clan on the planet of Muunilist. While Obi-Wan fights down below, Anakin is up in the skies leading an attack squadron over the planet but when he flies into the path of a rogue Sith ship he goes off on a chase, displeasing his master.
It becomes apparent early on that the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin has become quite strained. Anakin is too hot headed and impatient, he disobeys his master's orders and goes against the strict wishes of the Jedi council. So we begin to see how his challenged mind takes a hold over him and constantly places him in situations that signify a serious change in character. With a few nods going back to the original trilogy Anakin even begins to resemble Darth Vader in the way he talks, particularly when enticed in battle with dialogue such as "I have you now" reminding us of the very transformation that we shall all soon see.

With Obi-Wan keeping himself busy and Anakin off elsewhere this gives the series a chance to explore other characters and in many ways it is what makes the three minute run times work. We learn of Count Dooku taking up residence in some cave with big curtains after his escape from the rebels as well as his search for an apprentice. This leads him to planet Rattatak where he discovers a fighter called Asajj Ventress. He eventually takes her under his wing and thus begins her hunt for young Skywalker. This then leaves the series with various moments to flesh out the story, with the likes of Mace Windu and Yoda taking on some Sith fleets and Padme and the droids making brief appearances. You'll find some new Jedi on the way also which injects some nice elements but the best of all is saved until last, with the appearance of the dreaded General Grievous - a monster of a machine who can strike down Jedi before they're given a chance to move. In a blistering action sequence the finale of volume one sets up what could quite possibly be one of the greatest characters to grace the Star Wars universe.


Star Wars: Clone Wars works best when it's trying to provide more insight to the characters. While certain episodes focus on huge battles this can soon become tiring because by large they don't greatly differ. Assortments of tanks and other rebel vehicles crop up many a time, with a fair few episodes concentrating on the clone troops. The action is wonderfully executed and exciting early on with the inclusion of John William's score but its novelty tends to wear off as it approaches its half way mark, which thankfully is a point where things begin to gel a little better.

Whether or not the series ties up as many loose ends and plot threads that have been scattered along the way is something which can be debated by the hard core fans. I won't pretend to know that I'm clued up on every little thing so there's a good likelihood that some things have passed me by, though saying that there isn't anything glaringly noticeable to pick up on, nothing that would spoil the enjoyment of the series anyway, so make of that what you will. If it's plenty of action and a few nods that you want then you'll more than get it with this release and as far as Star Wars spin-offs go this is about as good as they get.

It must be remembered however that the series will run for three seasons in total so it isn't a big surprise to see that we learn relatively little in the space of its 70-minute run time here. For this release season 1 and 2 has been included together, both of which consisted of ten episodes each, lasting for approximately 3-minutes in length and the third which is due to air on March 21st comprises of five 12-minute episodes that will culminate with the beginning of Episode III.


The DVD

20th Century Fox presents the first of two volumes on DVD in a decent package, if light on extras. This is a single disc release coming with some attractive sleeve work, representing the series well. Inserting the disc will bring up a randomised choice of menu, you’ll either get the rebel side or the Sith.

A/V

Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and given anamorphic enhancement, Star Wars: Clone Wars looks amazing. This is incredibly sharp, detailed and colourful and without having seen an episode on TV I'd wager this matches it to a tee. The only drawback seems to be some high frequency Edge Enhancement which is so thin you likely won't pick it up on a TV set. Coupled with this is some minor banding issues but rarely are either of these a hindrance. This is still reference quality, which falls ever so short from receiving full marks.

Over to the sound we get a 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack, which actually contains a discrete 5.1 channel so the series in turn uses up the surround speakers lovingly. The sound even borders on aggressive at times as the score punctuates the action very loudly, while laser blasts are heard from all around. Sabers sound great and the duels provide much impact, while dialogue is retained perfectly through the front speakers. This delivers what any fan would want and it becomes a nice companion for the films.
Optional English subtitles are also provided


Extras

Director's Commentary
Tartakovsky provides a very poor commentary here. He pauses far too much and gives little to no insight about the animation process, preferring to sit and explain to us what is happening onscreen. In all honesty I say simply avoid it, a complete waste of 70-minutes.

Hyperspace Commentary
Now this is more like it. Going by everything here it would seem that this track was recorded first so it isn't surprising that Tartakovsky seemed bored throughout the aforementioned one. In fact I have no idea why they even bothered to include two from the same director. Moving on this track is a whole lot more insightful, as we hear of the various processes used and the input that Lucas had over proceedings. Tartakovsky explains how they took advantage of certain elements and embellished them for the project as the animated form has no limitations as such. We also get to appreciate the animation a whole lot more after hearing the amount of effort put into it, for example the huge backgrounds used for space fights that Tartakovsky explains took up walls and walls. He goes on to say how he wished he was given more information for certain characters so that he could attempt to flesh them out over the course of the 20 episodes but they managed to do what they could and it turned out alright.

Bridging the Saga (7.34)
Featuring interviews with George Lucas, Genndy Tartakovsky and art director, Paul Rudish this explains the reasons behind the making of Star Wars: Clone Wars. Rudish is obviously the most excited participant as he enthusiastically speaks toward the run up of the third films' theatrical release. We learn a little about the animation process, from storyboarding to PC rendering but this is all very brief.

Video Games
Here you will find trailers for the upcoming game based on Episode III and the new Xbox title Republic Commando. Going alongside the latter trailer is a playable demo for the game. Having tried it out I didn't think it was too shabby, very comparable to HALO in terms of controls but the level included wasn’t very grand, consisting of mainly corridors and a few droids.

Behind the Scenes
This comprises of a 4-minute featurette which takes a look at a few of the series additions as well as some behind the scenes footage of voice work being recorded. Next up are sketches and storyboards which are very nice, followed by posters and artwork.

Episode III Teaser Trailer (1.48)
This is the first trailer that was released in cinemas last year, which offers a few nice treats.


Overall

As someone who hadn't seen this on television I was somewhat dubious about how well it could work, still I was curious nonetheless. Having sat down and watched these episodes I can safely say that Star Wars: Clone Wars is a lot of fun. The series has tonnes of smooth action and the odd smattering of humour, with some decent references to the original trilogy, complete with John William's wonderful score. This volume is most definitely style over substance but it's geared me up for the next release which is shaping up quite nicely by the looks of things.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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