GENRE: Once-proud, now-exhausted space-opera franchise
THE PITCH: Set between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) and his new apprentice Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) must rescue Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son, an act that could tip the scales in an intergalactic war.
MONEY SHOTS: There's a genuinely cool vertical attack sequence with Jedi forces scaling a mountain-top monastery. As "hardware wars," the film features cool sights such as an undulating, squidlike spaceship, massive spidery tanks, and outer-space kamikaze attacks. Unfortunately, the character animation literally looks wooden (as opposed to the figuratively wooden acting of the recent films).
WORST LINE: "This smells like Count Dooku to me," Anakin declares. Come on, did they really have to put the words "Dooku" and "smells" in the same sentence?
NEXT-WORST LINE: "You're stuck with me, Sky-Guy," says Ahsoka, who's so spunky and brash that it's hard to enjoy the novelty of a tough female character on Star Wars' front lines. Every time she calls Jabba's grublike son "Stinky," part of you dies inside.
BODY COUNT: Off the chart, if you count those incompetent battle droids, which are dispatched en masse. The human-looking clone troopers suffer numerous bloodless casualties. Jabba receives the severed heads of bounty hunters sent to find his son.
VOICE CAMEOS: Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Daniels and Christopher Lee reprise their roles as Mace Windu, C-3PO and Count Dooku, respectively. You might not notice the others' absence, though. As Obi-Wan Kenobi, James Arnold Taylor does a particularly good job of replicating Ewan McGregor's delivery of awful dialogue.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: The theatrical film essentially serves as the springboard for a new CGI "Clone Wars" series on the Cartoon Network, which debuts Oct. 3.
BURNING QUESTION: Why are the Jedi so, um, stupid? Just like in the live-action prequel films, they deliberately walk into traps without making plans; they don't recognize the schemes of Chancellor Palpatine; and they judge character poorly, given how Yoda assigns an apprentice to Anakin despite the character flaws that will eventually turn him into Darth Vader. It makes the Jedi kind of hard to root for.
BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS STAR WARS FILMS? No. The Clone Wars has none of the intensity or skullduggery of Revenge of the Sith, but all of the infantile characterization and bad jokes of The Phantom Menace, including terms such as "Roger-roger" and "youngling." Genndy Tartakovsky's 2-D animated "Clone Wars" series was much preferable, largely because it had creative action scenes and largely no dialogue.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Audiences who are tween-age and younger will enjoy the sci-fi swashbuckling and tolerate the would-be comic bickering far more than anyone else. The Clone Wars' silly tone will probably play better on the small screen, but the force has definitely left the Cineplex. And if you thought Jar-Jar Binks was annoying, wait till you hear Jabba the Hutt's Uncle Ziro, who's a cross between Truman Capote and Tyler Perry's Madea.
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