Saturday 7 March 2020

When Clones Attack!

I dismissed the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie as direct-to-video bantha fodder when it was originally released in theatres alongside WALL-E in 2008. How wrong I was.

The subsequent Emmy award-winning animated series, chronicling the titular wars set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, is a fan-favourite and the final seventh season is streaming, weekly, on Disney+.

Nick Smith, fresh from his panel appearance at Pensacon, braves the battlefield in search of heroes Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi as the clock counts down to Order 66...

Guest post by Nick Smith

They say that after a while, dog owners look like their pets. For the cloned dogs of war, fighting intergalactic separatists in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it’s an established fact that they mirror each other. The troops in the new season all have the same face – perfect for animators and toy manufacturers [give me all the things - Ed]. But the storytellers of this final season want to break the mould, so they give the soldiers different hairstyles, tattoos, war paint or scars to help identify them.

The Bad Batch takes this further, giving a misfit team of mis-hatched clones varying deformities or distinguishing features. One has lost an eye, another is a hulking brute. Apparently, in space, everyone can hear them howl like Sgt. Fury’s commandoes.

While this rag-tag bunch add colour to a show heavy on military grey, they are not the focus. Commander Cody and Captain Rex, both voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, are on a mission to steal military intelligence from the Separatist Cyber Center. Reminiscent of the Mind Spider from the original Marvel Star Wars comics, the data-drenched Center may hold the key to a mystery Rex is obsessed with solving.

The Clone Wars offers new content to die-hard Star Wars fans and fresh viewers lured by the cuteness overload of Baby Yoda alike. It also fills in gaps before the events of Revenge of the Sith. At this point in the galactic conflict, Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) is still a good man although he does resort to subterfuge to hide his relationship with Padme Amadala (Catherine Taber). Companionship? Love? A Jedi craves not those things. But Annie does. Lanter’s Anakin comes across as much more likeable than Hayden Christensen’s sullen version [I blame George Lucas' direction - Ed].

Compared to, say, season one’s premiere hot Yoda episode Ambush, the animation in The Bad Batch is far more detailed, from a dazzling opening space battle to the wrinkles on Rex’s forehead. The characterization is more complex and fully developed as well. That doesn’t make the characters more relatable than they were in Ambush, necessarily; it’s hard to compete with Yoda, whatever age he’s at. However, there’s more potential here, and more backstory since the troops have been through six seasons of strife.

The Bad Batch, developed from an idea by George Lucas, has been shown before in animatic form and released on the official website Eight years after production started, the full episodes are finally seeing the light of the day exclusively on Disney+.

The second episode, A Distant Echo, shows why Dave Filoni and crew pushed to complete this mini-arc. It sees the return of a character from previous Clone Wars shows who is important to Captain Rex. More essentially, there’s an exciting battle between Anakin and the troops versus a horde of droids in a sequence that highlights the fluidity of this CGI artform.

The Bad Batch and A Distant Echo aren’t just buying time until the events of Revenge of the Sith, and the next season of The Mandalorian. There’s attention to character and a sense of adventure that will hopefully lead to a satisfying emotional payoff before the clone troopers pack up their boots for good.

New episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars stream every Friday on Disney+.

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