Okay, here’s some background:
(1) I am quite willing to stand up and defend the prequel trilogy films as being diamonds in rough. I feel that watching those films is roughly equivalent to watching the Special Edition versions of the original trilogy: There are good-to-great films buried in there, but they’ve been ruined by George Lucas’ inability to edit himself. The only difference is that we’ve seen the original versions of the A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi — that makes it (relatively) easy for us to ignore the crap Lucas has shoveled on top of those films. With the prequel trilogy, we’ve never seen the version without the fart jokes.
(2) The original Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series was broadcast on the Cartoon Network. It had a story by George Lucas, but the project was largely spearheaded by Genndy Tartakovsky. This series was single-handedly responsible for rekindling my love of Star Wars. After years of abusive mediocrity, I had literally forgotten how much I loved this universe. After watching Clone Wars, I tracked down high quality versions of the original versions of the original trilogy and, watching them, I realized just how much I still loved these films and how much damage George Lucas had inflicted on his own creation.
(3) I wasn’t alone. The Clone Wars series was so popular it got extended for a second series. And when that was a success, Lucas decided to turn it into a full-blown TV series. The animation was “upgraded” from 2D cell art to 3D CGI, and then Lucas felt that was going so well that he took the first several episodes and packaged them into a feature film for theatrical release.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line Genndy Tartakovsky didn’t make the cut. (He’s apparently working on the sequel to The Dark Crystal, a fact which fills me with glee.) The loss of Tartakovsky is unfortunate because, frankly, Star Wars: The Clone Wars doesn’t capture the same magic as its progenitor. (Note the difference between Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Thanks for the crystal-clear titles.)
Basically, here’s the run-down:
(1) Visually, the animation style is surprisingly effective and often incredibly beautiful.
(2) Unfortunately, from a cinematic standpoint, the directing and visual storytelling just doesn’t cut it. There are lots of battles, for example, but none of them are particularly compelling or memorable.
(3) But certainly part of the problem the director has is that the script just isn’t that interesting. The story never manages to make me care about what’s going on (which is largely because nobody in the movie seems to care all that much), the dialogue is cliche-ridden, and the whole thing is riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies. Plus, while there’s often a lot of sound and fury, the author doesn’t find anything particularly unique to do with it. So in the battles, for example, there are lots of lasers being fired and lightsabers being swung around… but it’s just visual noise. Very pretty visual noise, but still utterly forgettable.
(4) Perhaps most disappointingly, the characters are largely flat (with one exception which I’ll note below). The only reason I even vaguely care about any of them is because of their previous appearances in other films. The argument could certainly be made that it would be difficult to do anything meaningful with characters who’s stories have already been told from beginning to end in the original six movies, but I can literally point directly at Tartakovsky’s work in the original animated series as an example of how you can always find fresh dramatic material.
(5) The pacing of the film is also very poor. But that leads me to a larger point, which is that this material was not originally intended to be a single feature film… and I think it shows. Amidala, for example, doesn’t show up until the third act of the film, and then plays an almost deus ex machina role in wrapping up the plot.
I suspect that if I had been watching this as three episodes of a television series, my reaction might have been more positive. (So I’m probably going to give the TV series a shot when it premieres.)
(6) It’s almost as if Lucas intentionally tries to find something incredibly stupid to put into his films. In this case, it’s Jabba the Hutt’s flamingly homosexual uncle. I just… I wish I was making that up.
(7) On the other hand, the one thing I did like was Anakin’s padawan, Ahsoka. Her initial introduction left me skeptical, but she rapidly grew on me despite the weak and repetitive nature of the script. She’s the one character that the film, on its own merits, makes me care about. And I’m mildly interested to see if the series can develop the serious dramatic potential in the relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka.
I’ve seen a few people trying to defend the weaknesses of this movie by saying that it’s “aimed at kids”.
Well, even if we ignore the PG rating of the film: So what? There is a difference between “aimed at kids” and “stupid”.
When I was a kid I could tell the difference between the stuff that I actually liked and the stuff that was created by some adult trying to patronize me. I don’t think I was alone. And I reject out of hand the flawed logic that “it’s OK that it’s bad because it’s just for kids”.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars isn’t a mediocre movie because it’s aimed at young teens. It’s a mediocre movie because it’s a mediocre movie.