Star Wars: Clone Wars Volume One
I loved Tartakovsky's Dexter's Laboratory, and its many genre parodies (blaxploitation hero Action Hank, in particular) proved that Tartakovsky knew how to distill a concept to its thematic, visual and kinetic essence. His sophomore series Samurai Jack reaffirmed this skill—and coincidentally its bizarre creatures, ascetic warrior, and alien yet familiar settings placed him that much closer to the Star Wars universe.
Bridging Attack of the Clones and the forthcoming Revenge of the Sith, Clone Wars is a Cartoon Network "micro-series," where the "micro" refers to the length of each episode, a little over three minutes. The abbreviated running time works in the series' favour; by breaking the story down into tiny, compact episodes, we regain something that's been lost from Star Wars for some time: the feel of a mid-twentieth century movie serial. It's welcome, and it also serves a counterbalance—because in another significant way Clone Wars loses something integral to Star Wars: an awful lot of it is pantomime. Some of this is simply due to the subject matter: Clone Wars focuses on the grand campaigns of the war itself, the secret war of the Sith versus the Jedi, and the internal war that Anakin experiences as he wrestles with his (and the Force's) dark side and clashes with Obi-Wan Kenobi. That leaves a lot of room for battle scenes, and not much room for Star Wars' characteristic talkiness.
Still, it gives Tartakovsky and his team the chance to tell stories using nothing but animation, which is something rarely afforded to people who work in television animation. Tartakovsky's team have learned their lessons from Samurai Jack well: the ARC troopers (elite clone troopers) exude professional coolness with their deadly, efficient silence, and the entirely wordless episode featuring Mace Windu and the fanciest Jedi moves you've ever seen is beautifully choreographed.
The DVD extras also came up short. Tartakovsky has two director commentaries (one cheesily and pointlessly referred to as the "Hyperspace commentary"), but together they don't impart enough for the curious fan. Long on generalities and fannish admiration, they tantalize with tidbits about the production but offer little follow-up. I was particularly interested in where they decided to stick with traditional techniques instead of digital. It's revealed that in one lengthy, high-speed dogfight, they found it too complex to create the backgrounds digitally and instead did it the old-fashioned way, with one long hand-drawn background-long enough to extend far out into the studio's hallway. Watching the scene, I wondered why they considered manually planning the entire shot easier, but they never told me. I also wanted to know how much leeway they got from George Lucas in terms of plot and story specifics, but again all I got were tiny hints. A better idea would have been one commentary devoted to the Star Wars aspect of Clone Wars, and another to the animation aspect.
That said, it's a pleasure to see that the Star Wars spinoff curse has been broken, and that Clone Wars has joined the ranks of projects like The Animatrix and The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury—animated extensions of high-profile live-action properties that, at their best, add something fresh to an existing mythos. Tartakovsky and company have a lot to be proud of.
DVD Features: Widescreen (1.78:1); English, Spanish and French language tracks; English subtitles; Region 1.
DVD Extras: Bridging the Saga: From Clone Wars to Revenge of the Sith and behind-the-scenes featurettes; two director commentaries; concept art, storyboard and sketches galleries; Star Wars Episode III teaser trailer; video game trailers; Xbox-playable game level.