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Coming to TV, `Star Wars' is

May 29, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

The Jedi are coming to television -- and, judging by the thunderous ovation on Sunday that greeted a sneak peak of the animated CGI show, the Force remains strong with them.

Even though the show's scheduled debut remains two years away, fans at a global celebration of "Star Wars" in Los Angeles cheered, hooted, clapped and even shouted "I love you!" after a trailer for "The Clone Wars," which is the maiden effort of Lucasfilm Animation, the newest addition to the storytelling galaxy of George Lucas.

The two minutes of footage showed intense battle scenes and considerable action by Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C3-PO, Mace Windu and the other familiar players in the "Star Wars" saga. The art struck a middle ground between the dramatically stylized, hand-drawn look of the Cartoon Network series with a similar name that aired from 2003 to 2005 and the photo-realistic CGI world that Lucas used with great efficiency in the most recent "Star Wars" live-action films.

The trailer was posted Sunday at starwars.com.

The use of vivid color and lighting stood in stark contrast to the Cartoon Network series while the facial features of the characters made it apparent that this was not a live-action film. Scenes of armored troopers and ships in battle seemed fairly close to live action, but Kenobi has a face that looks not unlike a wooden sculpture of one of the Knights of the Round Table.

The mix was a purposeful one, said supervising director Dave Filoni, who had worked previously on the animated Nickelodeon series "Avatar: The Last Airbender." Filoni showed the crowd pre-production character sculptures that were geared toward creating iconic visages and not overreaching for photorealism that can make many CGI features seem oddly disconcerting. He said the hope was to avoid "the vacant" look that has undermined many past CGI features.

"It's a dilemma in CGI how to deal with human beings," he said. "We wanted you to look into their eyes and believe in these characters." The premiere came during Celebration IV, marking the 30th anniversary of the first "Star Wars" film. The five-day Lucas-sanctioned event, which ended Monday, brought thousands of fans from around the world and filled the Los Angeles Convention Center with merchants, stars of the franchise and legions of costumed fans.

Filoni was joined on a panel by executive producer Catherine Winder, a former senior vice president of Fox Feature Animation, who spoke about the increasing attention to the project by Lucas, who has stressed all along that these new tales to the "Star Wars" canon must be story-driven. The stories will take place between "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." Production of the series has been underway for a year and a half. The episodes will be 22 minutes each. Lucas is financing the endeavor and may well be greeted by a bidding war among networks for the finished product.

The animation division is an international affair: The show is being assembled from Lucasfilm headquarters in Marin County but with major operations in Asia, most notably at the production hub in Singapore, where Lucas has 40,000 square feet and 100 employees devoted to his new foray into animation. Winder said the creative team on the new animation ventures includes specialized workers from 33 countries.

The panelists hinted that there would be more revelations about characters such as Boba Fett and Gen. Grievous but laughed and apologized for keeping mum on plot points. They cited the orders from "emperor" Lucas to keeps their lips sealed.

"Our hands are tied," Winder said with a shrug. Filoni, who clearly wanted to share more details, added to one of his apologies: "I really like this job a lot."

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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