With, presumably, no more live-action episodes coming, what can fans reasonably expect from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," the theatrical pilot for the upcoming animated television series?
Well, there's knockout animation, facsimiles of popular characters and plenty of action. But anyone older than 8 with the majority of brain functions intact will have a bad feeling about this.
It's all but given that the wonder of actual humans inhabiting the "Star Wars" galaxy would be lost in any animated feature. Still, these characters are so beautifully rendered and meticulously crafted, they resemble hand-painted wooden puppets -- they're works of art. Textures and inanimate objects look fantastic, often as convincing as in the live-action features.
But where new characters, plot threads and better dialogue might have made up for much, "Clone Wars" simply doesn't aim high enough. For those who had expected improved writing from the last four films, your hopes will be dashed on the ornately realized rocks of Tatooine.
The off-putting narration replacing the characteristic opening crawl is the first omen that this movie is not aiming much above the new-reader level. You know it's not your good old "Star Wars" when you hear electric guitars, a tween character call Anakin "Sky Guy" and the future Mr. Vader make a "Poltergeist" reference before a fight ("They're ba-aack!"). All that's missing is a skateboarding dog with sunglasses.
And the maddeningly repetitious dialogue is the worst of the series. Even die-hard fans will admit that's an awfully low bar to crawl under.
Perhaps the greatest sin of "Clone Wars" is its abominable mimeographing of the "petulant apprentice/exasperated mentor" dynamic that so dragged down the last few movies.
Unstable hothead Anakin (the millstone around the series' neck) improbably gets a Padawan, or apprentice -- the carefully calculated-to-be-cute Ahsoka Tano -- and their relentless back and forth brainless sniping, often amid combat, is parsecs from engaging.
After some poorly thought-out action sequences, "Clone Wars" plunges into a nonsensical and ultimately inconsequential plot involving the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt's baby. Seriously. Along the way we meet Sith henchwoman and likely series regular Asajj Ventress and Jabba's fey Southern uncle, apparently Capote the Hutt.
Now, if you're already watching a "Star Wars" product, you're willing to go with sound in space and faster-than-light travel and all that good stuff. But achieving the suspension of disbelief required by these plot mechanics, large and small, is like bull's-eyeing womp rats from a T-16.
Despite some absolutely gorgeous animation and adjusting expectations for what "Clone Wars" is meant to be, the Force is not strong with this one.
"Star Wars: The Clone Wars." MPAA rating: PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In general release.