I'm one of those who thinks that with regards to the "Star Wars" saga, it's all been mostly downhill since "The Empire Strikes Back," except, of course, Carrie Fisher in slave gear for "Return of the Jedi." You may go ahead and hate me now, people under 30, you for whom Anakin Skywalker constitutes an interesting character, or simply take it as evidence that I am old and do not know what I am saying.
Though there are plans to enlist living, breathing humans in a "Star Wars" TV series that might appear as early as 2010, George Lucas has for the moment ceded to cartoons the task of continuing his story of the Empire and Republic in a galaxy far, far away. From where I sit, in my analog rocking chair, the switch to animation is a natural outcome of Lucas' increasing reliance on digital effects across the three prequel films; it was almost a logical next step, taking the real people out, in this year's seventh "Star Wars" theatrical installment, the CGI-animated "The Clone Wars," and the TV series of the same name that begins tonight on Cartoon Network.
Adverted to in the very first "Star Wars" film, the Clone Wars take place in the narrative gap between "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith," when Anakin Skywalker is still on the not-dark side of the force. Lucas could spend the rest of his life filling that hiatus with adventures whose outcomes are basically irrelevant to the larger story he has already finished telling. Many battles make up a war, after all, and each is an episode waiting to be animated. The two I've seen are bagatelles -- brief and insubstantial but colorful and fluid.
This is actually CN's second "Clone Wars" series, after the 2003 bite-sized serial directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of "Dexter's Laboratory" and "Samurai Jack." (How many "Clone Wars" can the Clone Wars clone, I wonder?) That version was, for the most part, a conventional cartoon, made up of thick outlines and blocks of color, and it worked because it was as much a reinterpretation as a continuation: Although he didn't invent the universe, the vision and the hand were recognizably the animator's. Though the new "Clone Wars" is rendered in 3-D like its theatrical predecessor, supervising director Dave Filoni and character designer Kilian Plunkett have referred back to Tartakovsky's designs with good results.
There may come a day when reality is perfectly counterfeited by computers, but here in the early 21st century, animators have yet to conquer the human problem: digitally rendered people look creepy. (You may go ahead and hate me now, "Final Fantasy" fans.) The new TV "Clone Wars" benefits from exaggeration: It's meant to look like a cartoon, or in any case, it's not meant to not look like a cartoon.
But a creature like Yoda, who was halfway to a cartoon to begin with, is a different story -- being animated does him a favor. Although to me Yoda will always be a puppet at the end of Frank Oz's arm, I have to admit that he's set free here: Watching him take apart a squad of tanks with his little lightsaber is just as much fun as it's supposed to be.
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars'
Where: Cartoon Network
When: 9 and 9:30 p.m. Friday
Rating: Not rated