“Ready he is, to teach an apprentice. To let go of his pupil, a greater challenge it will be. Master this, Skywalker must.” – Yoda
With the imminent release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story next month, I thought now would be a fun time to look back at the other Star Wars spin-off movies that came before.
The internet is going crazy making all kinds of incorrect assumptions about Rogue One, labeling it “the first Star wars spin-off” and writing articles with headlines like “Rogue One to be the First Star Wars Film Without an Opening Crawl” (not to mention the false assumption that many bothans are going to die in the movie. Wrong Death Star, guys). So let’s just set the record straight. Rogue One is not the first Star Wars spin-off movie. It is the fifth one. We’ve had two live-action Ewok movies, The Clone Wars animated movie, and of course everyone’s favorite; The Star Wars Holiday Special. None of these movies had opening crawls either, just in case the idea of a Star Wars movie without one seems sacrilegious to you. Sure, Rogue One is the first high-budget Disney-made Star Wars spin-off, but it’s far from the first spin-off movie. I’ve already written a long post about the Holiday Special, but I thought I’d take a look at the other three spin-off movies before we all go see Rogue One in a few short weeks.
As a huge fan of The Clone Wars TV series that came after this movie, I thought it would be interesting to go back to where it all started, with the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on August 15th, 2008. This was three years after Revenge of the Sith had come out, so this was a time when Star Wars was pretty much finished, as far as the main saga went. We still had our Expanded Universe novels, comics, and video games, but we were done getting new Star Wars movies for all we knew, so the fact that this movie even existed was exciting for some.
I remember seeing the trailer for this movie and being excited at the idea of being able to watch a Star Wars movie in the theater one more time, even though the movie didn’t look particularly good. But, the movie came and went, and I never saw it in the theater. I don’t remember there being much promotion for the movie, and even though I was a massive Star Wars fan, I somehow let the theatrical run of this movie slip by me (a mistake I certainly did not repeat when The Force Awakens came out, which I waited hours in line for on opening night, and then saw seven more times in the theater before the movie came out on Blu-ray). So, I didn’t see this movie until it was out on DVD. I had a friend come over who I had previously seen Revenge of the Sith with in the theater so we could watch the movie together. We didn’t really know what to expect. I’m going to give you two points of view in this review: My first impression of the movie after that first time I watched it, and how I feel about the movie today after repeat viewings.
Well, this movie left a terrible first impression on me. I couldn’t believe I had just seen a Star Wars movie that was so awful (keep in mind, I hadn’t yet watched The Holiday Special or the Ewok movies). I pretty much hated it. The story was bad, the acting (or voice acting, I guess) was bad, the dialogue was terrible, the attempts at comic-relief made Jar Jar Binks look like comedy gold, and I really hated Ahsoka Tano and couldn’t understand why they would give Anakin a padawan who was never mentioned in the main movies. I just didn’t like the movie it at all. Because of this movie I avoided watching The Clone Wars TV series for almost three years.
Here’s what I think of the movie now, after having grown to love the TV series and having watched the entire series twice: it’s still bad.
Okay, maybe it was pointless to give you both points of view when they’re basically the same. But, I don’t hate the movie as much after having watched the entire TV series. It’s kind of fun to go back and see how it all stared, even if it makes you cringe.
The Clone Wars introduces us to Anakin Skywalker’s padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano. What?? Anakin had a padawan in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith? Why did we never hear about her before? Well, eight years later, there’s still no good answer to that question. Ahsoka is an annoying young girl who is quite whiny and snippy. I hated her in this movie, and was not excited about her being a main character in the TV series that came after. Anakin is not happy about having to train a padawan, and the two don’t get along for a while.
Jabba the Hutt’s son (apparently he has one of those) is kidnapped by bounty hunters, and Jabba asks the Jedi to help find him. Anakin and Ahsoka are assigned by the Jedi Council to find and return Jabba’s son, in hopes that Jabba will allow the Clone army to pass through Hutt Space for doing so. Meanwhile, Count Dooku (with the help of Asajj Ventress) is doing what he can to prevent the safe return of Jabba’s son and to frame the Jedi for the abduction and murder of the little guy. It’s a pretty unexciting story that might have worked as a few episodes of a TV show, but definitely is not worthy of being a feature film.
The first big problem with this movie is the fact that it was never even supposed to be a movie. It was just supposed to be a few episodes of the TV series, but somewhere along the line they decided to mash a few of the episodes together and release it as a movie. The thing it, it feels like a bunch of TV show episodes mashed together. It doesn’t flow well as a feature film and it is pretty obvious that it was never meant to be one.
Weirdly, this movie actually takes place after a few of the epidoes of the TV show. For some reason, The Clone Wars TV series did not air in chronological order. After the series was finished, starwars.com put out a list of all Clone Wars episodes (including this movie) in the correct viewing order, which occasionally requires you to jump back and forth between seasons.
The attempts at comic relief really rubbed me the wrong way when I first saw this movie. The prime offenders are the battle droids. I hate the battle droids in this movie, and it’s not because they’re the bad guys. It’s because they’re constantly used for comedic purposes that just aren’t funny at all. I think the show writers realized this, because as the TV series goes on, the droids are used less and less as comic relief, thank goodness. There are other failed attempts at humor scattered throughout the movie, but none as bad as the battle droids.
I don’t remember what I thought about the animation when I first saw the movie, but watching it now is kind of painful. The TV series looked better and better with each passing season, until it eventually became what I consider the most beautifully-animated TV show I’ve ever seen. The later seasons look gorgeous. This movie, in comparison, looks pretty terrible. There are even some shots of the movie that are clearly unfinished, with very rough animation. Since this movie was their first try, and since the animation got so much better as the TV series progressed, I can give this a pass. But still, it looks bad. Animations are awkward and unnatural, the environments are extra bland, and the textures used on many of the characters just do not look good.
The music is also bad. Okay, Star Wars set the bar pretty high for great musical scores, so it’s no surprise that a lower-budget spin-off film doesn’t hit that standard. The problem isn’t that the music sounds like “less good” Star Wars music; the problem is that it doesn’t sound like Star Wars at all. I kept getting pulled out of the movie because the music felt so out of place. Bringing heavily-distorted electric guitars into the mix was probably the worst part, but even when the score stuck to more traditional instruments, it still sounded nothing like Star Wars. This is another thing that they must have realized was a mistake, because the TV series had music that sounded a lot more like Star Wars.
This movie introduces us to a few important new characters. Aside from Ahsoka, we get to meet Asajj Ventress, Captain Rex, and Ziro the Hutt. Ventress actually appeared in other Expanded Universe stories before making her appearance in this movie, and the movie seems to assume that you’re familiar with at least some of them, because the movie doesn’t bother explaining who she is or where she came from. Captain Rex is Anakin’s Clone Commander, the leader of the 501st Clone Battalion (the 501st Legion eventually becomes Darth Vader’s personal legion of stormtroopers), and he is probably the clone that we get to know best over the course of the TV series (and, eventually in Star Wars Rebels as well). We don’t see much of him in this movie though, and so we don’t really get a good feel for his character. And then, there’s Ziro the Hutt…
Ziro the Hutt is literally my least favorite Star Wars character of all time. I hate this guy. I would watch a trilogy of Jar Jar movies before having to sit through any more Ziro the Hutt stories. I’d rather watch a TV series about the guy who pours drinks into his volcano head from the Holiday Special. Ziro just annoys me to no end. The way he acts is annoying, but mostly, it’s his voice. His accent combined with the way the he talks drives me insane (by the way, he speaks English for some reason, unlike his nephew, Jabba). Whenever this guy pops up on-screen, I’m in misery. His character design isn’t bad though. He looks kind of cool for a Hutt. But I hate him.
One cool thing about this movie is that Christopher Lee and Samuel L. Jackson reprised their roles of Count Dooku and Mace Windu. This is notable because they did not continue to voice the characters in the TV series. But at least we get them for this one movie.
Anakin isn’t my favorite in this movie, but this Clone Wars version of Anakin eventually becomes my favorite version of Anakin, bar none. He’s still kind of annoying in this movie, but over the course of the show this version of Anakin becomes so much more likable than the live-action version, and his fall to the dark side feels much more gradual and realistic.
Was there anything about this movie that I actually liked though? If you take this movie as a standalone–ignoring the TV series and other stories that came after it–then no. This movie is bad. Am I being a little harsh towards a movie that was clearly aimed at a younger audience than the main-series Star Wars films? Maybe, a little bit. But good kids’ movies are still enjoyable for adults too. While I can easily see young children enjoying this movie, I can’t really see anyone else having a fun time watching this.
But here’s the one huge positive that I can sort of take from this movie: Though I complained about her in this review, and I truly can’t stand her in this movie, Ahsoka Tano went on to become a great character in the TV show. I hated her when I first saw this movie, and it took me a long time to warm up to her in the show, but as she grew as a Jedi she became more mature, less annoying, and eventually ended up being a total badass. I’m being completely honest when I say that Ahsoka Tano is one of my favorite Star Wars characters of all time. And looking back, it’s kind of fun to see how an annoying teenage girl evolved over time into the character that I enjoy so much today. Her last appearance in The Clone Wars TV series is not only one of the best parts of the entire show, but one of my favorite moments in all of Star Wars. And I was thrilled when she came back years later in Star Wars Rebels. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this movie, but I’m definitely glad that it introduced us to such a great character, even if I didn’t think she was so great at the time. The only reason I would recommend this movie to anyone is because it introduces us to Ahoska Tano.