When George Lucas last pulled off an original idea for a feature film, Bill Clinton was still thought of by many voters as overweight and chaste.
True, the 1994 “Radioland Murders” (for which Lucas wrote the story and was executive producer) was a bad idea, but it was his last break with the Indy-Skywalker axis that has dominated him since.
Now, with the live-action “Star Wars” saga presumably put to rest, he's extending that empire with an animated TV series. If the pilot-style movie “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is an example, that fall series might prove indispensible to die-hard fans but inconsequential to the rest of us.
What emotions can we attach to Obi-Wan or Padme, when we know what will happen to them down the narrative line? How can we be caught up in the light-saber duel between Anakin Skywalker and Count Dooku? We know they have to survive unharmed, because we've seen the end of their saga. (Sure enough, they more or less stop fighting arbitrarily.)
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The plot sets Jedi knights Obi-Wan (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin (Matt Lanter) on a rescue mission. Dooku (Christopher Lee) has kidnapped the son of Jabba the Hutt, planning to kill the kid and blame the Jedi.
Both Dooku and the Jedi want Jabba's permission to pass through the outer rim of a galaxy to fight the Separatist Wars, and more than that I have no hope of telling you. Most of the action consists of red and blue electrical pulses being fired wildly, yet never hitting anyone who matters.
It's difficult to say whether the dialogue or the characters are more wooden. That's actually a small boon in the case of the animation, if you like an old-fashioned look: Anakin seems to have been carved out of oak down to his jointed hairline, like a marionette.
The main new characters are the personality-free Captain Rex, whom I'm told may play a larger role in the series, and Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), Anakin's new apprentice. She's been made a saucy, reckless teenage girl (or girlish creature), presumably as a way to attract younger female audiences to the ever-expanding mythology. But a quick look around the preview screening suggested that this is a forlorn hope.
Luckily, old friends Lee and Anthony Daniels come back to voice Dooku and C-3PO. I was also taken with Ziro, a Hutt who sounds like Truman Capote and looks like Jabba in a feathered hat. Maybe that's why Jabba has always surrounded himself with semi-clad dancing girls – not for sluggish sex but for sartorial inspiration.