Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Why an Animated Show Should be JJ Abrams Main Inspiration
NOTE: Spoilers throughout.
As I was watching The Clone Wars television series something slowly dawned on me. This is Star Wars.
Now, of course it is Star Wars, but what I mean is the show feels like Star Wars. What so many previous Star Wars productions before failed to do was accurately channel the Star Wars mythos, and instead opted for blatant imitation.
Tapping into what we all love about this franchise is perhaps at the core of the fans’ deepest hopes and darkest worries for the next line of films helmed by JJ Abrams. If JJ and crew need to be shown how its done, they need not look further than The Clone Wars.
While The Clone Wars does have its share of plagiarized moments from the movies – usually in the form of stealing a direct line of dialogue – these instances are mostly found within the shows initial seasons.
Later, these references are abandoned and replaced with more subtle allusions. For example, there are scenes that take place in an intergalactic watering hole, and the event manages to remind the viewer of Episode IV’s cantina scene without ever feeling like it is borrowing from that classic setting. There’s a trial held by the Republic (who of course becomes the Empire) and the courtroom looks and feels as if it would fit perfectly as a room within the Death Star or a Star Destroyer.
And then, of course, there is the finale of the shows fifth season. Here Ashoka discusses leaving the Jedi order in an emotional conversation with Anakin Skywalker. Anakin reveals that he wholeheartedly understands the desire to leave the Jedi order. Ashoka’s response?
Wow. Perhaps the greatest line in any Star Wars film is so perfectly referenced. It winks at the classic scene in Empire Strikes Back while embodying its own thematic nuances. Anakin is speaking about his love for Padme, and Ashoka’s response admits she knows his deepest secret.
These are examples not just of how the show adds and expands upon the Star Wars universe, but rather that it is the Star Wars universe.
Battles! Ships! Explosions! The Clone Wars does an amazing job of creating a true sense of galactic war. The scope and scale of the battles isn’t just alluded to – it is explicitly shown.
Some of the most amazing and immersive experiences show an invading force from start to finish with beautiful cinematography. Huge Republic cruisers blast into a system and begin to unleash swarms of dropships. We see the commanders in the capitol ships prepare for a space battle as the dropships begin their decent. Inside the dropships we see Jedi and clone troopers anxiously prepare for battle. Entering the atmosphere the ships encounter anti-aircraft guns. Some don’t survive. What ships do land immediately unload their troops and they and the Jedi run into battle. A single shred of peace exists before the first smattering of laser fire begins — and then it hits! Full on chaos. The droids have have come to stop the assault, and the panic and adrenaline of battle is palpable as clones and Jedi fight and die on the battle field.
What is so great about these sequences is that they so directly depict a battle situation and the scope of what feels like a real and authentic space war. A sense of location and purpose abound as the viewer understands the objective and how it is obtained — through force and sacrifice.
And above all else the sequences are beautiful choreographed. The biggest fault of contemporary action cinema is the heavy reliance on loud noises, fast movement, extreme closeups, and fast editing to create the illusions of action. When Captain America fought the Winter Soldier I struggled to maintain a sense of space during the fight. Sure, I heard a punch, I saw a blurry first, and I understood what happened. It just didn’t look that cool. The Clones Wars action, by contrast, always seemed planned and carefully choreographed and accomplishes in one or two shots what contemporary action films need five or six shots to accomplish. Please JJ, don’t cheat the visuals with fast edits.
Star Wars has so many memorable designs. The costumes, the creatures, and the spaceships are iconic. The Clone Wars continues this tradition in many fantastic ways, and one particular outfit gave me a profound moment of stupefying realization.
In season six a clone trooper returns to Kamino to be researched for a potential defect. Now, at this stage in the story we are closer to the events of Revenge of the Sith and even more importantly — A New Hope. In the training facility our heroes move through the story, but what caught me off guard was how well the costumes had evolved.
As the trooper wore a new helmet I caught myself thinking, “that’s a pretty different look for a clone trooper. I suppose this is the latest armor these soldiers are getting since we’re at the source of their production.” Then it dawned on me. I wasn’t looking at a clone trooper, I was looking at a storm trooper! The fact that this show engaged me to the point where I nearly forgot one of the most quintessential outfits in the Star Wars universe is a true testament to the brilliance and innovation of the design and art team.
Have you noticed that there is a bland, derivative nature to the “creativity” of Hollywood action films these days? Its as if the only people who know how to make CGI monsters for the big screen can only make gray, redundant type monsters (Godzilla, Cloverfield — a notable exception being Pacific Rim). Are the new Transformers cool or just confusingly over-designed? Bold and daring designs are seemingly a rare commodity these days.
I’m sure JJ with utilize his own cronies for creating new and cool ideas for the latest films. If he were to poach a few creative individuals that worked on this TV show, however, I think we’d all be the better for it.
It All Comes Down to This…
For the first time since being a Star Wars fan I truly felt a part of an authentic and new Star Wars experience. Now, certainly the prequels are Star Wars, but the mood and sense of adventure (or more accurately, the lack of a sense of adventure) of those films never felt as if they were a true sibling of the original trilogy.
The Clone Wars did what the prequels could not, and that is create a new Star Wars experience that feels right at home next to the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie.
Now, Mr. Abrams, I hope you can do the same. But, should you ever wonder how to do it, just load up your Netflix and watch The Clone Wars.