I confess it - I've fallen away from the rabid Star Wars fandom of my youth. You could say that it's because George Lucas performed unspeakable acts upon my childhood, but really, that's not it. I hold fond memories of what Star Wars once meant to me, but I'm happy to pass the sense of wonder it once inspired in me on to the next generation.
It took me a while to get there, I'll admit. And this past summer, when Lucasfilm released a theatrical version of the animated series The Clone Wars, I was still foolishly nursing old wounds. But that animated series isn't really for me; it's for my kids, and once I'd been able to experience it as a television show and not an overhyped "movie," I could see what works.
What works in The Clone Wars really works, by the way.
The proof would be in the DVD release of four episodes from the series, subtitled "A Galaxy Divided." Plot-wise, each episode provides everything a kid could want.
The first episode, "Ambush," pits Yoda against the forces of the evil Asajj Ventress, a character who recalls Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent - frightening, but not uncontrollably so, just enough to give younger kids a safe chill. Of course, a Yoda-centric episode is a great idea, as kids love seeing that ancient Jedi Master kick Sith behind. He's still the most dangerous game.
The disc goes on with a trilogy of episodes that focus more on the other heroes, including the plucky paduwan Ahsoka. Tracking down General Grievous' warship Malevolence, each episode deals - in a kid-friendly way - with questions of loyalty, courage and just possibly the value of each individual life. Time and again, the clone troopers waver between accepting their lot as essentially cannon fodder and wondering if their life should mean just a little bit more.
Okay - so the series may not delve too deeply into those questions, and the live-action Episode 3 renders them moot. However, the audience for The Clone Wars keeps all that separate. To most of the young audience, the looming specter of Darth Vader doesn't really hang over Anakin, and watching through those younger eyes, this turns out to be a pretty nifty adventure.
And I finally get it - why are the evil droids so dumb and keep commenting ironically upon their own stupidity? Because it's funny. It's a cartoon.
The art direction is still pretty cool. It isn't just the high stylization of the characters that works, though honestly Anakin seems more appropriately heroic as a cartoon character than Hayden Christiansen ever did. Lucas' animators have hearkened back to Gerry Anderson's "Supermarionation" so that even the movements of the characters have been stylized, and every time I watch it, it just gets cooler as a conceit.
Unfortunately, the DVD has nothing in the way of extras, but then again, what I'd be interested in seeing would probably bore my five year old to tears - or to going and getting his Star Wars Legos and showing me something a lot more fun than a documentary. So remember - it's for the kids.