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On TV -- Animation Today's Date:

All This and Yoda, Too...

The Clone Wars have begun.

Granted, they actually began last year, but in a manner that left a lot of fans of Star Wars unsatisfied. They'd waited twenty-five years to see the epic conflict, and it looked like it would just be glossed over in favor of, yuck, romance and tragedy in Episode III: This Can Only End In Tears.

Lo, George Lucas did hear our cries. Actually, the canny businessman did not want the Star Wars name to languish in between films, so he approached Cartoon Network with an idea that once nearly destroyed the property: how about a cartoon?

The track record for Star Wars and animation has not been so great. True, Boba Fett first made his debut in animated form, but it was in the Star Wars Holiday Special. And then a couple of years after Return of the Jedi, the strictly kiddie-level DROIDS and EWOKS brightly blared into Saturday morning living rooms, but did nothing to polish the epic tale of good vs. evil. All three aforementioned shows, in fact, tend to escape fans' memories. Or they would escape if not buried six feet under concrete in a box with no airholes.

According to Clone Wars director Genndy Tartakovsky, Lucasfilm originally wanted a series of one-minute adventures, hardly more than commercials for toys. Granted, cool toys. Tartakovsky agreed to the project, but only if he could do more than minute snippets. Say what you will about Lucas, he has long been one to praise the artists he admires, and when he found out that the team behind Samurai Jack would be on the project, he allowed Cartoon Network the luxury (?) of three minutes for each episode.

In truth, from the looks of things, three minutes has been just right. Told by Lucasfilm that they couldn't touch the love story between Anakin and Padme, the animators were forced to put down their ten-foot pole. Instead, they focus strictly on action, giving audiences little slices of the overall war, hoping that at the end they will have given us the big picture.

"I like to compare it to HBO's Band of Brothers," Tartakovsky commented recently, "a project I really admired that takes a huge story like the European Allied campaign of World War II and presents it in a series of 'a day in the life of' stories."

"As I see it," he continued, "this project mirrors that approach by showcasing several 'days in the life of the Clone Wars.' For instance, in the first few episodes, we're presenting a singular, but extremely important campaign, The Battle of Muunilinst, an all-city planet under attack by the Separatist movement. We're able to explain the goals and obstacles the old Republic and Jedi must face, reveal important internal conflicts between the main characters, and still have time to highlight the action of the battle."

Though the romance is forbidden, Padme does appear in episodes touching on the political side of things. However, in an even greater act of kindness to fans, Jar Jar Binks is out of the picture. On purpose? "I think I'll just say 'no comment' to that one," said Tartakovsky.

Other characters making more than occasional appearances are Jedi Mace Windu and Kit Fisto, the tentacle-headed warrior who will shine in an underwater battle. (Look for the Mon Calamari in that one, too.) Of course, the bulk of the series will focus on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in opposition to Count Dooku and Palpatine, even if our heroes don't know it.

Ten episodes will be shown over the next two weeks, all broadcast at 8 p.m. (ET, PT). Skipping Saturday and Sunday, a new chapter will appear every night. If you miss them, Cartoon Network will show them all on Friday, November 21, starting, again at 8 p.m., spread out over the net's five-hour Friday night block of programming.

But wait! There's more! This is just the first half of Star Wars: Clone Wars. These ten chapters will be followed in the Spring, dates to be determined, by another ten that will better close the gap between films.

So may the force be with you, but none of that love stuff, okay?

Derek McCaw

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