By Pete Vonder Haar | August 15, 2008

Those of you old enough to remember seeing “Return of the Jedi” in the theater probably also recall the disquieting tremor of uncertainty that slithered down your spine even as you were thrilling to the final movie itself. Feral Mon Chi Chis? – You thought to yourself – Another Death Star? Darth Vader looks like that? Hey, at least we got to see Leia in a bikini.

As we can see, Lucas began infantilizing his product all the way back in the Reagan years. I don’t have to revisit the prequels (or the “Special Editions” of the original trilogy) here, but no one will accuse me of hyperbole when I say all of the newer product threw a big wet bantha blanket over our fanboy enthusiasm (for further discussion, please see Brian Posehn’s ‘uncle penis’ analogy). With Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 Clone Wars series, the upcoming Cartoon Network series, and now “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” he was finally able to turn his franchise into the children’s cartoon he’s wanted ever since he told the “Jedi” production team – with a straight face – he needed to hire a bunch of little people to play barbaric teddy bears.

“SW:TCW” is supposedly designed to be an intro to the upcoming TV series. As such, it’s an almost entirely pointless exercise. For starters, the events of the film serve as little more than an accessory to the overall Clone Wars plotline. It seems someone has kidnapped Jabba the Hutt’s kid, Rotta the… Huttlet. The Jedi Council, needing safe passage through Hutt-controlled space to battle the separatists, send Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and his new padawan Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein, in a shameless attempt to lure the tween girl crowd over to the dark side) and a squad of clone troopers to rescue the kid. The separatists, led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), have similar plans, leading to a showdown between the two Jedi, Dooku and his apprentice Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) and plenty of cannon fodder droids and clones.

Shades of Skorzeny rescuing Mussolini, yes? Okay, maybe not, but even if the plot isn’t all that galvanizing, it would be perfectly serviceable as a foreword to a narrative about the war itself if not for the way Lucas and company continue to drizzle urine over any lingering goodwill fans of the franchise might still possess. The animation is lifeless (especially after Tartakovsky’s efforts), the voice acting stiff (though Lanter actually gets Anakin through the whole movie with nary a whine), but it’s the new characters that really screw the pooch. Not only are we treated to the nauseatingly precious Rotta (he farts!) and ‘Padawana Montana’ (unlike the heavily armored Anakin, Obi-Wan, and assorted troops, Ahsoka marches into battle in a tube top/miniskirt combo), but we’re also introduced to Jabba’s uncle, “Ziro” the Hutt.

I might have been able to overlook asinine bullshit like Ahsoka calling Anakin “Sky Guy” or his referring to her as “Snips” in return, but Ziro is an abomination. My complaint isn’t that he speaks English (the horror), but that he’s basically Jar Jar in Hutt form, albeit deliberately effeminate in manner and talking like a cross between Truman Capote and Hoodoo from “Lidsville.” The whole thing feels like a continuation of Lucas’ experiments to see how much s**t his dwindling supporters will take before finally saying “enough” and moving on to adult pursuits.

I should know. I’m not going to lie and say my anti-Lucas gland kicked into gear way back in ’83. No, it took “The Phantom Menace” to get those juices flowing freely. There are still plenty of “Star Wars” fans out there, however, and now that he’s truly super-duper rich, Lucas’ only source of amusement seems to be in devising new methods to drive them off in disgust. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” will go a long way in helping his cause.

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