I have to admit that when Lucasfilm announced its newest animated series, The Clone Wars (TCW), would be aired on the Cartoon Network, I was a little nonplussed. When the story direction was laid out in the promotional material, I grew even more apprehensive. As a fan of the Expanded Universe (EU), I really didn’t want to like this thing George Lucas was creating. I like my books and comics, and I really like the fact that Star Wars has one continuous (if occasionally bumpy) timeline. The previously existing Clone Wars era stories were already really good. So with no offense meant to the brilliant mind that created Star Wars, I definitely started out as one of the many adult, longtime fans who expected The Maker to just muck things all up, doing more harm than good.
Despite those initial fears, though, I couldn’t resist flipping the channel to something that said Star Wars. I felt like one of Pavlov’s dogs, the remote control switching in an automatic reflex to those two familiar words aligned. At first, I didn’t even tell my friends or my fellow Star Wars fans that I was curled up on Friday evenings with my pretzel sticks and soda to partake in Anakin Skywalker’s adventures with his padawan. His pada-what? My EU-crazy mind definitely had trouble wrapping itself around that one. As of 2008, any self-respecting fan knew that Anakin Skywalker didn’t have a padawan. I mean, really, wasn’t a major source of Anakin’s consternation in Episode III the fact that the Jedi Council wouldn’t honor him with the title of Jedi Master? Wouldn’t he already be one if he’d trained a padawan? Had poor George forgotten a key characterization point in his own movie? (And the most recent one, at that.)
Yet now, I must admit George Lucas and his creative team have won me over to the TCW side. They’ve managed to draw me into their little 22-minute dribbles of fable-weaving. Each episode starts out with a Yoda-esque lesson that is simplistic enough for an 8-year-old, yet layered with meanings that our adult minds will need at least the following week to ponder all the facets.
Even more, these mind-blowing, special effects laden movies-in-miniature are creating a whole new generation of fans. On that level alone, it’s been exhilarating. I can actually talk to my young nephews and they know more about some aspects of Star Wars than I do. Two years ago if you told me I’d have a conversation with a six-year-old about Obi-Wan’s Jedi armor, I would have laughed at you. Not anymore. It’s been discussed in all due seriousness with Auntie Trish.
While I’m still not completely convinced that the impact of having Lucas himself back at the helm is more positive than damaging (Jar Jar Binks and Howard the Duck – do I have to say more?), I think it is the efforts of the entire creative team working under him that has made the cartoons work so successfully. The Maker is a visionary and a storyteller, but he’s not a Star Wars fan – not the way we are. The details aren’t what matters to him, but rather the ideas themselves. That’s true even for his own movies, after all; if he’s willing to tinker with the films and make Greedo shoot first, we can hardly be surprised he doesn’t expend much energy worrying about TCW’s consistency with a certain novel or a plotline in a couple of comics issues. And that’s fine; that’s his role in the franchise now.
The TCW team, though – they’re fans just like us. Watching Dave Filoni and others speak at various functions, a picture has emerged of a group of fans, now living their dream of working in the Star Wars universe, who have been able to channel Lucas’ ideas into stories that respect the painstaking love fans have for the details of the existing Star Wars material. In a panel at Celebration V, Filoni related a story about Lucas suggesting a cloaking device on a small ship as part of the plot of one episode (“Cat and Mouse” in Season Two). The fanboy director immediately recited Captain Needa’s proclamation in ESB when they lose sight of the Millennium Falcon: “They can’t have escaped — no ship that small has a cloaking device.” To Filoni’s surprise, The Maker didn’t even recall that enormously important detail from his own movie. (If you don’t believe me how hugely important this information is for fans, check out this Star Wars blog by the highly regarded author of several of the Essential Guides and the recent Essential Atlas.)
So what happened? The cloaked ship stayed in the story, but Filoni added an offhand remark in Anakin’s dialogue to parallel Needa’s. The longtime adult fans got the little nod of appreciation they deserved, and the target kiddy audience was none the wiser. To his credit, Filoni was able to successfully balance Lucas’ inspirational Star Wars muse with respect for the material – and the fans.
It is these little nods of respect that keep me tuning back; in fact, I’d say it’s like eating a brownie sundae. While as a fangirl I still can’t understand what they’re thinking with certain things – like why they had to use Mandalore for the Duchess Satine storyline when any old planet would have worked just as well, or why Obi-Wan seems to be morphing into a Jedi playboy — for the most part, the cartoon has managed to make the Star Wars canon continuity richer rather than poorer. Even Ahsoka, Anakin’s neverbeforementionedincanonanywhere apprentice, has given greater texture to the Chosen One’s fall. It is in fact her fate that makes me certain this cartoon is much more suited for the parents watching with their children.
As my dad used to say when faced with the many unknown recipes my mother loved try out on my sister and I, “Try it, you may like it.” As best I can recall, I usually did.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars airs Friday night at 9PM on the Cartoon Network.
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