You may be confounded, trying to divine where the animated film The Clone Wars fits into the Star Wars chronology. Wasn't the Star Wars franchise completely played out after the conclusion of 2005's Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of the prequel trilogy? Hadn't George Lucas vouchsafed that he would never go beyond the death of Darth Vader in the denouement of Return of the Jedi?
Turns out, The Clone Wars can be placed into a historical context. The two Star Wars trilogies collectively form a self-contained continuum, which focus on the Skywalker family saga. The Clone Wars are referenced by Princess Leia in the very first Star Wars film. They are then depicted, albeit fleetingly, at the end of Attack of the Clones and again in Revenge of the Sith. The Clone Wars straddles these two films and expands on the subject matter.
Once again, our stalwart Jedi Knight co-protagonists, Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter, mercifully replacing the wooden Hayden Christensen), and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) are back. They’re still wielding light sabers on behalf of the Republic and the forces of good. After an uninterrupted millennium of prosperity, the Republic is now under siege. The erstwhile Jedi Knight, Count Dooko (again voiced by Christopher Lee), has gone over to the Dark Side and become an evil Lord of the Sith. Working under the auspices of Darth Sidious and the Separatist rebellion, Count Dooko commands a huge army of Droids.
From his base on the planet, Tatooine, the bandit chief, Jabba the Hut (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) continues to control key trade routes to the Outer Rim. As such, he is a pivotal figure in the escalating power struggle. Count Dooko hatches a scheme to kidnap Jabba’s infant son. This abduction is then blamed on the Republic to instigate conflict.
It’s up to Anakin Skywalker and his robot assistant, C-3PO (again voiced by Anthony Daniels), to rescue the kidnapped hutlet. Over Anakin’s vehement objections, the venerable Yoda (voiced by Tom Kane, replacing Frank Oz) assigns a youngling, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), to be his Padawan apprentice. At 14, she is two years less than the usual age for graduation from the academy. However, the confluence of her precocity and the depleted resources of the Republic induces Yoda to deploy her as Anakin's acolyte.
Some may lament the cursory screen time afforded such well-established characters as Yoda, Mace Windu (again voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and Senator Padmé Amidala (voiced by Catherine Taber, replacing Natalie Portman). However, the character of Ahsoka Tano more than compensates for their circumscribed involvement. She offers an excellent point of identification for children, tweeners, and adolescents alike. As voiced by Ms. Eckstein, the character proves engaging. She's full of youthful enthusiasm and eager to prove herself worthy to a skeptical adult, Anakin Skywalker. Ahsoka's rapid maturation under fire and her evolving relationship with Anakin Skywalker greatly enrich the film.
The Clone Wars is the beneficiary of diminished expectations. After enduring the prequel trilogy, replete with the offensive stereotype of Jar Jar Binks, there was little reason to look forward to this latest permutation of the Star Wars mythos. Admittedly, this animated film doesn't rank with classic, live action components of the Star Wars canon. However, a taut screenplay, competent direction by Dave Filoni, a distinctive CGI style, a resonant score, and, in particular, the emergence of the character of Ahsoka Tano, make The Clone Wars a pleasant diversion.
**1/2 for adults *** for children PG (for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language, and momentary smoking) 98 minutes