Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The first theatrically released animated Star Wars feature film, set for release in August 2008, fills in the gaps in George Lucas' epic science-fiction saga between Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith and lays the ground for a new TV series

Even the most ardent fan of the Star Wars mega-saga would have a hard time making an argument for George Lucas as an actors' filmmaker. Not only was his dialogue lacking in certain graces (prompting the notorious, possibly apocryphal utterance from Harrison Ford, "You can type this shit, George, but you sure can't say it," during the making of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope ) but as the saga went on, his preference for special effects over people became more apparent.

Like James Cameron, Lucas is one of the great technological trailblazers and innovators of Hollywood's recent history, driving forward such techniques as motion control and CGI with the single-mindedness of a prophet. So there's a clear logic in the transition of the Star Wars saga from increasingly CGI-heavy, nominally live-action feature films into pure CGI animation.

Such is the case with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a new feature that follows the six movies to the big screen (Lucas says there will be no more live action films) but also builds on the foundations laid by the 2003 'Clone Wars' animated "pilot" series. And indeed, lays the foundations for a new animated series, which is itself being designed to take the form of a "30-minute 'mini-movie'" each week.

For those who haven't gone beyond cinema or DVD encounters with the original and prequel trilogies (1999's Episode I: The Phantom Menace, 2002's Episode II: Attack Of The Clones and Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith), the Star Wars franchise sprawls for light years in all directions, with all the gaps in the epic story of the rise and fall of the Empire being filled in with innumerable books, comics, videogames and cartoons.

For many fans, the events of the Clone Wars (first mentioned in a discussion between Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the 1977 original are among the most important for the overall saga, but were not covered in great detail in any of the feature films. Of The Clone Wars animated feature, Lucas says it's "an extension of the Star Wars story, it takes place between Episodes II and III, where in II we start the Clone Wars and in III we end the Clone Wars. This is theClone Wars, which is all the stuff that goes on in between".
The earlier, 2003-2005 animated series had also been set during this period, when the Galactic Republic under Chancellor Palpatine (the duplicitous chap revealed to be chief Sith baddie Darth Sidious, later the Emperor, played by Ian McDiarmid in the films, but voiced by Nick Jameson and Ian Abercrombie in the cartoons), and the separatist Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS) under Count Dooku (the rogue Jedi, turned Sith, played by Christopher Lee in the movies and voiced by Corey Burton in the videogames and cartoons).

During the run of 25 20-minute episodes and five shorter episodes, more about the activities of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Mace Windu and others during this three-year period was revealed. This traditionally animated series was made by the Cartoon Network, but for the new Clone Wars feature film and series, Lucasfilm Animation is back at the helm.

The new film will involve the travails of Anakin (played by Hayden Christensen in the two latter prequels but voiced in the cartoons by Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan and their encounters with such villains as Dooku and the lightsaber-wielding, robotic hunter of Jedis General Grievous.

Supervising director Dave Filoni said Lucas wanted to use the opportunity of the film and the series to tell more about Anakin and what could be called his "good side", and his fraternal relationship with Obi-Wan. Among the new characters being introduced is a Jedi padewan by the name of Ahsoka Tano (Drane). Filoni says she "stands between the two characters" of Anakin and Obi-Wan and is "learning about what it means to be a Jedi in this time in much the same way the audience is learning about the Clone Wars. So in that way she's a touchstone for the audience."

One aspect of the film's storyline that has emerged from previewed footage involves Dooku dispatching his Dark Jedi henchwoman Asajj Ventress (a character created in the artwork for Episode II, but actually realised in the earlier animated series as a nemesis for Anakin) to find Jabba the Hutt's son and develop some sort of allegiance. Lucas tends to play his hand close to his chest though, so more solid specifics of the story aren't available at the time of writing.

Interestingly, the film was originally simply going to form part of the new series, but Lucas says of the newly developed animation technique, "we looked at it on the big screen and the quality we felt was really good enough to put into a theatre. The big issue is we felt a lot of the fans wanted to see this on the big screen before it ended up as a television series."

Lucas suggests that the "assembly line" they set up for the series offers a versatility akin to "the old-time movie making". He elaborated, "What I love about television, it's like Monogram Pictures or the old studio system, where a couple guys come to work and they sit and have some coffee and go, 'Why don't we make a movie about such and such? Okay, fine.' And at the end of the day, it's pretty much on its way."

So we're getting a film then a series that Lucas describes as "like 'Band of Brothers' in space, with Jedi," that will further expand on the Clone Wars. It's episodic, so although Anakin will be a key character, it won't be a straight telling of his story, there will be episodes focussing on clone troopers and other Jedi, like the fishy, dreadlocky Kit Fisto (seen in Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith). During the proposed 100 hours of new material, we may even see the return of old favourites like Boba Fett.

When Lucasfilm officially announced the film in February 2008, Lucasfilm Animation had already made more than 30 of the new half-hour episodes, with the primary production split between Lucasfilm Animation in California and the Lucasfilm Animation Singapore studios, and theatrical distribution handled, for the first time, by Warner Bros not 20th Century Fox.

The series had first been announced in April 2005, when Lucasfilm was developing the new 3D CG animation techniques. At Comic-Con in July 2005, Steve Sansweet, head of Lucasfilm fan relations, described the style being developed by the teams as "a melding of Asian anime with unique 3-D animation styling".

The bigger point about Star Wars continuing its life in CG animation is that with full CGI, any of those complications and expenses arising in a film shoot from actors, sets and locations are completely bypassed and the vision has fewer restraints. Filoni says the Clone Wars part of the Star Wars saga "has to be shown on an epic scale to understand that there's a universe, a galaxy, involved in this conflict." Arguably, the fully CGI route will fulfil this, and the footage already knocking about online certainly looks like it will fill the big screen with action.

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