When viewers think an animated film looks cheap, they frequently complain that it resembles a mere videogame, but as videogames get more visually sophisticated, that insult carries less weight. It's more of a problem when a film feels like a videogame, which implies a story that's more fun to play through than watch. Unfortunately, there's no interactive option for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a CGI follow-up to Cartoon Network's Emmy-winning 2003 Clone Wars TV/webisode series, and a prelude to the CGI TV series The Clone Wars. And with its simple-goal-driven plot, its wordy, cutscene-like interludes, and its stiffly modeled characters, it wouldn't even make for a particularly high-end videogame.
Like the 2003 series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars takes place after the events of Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, and assumes a high level of Star Wars familiarity. When Count Dooku (voiced by Christopher Lee, one of very few players briefly reprising their live-action film roles) kidnaps Jabba The Hutt's son and frames the Republic, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Anakin's arrogant new padawan Ahsoka have to find and return the "Huttlet" and unravel Dooku's plot. As with so many videogames, this one includes numerous side quests that vary in nature but play out similarly: Whether the characters are defending a city, assaulting a fortress, or crossing a desert, they wind up lightsaber-hacking through hordes of comically stupid robots. Still, the road to victory is complicated, eventually leading to a mincing transvestite Hutt who sounds disturbingly like Carol Channing.
For a while, the Clone Wars movie (which producer George Lucas openly admits was "almost an afterthought" to the TV show) gets along on speed, visual novelty, and Lucas touches like the old-fashioned scene wipes and rich audio track. Ahsoka even serves as a quality addition to the Star Wars universe; her cocky recklessness rivals Anakin's, which brings him out of his usual sulk. But as the story grinds on, repetition weighs down their banter and their battles, and every "level" feels the same. And where the 2003 Clone Wars (helmed by Samurai Jack/Dexter's Laboratory mastermind Genndy Tartakovsky, who's notably absent here) had the sense to concentrate on crisp action and Jedi ass-kickery, the latest iteration is pure Lucas: talky, flashy, and focused on juvenile relationships. It's better than an unimportant filler plot arc in an already-completed story has any right to be, but as with videogames, there's no real reason for it to be on the big screen, instead of viewed in the comfort of home.