Animated spin-offs of live-action films are far from new: The Saturday-morning-cartoon graveyard is littered with the cutesied-up likes of Highlander: The Animated Series, Extreme Ghostbusters, and the cartoon-series versions of Beetlejuice, Free Willy, and Men In Black. But 2003's The Animatrix suggested a whole new marketing era, in which canonical animated adjuncts could not only tap into fan ardor for new stories in favorite settings, but could also serve as ads for upcoming features, while addressing plot blanks that fast-paced, action-oriented movies whizzed past. Ultimately, The Animatrix's success opened the path for supportive spin-offs like Van Helsing: The London Assignment, The Chronicles Of Riddick: Dark Fury, and most recently, Clone Wars, an animated "micro-series" designed to fill in the gaps between the second-trilogy Star Wars films Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith.
The original series of 20 brief Clone Wars episodes ran between programs on the Cartoon Network, and at starwars.com/clonewars. The launch of a second series coincides with the DVD release of Clone Wars, Volume One, which collects those 20 "three-minute epics" into one 69-minute episodic movie. As the Clone Wars heat up across the galaxy, familiar characters like Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Queen Amidala separately battle robot hordes in far-flung locales, while minor figures like Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, and Ki-Adi-Mundi get their own adventures, and new characters like Sith-wannabe Asajj Ventress and Revenge Of The Sith baddie General Grievous debut to make life hard for heroes.
Clone Wars director/producer Genndy Tartakovsky cut his teeth on his Cartoon Network series Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack, and he gives Clone Wars a similar look and feel, with choppy motion, solid, vivid colors, heavy lines, and angular, dramatic designs. Character interaction is present but spare—the dialogue (mostly voiced by voiceover stand-ins, though Anthony Daniels does reprise his film role as C-3PO) is kept to a minimum to make room for kinetic samurai-style combat in the Samurai Jack mode. Clone Wars' stated purpose was to fill in some of the battles that made the series' characters into legends by the time of Revenge Of The Sith, and the focus is firmly on the action, though with plenty of visual and verbal references catering to in-the-know Star Wars fans.
As a mini-feature, Clone Wars isn't compelling all the way through; the battles get repetitive and a little excessive. (If every Jedi can mow down an army with a gesture and a spinning backflip, why did they get their brown-robed butts so thoroughly kicked in the last film? And why can't the bad guys build a single droid or ship that doesn't explode upon the briefest contact with an enemy?) But Tartakovsky's simple, clean designs and sterling fight choreography are as compelling as ever, and his multiple director's commentaries add some interesting insight into the process. Marketing and animation have both come a good long way since the Star Wars films' previous animated spin-offs, 1985's Ewoks and Droids, and giving enthusiastic fans like Tartakovsky license to play with the mythos helps keep it alive in increasingly creative and colorful ways.