Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 2 - Rising Malevolence

I was a bit rushed yesterday, so I wanted to finish some thoughts about the structure and style of the first two episodes. Here goes:

* Love the newsreel openings. The voice actor delivers each prologue with the perfect balance of enthusiasm and camp. I know a lot of people miss the opening crawl, but that would've gotten real old real fast if there was one every week.

Also, people have complained that these openings are cheesy and over the top. I would say this to them: that's Star Wars. It's cheesy, over the top, and a helluva a lot of fun. It put a smile on my face in the movie theater, and it's put a smile on my face every time I've watched the first two episodes.

* It's surprising how amazing the animation looks on the small screen compared to the big screen. What looked merely serviceable in theaters looks great on my computer monitor (I'm watching the episodes through iTunes on a 22" LCD flatscreen with DVI cables, by the way). The last kid-oriented cartoon I watched was Invader Zim - and I think the Bruce Timm Superman was the last one before that - but this is the first TV show using computer animation I've ever seen that works. I love the character designs, which look like puppets or action figures come to life, which is quite rad.

More importantly, the character's eyes are full of emotion and feature subtle body language, which is what makes or break computer animation. It'll be interesting to see how the animation will grow and improve over the years.

* The voice acting is also above average for a kids' show. It's a shame that the actors that returned for the movie won't be returning for the show - especially Christopher Lee - but many of these actors have been voicing these characters for years and are starting to truly inhabit their roles, instead of just sounding like they're doing a Yoda or Ewan McGregor impression.

* * * *

And now on to the second episode, Rising Malevolence...

Here's the most important thing you need to know about this episode: people die.

Yes, the deaths so far have just been clones, but seeing two clones without helmets get sucked into the vacuum of space and suffocate, without the camera cutting away, surprised and impressed me. And it's followed by one of the few successful battle droid jokes that's incredibly dark for a primetime kids' show.

I know some parents - whiners, mostly - will think showing this level of violence on a kids' show is irresponsible, but I would disagree. I think having the good guys safely bail out of an exploding plane every time or making sure that bad things only happen to bad people is, in fact, irresponsible.

We've been moving away from the Disney, G.I. Joe brand of storytelling in family entertainment for over a decade now, and I can't tell you how much that pleases me. I think J.K. Rowling deserves much of the credit for this, since she had the intestinal fortitude to keep taking Harry Potter down dark paths and dared to kill characters like Dumbledore and Dobby the House Elf.

Dobby. Dobby, for Christ's sakes.

I imagine that this show is only going to get darker with time, once the initial buzz dies down and the show becomes established. That's probably a good thing, since the tone is now a bit uneven and too focused on just pleasing kids. That doesn't make sense to me, since the Star Wars films (save Sith) had just about the perfect tone for family entertainment.

I'm not one of those people that think darker is always better, and it seems like some fans want Star Wars to be much darker than it should be - but any story, for any age, should be honest. That, my friends, is the difference between Han shooting first and Greedo shooting first. The Clone Wars isn't honest yet.

To my surprise, Rising Malevolence is the better of the two episodes that premiered last Friday. I didn't have high hopes for it, since it was an Anakin and Ahsoka episode, but the good outweighs the bad, even more than it did in Ambush. It'll take a few more episodes to judge the overall quality of the show, but it looks like this could become a quite a fun little bit of sci-fi television.

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