Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The only thing slightly mollifying my hatred for “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is that it’s meant for kids, not adults. It’s shallow, cheap, and silly, just like a Saturday-morning cartoon — which is what it’s supposed to be. “The Clone Wars” will launch as an animated series on Cartoon Network and TNT in October, and this movie serves as a sort of pilot episode.

Which means dumping it in theaters is outrageously greedy and cynical, a move designed solely to make money off die-hard “Star Wars” fans who will see anything bearing the “Star Wars” logo, whether they enjoy it or not. (Don’t forget how the geeks punished George Lucas for his “terrible” prequels: Instead of paying to see them in the theater 10 times, they only paid to see them five times.) If this were airing on TV, for free, I’d have no beef with it. The fact that it’s in theaters makes it worse.

But then again, it’s not really fair to judge a movie by how it’s distributed. It’s not the movie’s fault that George Lucas has a bottomless appetite for cannibalizing his own products and tricking nerds into paying for the same material over and over again. Let us therefore judge “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” on its own merits.

On its own merits, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is dull, puerile, idiotic, and buffoonish. It represents Lucas’ worst tendencies, taking all the things that people complained about in the prequels (which I thought were OK) and multiplying them by a thousand. Remember how people talked about those prequels like they were the worst movies ever made, when really, come on, they weren’t THAT bad? “The Clone Wars” actually IS that bad.

The story is set between prequels 2 and 3, with the clone wars raging and Count Dooku’s separatists fighting the Republic. In this episode, Jabba the Hutt’s infant son has been kidnapped, and the Jedi Council tasks Obi-Wan Kenobi (voice of James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) with rescuing him. Why? Because Jabba controls space routes that the Republic needs to pass through safely in order to fight the war. This fact is mentioned at least a dozen times, in case the viewer forgets why the Republic wants to curry Jabba’s favor.

While Obi-Wan participates in a less-important subplot that I have already forgotten about, Anakin goes on the rescue mission with his new trainee, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Yes, surly Anakin has a padawan! And she’s a teenage girl, and she’s really spunky, and they get on each other’s nerves! And they have to rescue a baby Hutt and take it to Tattooine! It’s “Star Wars: The Sitcom”!

It’s every bit as awful as it sounds, and maybe worse. The dialogue, credited to three TV-cartoon veterans, has Anakin and Ahsoka bantering and teasing each other relentlessly, though never in a way that’s funny or interesting. It’s always drivel like this:

ANAKIN: (as Ahsoka catches up to him in the heat of battle) I knew you’d get here eventually!
AHSOKA: Always in time to save your life!

Repeat that formula a hundred times and you get the idea.

Then there’s the fact that Jabba refers to his son as his “little punky-muffin,” and the battle droids’ moronic personalities that turn them all into stooges, and Ahsoka’s cutesy nicknames for everything (the junior Hutt is “Stinky,” while R2D2 is “Artooie”). There’s the ongoing battle scenes, which are completely devoid of suspense or excitement — partly because we know who’s going to survive them (we’ve seen the stories that come after this one), and partly because they’re animated in generic, assembly-line fashion.

And then there’s Ziro the Hutt, who is bound to become the most infamous “Star Wars” character since Jar Jar Binks. Ziro is Jabba’s uncle, a jazz-club denizen who seems to be a gay pimp, or possibly a drag queen, and whose voice (provided by Corey Burton) sounds like a combination of Truman Capote and Droopy the dog. He is painfully unfunny comic relief in a movie that’s already lousy with shtick, shenanigans, and cartoon lameness.

Say what you will about the “Star Wars” films, at least they never looked cheap. “The Clone Wars” looks cheap. The computer-animated faces are expressionless, and the general quality of the art is light years behind Lucasfilms’ usual standards. They went with mostly no-name voice actors to save money, hired somebody cheap to bastardize John Williams’ musical themes, and slapped together a movie that insults everyone’s intelligence. Anakin’s conclusion while investigating the kidnapping sums up the entire movie: “This smells like Count Dooku to me.” Yes, Ani, it smells like Dooku to me, too.

D- (1 hr., 38 min.; PG, a 'hell' or 'damn' or something, and endless sci-fi cartoon violence.)