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Star Wars: The Clone Wars(TV) (2009-2010)
As the Clone Wars sweep through the galaxy, the heroic Jedi Knights – including Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master Yoda and padawan Ahsoka Tano – struggle to maintain order and restore peace. But despite the best efforts of these brave protectors, more and more planets are falling prey to the sinister forces of the dark side…
For more about Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray release, see the Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on November 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: André Sogliuzzo, Mat Lucas, James Arnold Taylor, Grey DeLisle, Corey Burton, Ashley Eckstein
» See full cast & crew
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray Review
Lucasfilm Animation assembles a strong sophomore season...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 1, 2010
Will Star Wars ever die? I'm beginning to think the far-flung franchise Uncle George built is impervious to anything and everything that might cause it to fade into obscurity. Creative hurdles, a god-awful Christmas special, Bea Arthur, a revolving door of filmmakers, daunting FX challenges, yub-yubbing Ewoks, Special Edition re-releases, Greedo's shaky aim, three divisive prequels, Jar Jar Binks, death by broken heart and time itself have tried to hamper the allure of a good lightsaber -- an elegant weapon for a more civilized age -- but each one has failed to put a dent in the cultural Super Star Destroyer that is Star Wars. Notice I didn't add The Clone Wars to that list. While the animated series' poorly received theatrical debut convinced many a skeptical fan that the show was destined to disappoint, the first season surprised everyone, delivering a thrilling, twenty-two episode deluge of intergalactic action and adventure worthy of the name Star Wars. It wasn't perfect and its all-ages framework left a few sour enthusiasts grumbling, but in many ways, it was better than Lucas' prequel films. In fact, at its best, it even brushed shoulders with the Original Trilogy. Audiences of all ages cheered and expectations skyrocketed accordingly, burdening its second season with immeasurably high hopes. So how does Season Two fare? Much like the first season, the clones' second outing makes the most of the mythos, expands the story in exciting new directions, actively dissects fan-favorite characters, explores many familiar and not-so-familiar locales, introduces a slew of well-conceived upstarts and budding villains, has a great deal of fun playing in Lucas' sandbox and, yes, makes a few missteps along the way.
Sandwiched snuggly between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the agile animated actioner digs into the sprawling war first alluded to some thirty-three years ago in Episode IV. On one side of the three-year conflict: the noble Republic, the Jedi order and an army of clones (each one voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). On the other: the seedy Separatists, the sinister Sith and legions of expendable droids. This season, Count Dooku (Corey Burton) and General Grievous (Matthew Wood) take a back seat to a bevy of baddies, each one eager to take advantage of the warring factions and the wartorn planets caught in their wake. (No need to cry foul. There's only so much a series can do with a pair of villains whose fate is already known. As far as I'm concerned, the decision to bench the Big Guns from time to time was a wise one.) Pirates, bounty hunters, assassins, turncoats, thieves, spies and political opportunists slither into the fray and make for a fittingly wretched hive of scum and villainy. Some prove to be deadly opponents -- gun-slinging cutthroat Cad Bane (Burton), milk-skinned killer Aurra Sing (Jaime King), a mind-warping Geonosian monstrosity, a Mandalorian terrorist organization and a certain young clone (Daniel Logan) still mourning the loss of his father -- while others seem to be little more than lightsaber fodder, but few slink into the shadows without first posing a legitimate threat.
Dooku, Grievous and Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) may have lesser roles this time around, but the Jedi, the clones and their allies arrive in force. Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) continues to earn his stripes as thankless teacher, tireless warrior and respected commander, and emerges as a far more charismatic hero than his silver screen counterpart. More a lightsaber-wielding Han Solo than a brooding, lovelorn malcontent, Lanter and Lucasfilm Animation's rendition of Skywalker outclasses Hayden Christensen's and suggests Lucas would do well to relinquish the galactic reigns more often. It isn't all selflessness and sacrifice though. Unsettling hints of darkness creep in as well, and further seeds of anger, fear and impulsiveness are planted in the Jedi's psyche. Meanwhile, Anakin's Padawan, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), comes into her own, slowly evolving from series youngling to viable protagonist, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) continues his transition from master to friend as his relationship with Anakin evolves and unexpected revelations about his past come to light (an old Mandalorian flame among them).
Meanwhile, well-intentioned politicos Padmé Amidala (Catherine Taber), Bail Organa (Phil LaMarr) and... sigh, Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) continue to do their best to sway a stagnant Senate and offer diplomacy across the galaxy; each dutiful clone trooper is presented as a true individual and unique personality (a wonderfully realized element that remains one of the best aspects of the series); and other familiar faces including Plo Koon (James Arnold Taylor), Luminara Unduli (Olivia d'Abo), Aayla Secura (Jennifer Hale), Ki-Adi-Mundi (Brian George), R2D2 and C3PO (Anthony Daniels), while used sparingly, lend their unique skill sets to the fight. Granted, Yoda (Tome Kane) is often underutilized (Season One's "Ambush" left me hungry for more Yoda-centric entries) and Mace Windu (Terrence C. Carson) is sometimes relegated to more hands-off tasks, but with such a vast ensemble of characters to draw from, old and new, the episode-to-episode variety is appreciated. Likewise, the Jedi don't solve every problem with a lightsaber, the clones show they have more to offer the fight than their blasters and the politicians, dry as their trade-route banter and blockade chit-chat can be, brandish some unorthodox weapons. I have no doubt some Season One junkies will be upset with the relative lack of lightsaber battles in Season Two -- I felt the icy sting of missed opportunity now and again myself -- but the more subtle deployments of the clone and droid armies, the Jedi Order, Star Wars' creepy and colorful criminal underworld and the ever-mysterious Force more than make up for it.
Lucasfilm Animation continually chooses the path least taken. It would have been easy to give diehard Star Wars fans exactly what they were asking for: more Jedi vs. Sith showdowns, more Original Trilogy allusions, more planet-wide assaults, more classic origin stories, more lightsabers, more super weapons... more of everything that's been done before. But it's clear that the showrunners live, breathe and bleed Star Wars, so much so that they aren't interested in telling stories similar to those that have already been told. Realistically, how many times can Anakin face Dooku, fight to a stalemate and walk away angry before the dance wears thin? How often can Anakin and Grievous narrowly miss bumping into each other before it feels contrived? (Lest we forget, when Anakin encounters Grievous in the opening scenes of Episode III, the two are meeting for the first time.) How many hours can be devoted to Obi Wan and the future Dark Lord of the Sith before their supporting cast begins to feel extraneous? It leads to some hit-or-miss storytelling -- the highly anticipated Mandalorian arc is a bit stuffy for its own good, the overcrowded "Bounty Hunters" (inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai) would have really benefited from ten more minutes, and Cad Bane and his flock, the thrust of the series' second-season marketing campaign, disappear for the better part of eighteen episodes -- but it also keeps The Clone Wars and the Greater Star Wars mythos from growing stale.
A number of episodes stand out; too many, in fact, to discuss at length here. "Holocron Heist," "Cargo of Doom" and "Children of the Force" make for a captivating three-part opening volley, "Landing at Point Rain" and "Weapons Factory" are as riveting as they come, "Legacy of Terror" and "Brain Invaders" transform an initially laughable concept into a fierce frightfest (parents of young children beware), "The Deserter" weaves one of the finest clone stories to date, "Cat and Mouse" is a blast from start to finish, "The Zillo Beast" and "The Zillo Beast Strikes Back" work wonders (and feature the series' first implementation of fully destructible CG environments), and "Death Trap," "R2 Come Home" and "Lethal Trackdown" tie up loose ends, hint at intriguing developments on the horizon and manage to effectively mine both film trilogies for material. Imperfect as it may be, Season Two delighted my entire family, sent my son on a Star Wars action figure bender and kept me begging for more. I'm sure debate will rage as to which season of The Clone Wars is superior, and I'm sure some disgruntled fans will walk away disheartened by the series' direction, but I know exactly what my family and I will be watching every Friday night this fall.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray, Video Quality
Upon first glance, the second season's 1080p/VC-1 encode is a striking one. I have no doubt many viewers will simply breathe a sigh of relief, eagerly applaud Warner's efforts and call it a day. However, upon closer inspection, a number of technical issues and digital anomalies undermine Lucasfilm Animation's spirited efforts; enough to leave my video score hovering somewhere between a 3.5 and a 4.0. Smoke, rolling fog and dust clouds are haunted by faint artifacting and blocking (the worst of which plagues "Landing at Point Rain"), banding appears to some degree in every episode (often quite minor, on occasion terribly obvious), a handful of scenes suffer from brief, inexplicable oddities (a random burst of noise here, a disrupted splash of color there) and the black expanse of space, though wonderfully rich and inky on the whole, is a tad muted in several shots. Each individual issue is admittedly minor, but together, they amount to an imperfect, borderline problematic presentation. Comparisons between the Blu-ray editions of Season One and Season Two even confirm a slight but notable difference in quality.
Should any of that give Star Wars fans or series newcomers pause? Not at all. Far more often than not, Season Two looks fantastic, and its dazzling array of vibrant colors and pixel-perfect fine details make it easy to shrug off the encode's arguably negligible defects. Absorbing film-noir shadows flank Cad Bane at every turn, blaster bolts and lightsabers ignite the screen, Mustafarian lava and Mandalorian skies are bold and beautiful, and every bright Holocron blue and warm Togruta orange impresses. From episode to episode, contrast is strong and stable, edges are sharp and clean, the animators' faux-brush-stroked aesthetics are both remarkably refined and exceedingly well resolved, and the entire presentation handily outclasses Cartoon Network's high definition broadcast. It's so stunning at times, in fact, that casual viewers will be smitten and only the most discerning videophiles will raise any objections. If I could, I'd give the second season's encode a 3.7 or a 3.8. Ah well, I'll just round up.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Oh, to be overwhelmed by the ragged roar of an exploding Republic attack cruiser, the fury of a Geonosian ground war or the crackle of clashing lightsabers. But it appears Star Wars fans will have to wait for the Blu-ray debut of Episodes I-VI to experience the beloved franchise in all its lossless glory. (Or pop in the Blu-ray release of the critically panned 2008 Clone Wars feature film if all else fails.) Sadly, Season Two drops out of hyperspace with a passable but unremarkable 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track; one that bests the quality of the show's television broadcast, but doesn't unleash the tremendous power swirling at the series' core. Dialogue is crisp and clear (so much so that it sometimes muffles the remaining soundscape), familiar effects are given opportunities to shine and Kevin Kiner's rousing score slices through the thick of battle. Even so, the experience is largely a front-heavy one. The rear speakers are certainly active, but far more often than not, they stuck me as passive; as if they always had something worthwhile to contribute, but were frequently told to pipe down. The LFE channel doesn't exactly suffer the same fate -- action scenes, a variety of explosions, violent force pushes, visions and mind tricks, bombing runs and city assaults pack welcome punch -- but it does tend to abandon the series whenever danger isn't at the forefront of an episode. Likewise, directionality is merely decent, dynamics could use more oomph, and ambience and acoustics, though typically present to some degree, are lackadaisical on the whole.
The result is an inconsistent listening experience that bobbles between thin and full, distant and enveloping, underwhelming and satisfying. Worse, when the showrunners hurl everything they've got at the screen (war, lightsabers, blasters, tanks, shuttles, music, burning buildings, shouting clones, scuttling droids and more), the lossy track struggles with its limitations, reducing everything to a manageable but less-than-exceptional sonic storm that lacks the polish and precision of a lossless beast. Should that prevent anyone from enjoying or purchasing Season Two? Absolutely not. It may not sound as amazing as it clearly could, but Warner's standard Dolby Digital track is an adequate alternative to an unrealized ideal.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While far from disappointing, The Complete Season Two's supplemental package isn't as filling as its Season One counterpart. There aren't any Director's Cut episodes(the first series release had seven), the 3-disc set's "Temple Archives" and "Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes" aren't as hefty as before, and there isn't anything new to get excited about. That being said, Season Two still boasts more than three hours of bonus materials, each episode is presented in its never-before-seen 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the Digibook itself is an attractive, smartly designed case sure to draw attention. Not too shabby.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you enjoyed the first season of The Clone Wars, nabbing a copy of Season Two will probably be one the easiest decisions you make this week. Unfolding in unexpected, interesting and exciting directions, the series continues to distance itself from its feature film debut, entertain audiences of all ages and give fanboys an animated actioner worth savoring. Just be warned: the Blu-ray edition of Season Two does have a few issues. Its video transfer, while striking, isn't as pristine as its predecessor's; its standard Dolby Digital audio mix, decent as it might be, is underwhelming; and its supplemental package, though brimming with more than three hours of material, isn't quite as generous as its Season One counterpart. But none of that should dissuade anyone from spending some real quality time with this otherwise impressive 3-disc set.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Other Seasons
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Star Wars The Clone Wars S1 & S2 $25.99 - March 27, 2011
Starting today and for a week, Amazon is offeringStar Wars: The Clone Wars, The Complete Season One and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Complete Season Two for only $25.99 each (57% off MSRP). The price tracker shows that this is the cheapest these two DigiBook ...
• Clone Wars Season 2 Blu-ray in October - May 28, 2010
On October 26, Warner Home Video, in association with Lucasfilm Ltd., will release Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Complete Season Two. This four-disc set will include all 22 episodes from Season Two, featuring bounty hunters, space pirates, giant monsters, mind-controlling ...
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