The trailer for season two of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” hit the Internet today, sporting a new bounty hunter villain …
…and a love interest for Obi Wan.
Regular Retort readers may already know I have no real love of the Prequel Trilogy, so when the first of these post-Revenge of the Sith animated projects began to trickle out (featuring not the original Star Wars setting with Han and Leia and asskicking, but the new ones, with Anakin and trade disputes and whining) I sniffed my haughtiest sniff.
But in 2003 Genndy Tartakovsky, maker of Dexter’s Laboratory and the delicious-like-sake Samurai Jack, hit Cartoon Network with this:
The first Star Wars: The Clone Wars project bought my attention because it gave us Jedi like this …
… who could do this …
… and this …
That’s right. A Jedi removed the bolts from a droid using his mind. These were not your father’s Jedi. These were a bunch of magic ninjas who said, “You know what? We can do a lot of cool moves with this Force thing. Let’s really push it and see what this baby can do, eh?” The series almost redeemed the Prequel Trilogy in my eyes.
But could lightning strike twice? Last summer, a feature-length, non-Tartakovsky Clone Wars hit theaters bearing Tartakovsky’s influence, but with decidedly fuglier animation choices:
Reviews were pretty tepid, and by the time the boys and I sat down to watch it on DVD, I had gone lukewarm on the whole thing. I have to admit that as I watched, I found it more endearing than I expected: It made a little more hay out of its characters than the live-action movies. For example, Anakin gets an apprentice, the spunky Ahsoka (left), requiring Ani to develop as a leader and giving him a chance to be more than the whiny hanger-on he appeared to be in the Prequel Trilogy. Also, the clone troopers are treated as more than cannon fodder, building a few new key characters under those generic masks. Commander Cody and Captain Rex turn a troop of faceless clones into a “Band of Brothers” episode. (Of course, clones are still cannon fodder. Plenty make messy exits. But now, I actually cared if some of them were going to get Private Ryan’ed into oblivion.)
The movie kicked off a half-hour series on Cartoon Network, and I found my admiration growing. Characters had things to do! Choices weren’t easy! Dialog was crisp! Or funny! Or both! My kids and I howled several times at the memorable lines now coming out of the lowly B1 droids, those Laurel & Hardy everybots of the Star Wars universe. We still repeat a line said by one exasperated droid seen scrubbing down a dirty holding cell:
“No doubt about it,” he mopes. “Worst job in the droid army.”
Even robots have a rat race! In the episode “Mystery of a Thousand Moons,” we even get to see what happens when B1s get abandoned by their evil bosses and reprogrammed by scrappy street kids with a sense of humor:
I was thoroughly enjoying this show, but couldn’t put my finger on something eating away at me. Something was wrong about it somewhere. Was I just not allowing myself to enjoy a Star Wars story again? Was my inner geek too bitter and pouty to let me have this moment? Then my friend Tim put a fine point on it:
“It would be great,” he said, “if it just weren’t about the most evil guy in the Star Wars universe who was about to go kill all the Jedi babies.”
Bingo. The problem here is that we’re still looking at the conflicted and conflicting Anakin Skywalker being turned into a hero on a regular, episodic basis. We’re cheering for him at every turn, even when he’s being disobedient and flirtatious with the Dark Side. But we all know, just a few months in the future from where these characters sit, Rex and Cody and their buddies are going to rat-a-tat-tat a bunch of Jedi, and Anakin is going to Do His Part for the Revolution by practicing infanticide on little kids with rat-tail haircuts and shaggy burlap swaddling cloths.
It doesn’t click. You can’t reconcile these two characters, not when Anakin is clearly meant to be sympathetic and heroic. It’s difficult to enjoy these stories, knowing in the back of your head that all of the derring-do is going to net a big, fat goose egg in the big, fat picture. All of these victories? Soon to be pointless. All of the relationships? Soon to be betrayed. All of the emotion? Soon to be wasted.
But it’s too good of a show (and for me, too necessary a catharsis) to ignore. How to enjoy it then? Do like I do. Pretend you’re not looking at Anakin Skywalker, but another Jedi completely, one named Bananakin Sky-Walter or something. This story could fit anywhere at any time in the Star Wars timeline. Whatever comes next is a big surprise — no telling how this conflict will play out! Whatever you pretend, shut down that part of your brain that tells you what you already know about the story. Shut. It. Down.
It’s asking a lot, I know. But storytelling is all a game of pretend, after all. My way, it’s not just a one-way street of pretending coming at you from your TV — now you get to send some back for a change.