I went to a matinee of The Clone Wars on this opening day as per the family tradition. What kind of fan would I be if I didn't write about the experience? I was a little surprised to see how few people were in the theater (less than 100 out of several hundred seats?), and that I was one of the few people donning at least a Star Wars t-shirt (that I could see), never mind a full costume. I held off on going to a midnight release, even though one was available in my local, suburban multiplex. For every single Star Wars movie, I've gone the afternoon of the opening day, ever since 1977. I wondered if I had missed the commotion from the midnight show. I was both disappointed and relieved to hear that there were only "like three" people there, apparently mostly bar stragglers, according to one attendee's account.
I didn't really know what to expect, although in general I didn't expect much judging from the lukewarm (or worse) reviews from the advanced screenings. Having low expectations was probably a good thing, because I was actually thoroughly impressed. I was almost as thrilled with the experience as I had been with other Star Wars movies. This was just different, and that I expected, but I just didn't know how it would be different nor how I would feel about it (being all Star Wars emo and all). From this point on, this review contains spoilers...
Of course, there was some choking up right from the get-go. You can flash the Lucasfilm logo and the "A long time ago..." opener at me anytime and I get misty-eyed. This is certainly a fan bias factor, but what is anything Star Wars if not a personal connection for most fans. However, this is where the major familiarity to the saga films ends. No 20th Century Fox fanfare. No opening crawl. No John Williams. No tilt from space to a ship or planet, although the "Clone Wars" logo did jettison into a space abyss, like the Star Wars logo usually does in the films. Instead, space cut to a voice like a news announcer from the WWII news reels they used to show in theaters before a movie. Alternately the voice, which overlayed "footage" of scenes relevant to the build up of the actual Clone Wars (yes, I know this is fiction), was similar in style to that of those action hero serials from the 40's and 50's Saturday matinees where the narrator would bring the audience up to speed by saying something like "Last time, our heroes narrowly escaped...". My immediate impression with this unexpected opening scene was that this really is a personal touch from George Lucas, who was raised on and inspired by those Saturday matinees, and who also can't get enough of WWII style dogfighting. Being a fan and follower of George's career, I was touched by this. It felt personal to me too, especially since I was raised on George.
One thing that did keep The Clone Wars similar in tone to the rest of the saga was the cinematography. I know that sounds strange when comparing an animation to live-action, but in Clones, the camera framing, angle, and composition were very similar to the films, and I think it gave it some of the same epic, bigger-than-life appeal.
The opening sequence subsided into a scene with some fighters over Coruscant, which was reminiscent of the opening battle sequence from Revenge of the Sith in both the look and the way the camera moved. It seemed like some sort of intermediate evolution of the space tilt we usually see right after the opening crawl. It's the first real taste we get of the whole style, look, and depth of The Clone Wars. The animation truly is unique and frankly gorgeous. It's also a little confusing at first. Some of the close-ups reveal details that are photorealistic, yet you know it's animated, especially because of the way the characters look. It looks as if they are real models made out of clay, wood, or metal - yet stylized. Maybe the digital projection helped this effect along a bit. I noticed the same thing with Wall.E, except in that case the animated human characters were cartoonish and less defined.
When I saw footage on the web, and later on TV, I had a real distaste for the look of the human characters. Their big eyes, little necks, stringy bodies, and angular faces just looked creepy (I couldn't help picturing the Bratz franchise). All the other species looked cool to me, especially Ahsoka. This all changed when I finally saw it all together on the big screen. All the characters fit into their environment (although I have to say that everyone in The Clone Wars 'verse needs some major moisturizer).
I also felt unsure about many of the voice actors for familiar characters being different from those from the movies, but they also all fit really well when watching it on the big screen. I grew into the way James Arnold Taylor captured the wit of Obi-Wan, but there were a few times the character went a little overboard, particularly when he called the Ventress "darling". That actually creeped me out. Some of the other semi-creepout moments were the hints of what seemed to me like sexual tension between Anakin and his new and very young padawan. I think the intentions behind the prolonged gazes into each others eyes, the quarreling, and other bonding experiences were geared toward invoking emotions about what we know Anakin does to the padawans and younglings later on. Maybe my mind is just in the gutter, but I could help thinking Anakin was about to cheat on Padme with intergalactic prison-bait. I wouldn't put it past him!
Also, maybe I just missed this with everything that was happening at once, but why did Anakin all of a sudden start calling Ahsoka "Snips"? For the life of me, I couldn't remember what that could possibly reference, and I was paying attention, I swear!
The bonding issue with Anakin, and what Yoda explained about wanting it to teach him to let go, is one of the most interesting themes for me, and I think this is what hurls us into the larger journey of the TV series, along with that whole war thing and the Clones and all that. I'm already starting to predict several different ways this will be portrayed. Will it redeem the Jedi for how Anakin turned out, or will it simply make us hate Anakin even more and make him impossible to redeem for slaying younglings? No matter what, I'm sure there will be as many different fan reactions, theories, and opinions as there are stars in the galaxy far, far away.
So overall I was extremely pleased, and even though it wasn't without faults in the story and dialogue department (even though it was easy enough to follow the main story points), it was filled with so much visual awesomeness and action that the faults didn't distract me, even with the all the kids chattering in the theater. And action galore there was. A lot of reviewers seem to feel there was too much action, but for me, as soon as it started to seem like it was going to be too long, something came in to move the story forward. It definitely calls me back for return theater viewings, for both the visual experience and to catch the things I couldn't absorb the first time.