Star Wars: Clone Wars, Volume Two
Though they were certainly giddy, weird, sugar-crack fun, the first volume of Genndy Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars "micro-series" was constrained by its format. At three minutes apiece, there was only time for wall-to-wall action in each of the 20 cartoons found in Volume One. And if you watched them all in a marathon sitting, it felt like one gorgeous, clever, content-light, hour-long fight scene with all the overkill that implies. (Even the filmmakers admit it's a little "hectic" in a single dose.) Volume One had the joyful spirit of the original Star Wars, but the dramatic heft of a video game. Clone Wars Vol. Two takes a different tack and comes up with richer dramatic rewards. Initially broadcast on the Cartoon Network (and released online) in five longer chapters, Volume Two tells an epic, cohesive story that pauses here and there for quiet character moments. After a quick rescue of the Jedi menaced by General Grievous at the end of Volume One, we see Anakin promoted to full Jedi Knight. Then we flash-forward two years to the events immediately preceding Revenge of the Sith: While Grievous leads an all-out assault on Coruscant and chases Palpatine and his Jedi bodyguards across the city, Anakin and Obi-Wan journey to the planet Nelvaan (named for Nelvana Studios, the Canadian outfit that produced the first Boba Fett cartoon from the "Star Wars Holiday Special"). After stumbling on a primitive tribe whose warriors have all gone missing, Anakin undertakes a vision quest/rescue mission that eerily foretells his own grim future.
It's surprising how many significant events from Star Wars lore found their way into this cartoon which is, ultimately, just an exceptionally high-grade piece of television animation. It's Tartakovsky, not Lucas, who shows us Anakin's knighting by Yoda, Anakin's "Jedi trial," Anakin and Padme carrying on their secret marriage, the gold-plating of C-3PO, Grevious being trained by Count Dooku, Grevious in all his relentless homicidal splendor, the Siege of Coruscant, the fraternal bonding of Anakin and Obi-Wan, and Anakin's fever-dream vision of his own doom. (As fans complained after Volume One's release, it might have been nice to see some of this mythologically huge stuff in the actual prequel trilogy.) Once again, working on a tight deadline, Tartakovsky has tapped a main-line into the collective geek brain: Taken as a single two-hour action movie, all the Clone Wars cartoons make for a genuinely great Star Wars experience one crammed with visual jokes and action bits your inner child always wanted to see (Jedi in space! Jedi taking out warships with lightsabers! Massive clonetrooper and droid casualties!) Whatever the prequel trilogy's shortcomings, Mr. Lucas is an absolute gent for letting Tartakovsky and his team run wild with his characters and, in some cases, improve upon them.
Fox's Clone Wars Volume Two DVD looks and sounds great, presented in an anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. It's revelatory if all you'd seen were the online versions of these cartoons and the extras are succinct but not uninteresting. An audio commentary by director/co-writer Tartakovsky and his crew features them spending a lot of time talking about their ridiculously tight deadline. The documentary "Connecting the Dots" is about how Tartakovsky tried to merge his cartoon so seamlessly with Episode III that it almost feels like part of the live-action film (10 min.). Also on board are video-game trailers for "Star Wars Battlefront II" and "Star Wars: Empire at War," a playable Xbox demo of "Battlefront II," stills galleries of sketches, storyboards, posters and artwork, the Episode II trailer, and a bizarre Star Wars Lego commercial called "Revenge of the Brick" (5 min.) THX Optimizer, keep-case.