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Help me, Cartoon Network. You’re my only hope!

October 7, 2009

I adored the 2003 Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series, which helped bridge the gap between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Return of the Sith. The crisp, minimalist animation style looked great; the short episodes were filled with action and allowed a variety of different characters to have their chance in the spotlight. It was fun and fast paced — qualities with which the actual films struggled.

So when I heard about plans for an animated Clone Wars movie and a new tv series — both covering the same time period but using a different, colder CGI style and adding a teenage apprentice for Anakin — well… I was a little skeptical. Fortunately, although I still prefer the look of the Tartakovsky version, the new series (and yes, Anakin’s headstrong apprentice, Ahsoka) have otherwise completely won me over.

Like the original animated shorts, the 2008 series follows a variety of characters from the expanded universe (as well as more familiar favorites like Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Mace Windu).

clone wars obi

Storylines are presented in multi-episode arcs, which allows for a higher level of detail, characterization, and continuity than you might expect from a 22 minute cartoon aimed at kids. The dialog is snappy, both heroes and villains are vibrant — even the clone troopers have distinct, interesting personalities — and the whole thing is full of action.

It’s also full of female characters, which is more than you can say for either of the main trilogies. Princess Leia may be both my childhood hero and my first female crush, but she is also painfully alone. In the new movies, I wanted to love Padmé Amidala, but after a promising start, she got less and less effective in each succeeding movie before finally dying of a freaking broken heart. (Thanks for that, Lucas.)

In the Clone Wars universe, however, Padmé gets to do a lot more. She adventures and investigates; she’s got some freaking agency. She’s also got a lot more company. So far, we’ve seen female heroes and villains — Hutts, Jedi, dark Force users (the always entertaining Asajj Ventress, who I dearly wish had made it into the films), bounty hunters and senators. And, of course, Ahsoka.

clone-wars-01

Full disclosure: I love Ahsoka. She’s stubborn, loyal and brave. She makes mistakes constantly, but she also owns them. She gives Anakin crap, and also helps humanize him. She’s great.

(She also… doesn’t really fit in with the rest of what we know will be canon. So in my mind, at least, the entire animated series takes place in an alternate universe from the one of the films. A step to the left, if you will, where Anakin is a little less whiny and has a snarky apprentice. It’s more enjoyable that way, trust me.)

I think my favorite thing about her, however, is the fact that she isn’t defined by her gender. I can’t think of a single instance on the show so far where the scene would have read any differently had she been a boy. Ahsoka isn’t Anakin’s Girl Apprentice. She’s Anakin’s apprentice… who happens to be a girl. This is the kind of thing I would have killed for as a kid: plotty action show with a girl like me who gets to play the hero and  wield a lightsaber? OH, HELL YEAH.

After a successful 22 episode first season run, season two (helpfully subtitled: Rise of the Bounty Hunters), booted up with an hour long premiere last week in which a pair of enterprising bounty hunters staged a successful heist of valuable information from the Jedi archives.

bounty hunters

I am a big fan of anything involving the Jedi library, so this made my night. (Princess Leia’s awesome and all, but the truth is that if I could magically transport myself to the Star Wars universe, I’d be a Jedi librarian, no question.)

I have high hopes for this season’s arc. Bounty hunters have always been a crowd pleaser for Star Wars fans. They tend to have cool toys, and they’re the perfect clever, amoral adversaries for the Jedi, who — let’s be honest — are noble, but can sometimes be a bit priggish.

While we wait to see how the season will unfold, isn’t it nice to have new Star Wars material that you’re not embarrassed to admit you like?

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