The Clone Wars Era – Out With a Bang and a Whimper

Lost Missions Blu-RayThis week marked the end of an era for many Star Wars fans with the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Lost Missions on Blu-Ray/DVD, as well as the long promised soundtrack to the series.  Clone Wars was the last project with direct involvement and input from Saga creator, George Lucas. While Lost Missions has been available for some time via Netflix and other video on demand services, finally owning the episodes on physical media gave me a feeling of closure about the series; as if I was saying goodbye to an old friend..

It would be nice if Lucasfilm/Disney would revisit this era, and these characters from time to time through books, comics, and future home video releases, but outside of an announced Ventress novel for 2015 I’m not entirely hopeful.  While having the final season of the show in the best available quality makes for a wonderful home video experience, there’s a sense that both the release of the Blu-Ray set and the soundtrack were produced on the cheap as a quick cash grab,

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Lost Missions Blu-Ray Review

The Episodes:

Jar Jar and MaceI will eventually write individual reviews for most of the major arcs of Clone Wars; so this will simply be a brief overview of what is presented on the Lost Missions disc set.  The 13 episodes on this set would have been broadcast in future seasons of The Clone Wars.  Fortunately these episode where either complete, or near completion, when Disney decided to pull the plug on the show.  The episodes are part of 4 story arcs, and frankly there’s not a bad episode in the bunch.  The show really went out with a bang.

EmboThe Clovis and Jar Jar Binks stories are certainly weaker than the Order 66 arc that opens the set, and they pale in comparison to the final Yoda arc, but they are entertaining episodes nevertheless.  However, the real meat of this set is the opening and closing arcs of this truncated “season” of Clone Wars.

ClonesThe Order 66 arc is a 1970s political conspiracy film, complete with double crosses and underhanded political machinations.  A growing sense of paranoia takes over the mood of the story as our hero, the Clone Trooper known as “Fives,” slowly begins to uncover a plot to turn the Clone Troopers against their Jedi generals.  Lucas once again does an amazing job of using truth as a blunt force weapon against the Jedi.  Fives eventually uncovers the Emperor’s ultimate aims to destroy the Jedi using a secret encoded chip inside each Clone Troopers brain, but the Jedi simply will not believe him, and dismiss his suspicions as the delusional fantasies of a Clone gone mad.  This arc, and the first part of the Yoda arc, reveal the mystery behind Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas and the creation of the Clone Army adding deeper layers to the mystery surrounding the genesis of the Clones as recounted in Attack of the Clones.

Yoda & The PriestessesFinally, The Clone Wars series officially concludes with the mesmerizing, and thought provoking Yoda arc, guest starring Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn.  During a deep Jedi meditation, Yoda hears the voice of Qui-Gon which urges him to go to Dagobah where Yoda will begin training for the next phase of his Jedi walk.  Qui-Gon explains that he will teach the venerable Jedi Master the secrets of manifesting his consciousnesses after death.  Yoda’s journey leads him to the center of the galaxy where five Force Priestesses (played beautifully by Jaime King) teach him the deepest secrets of the Force, and how the Cosmic Force and Living Force intertwine with the midichlorians creating life, and allowing for those strong in the Force to communicate with it and understand its will.

It is wonderfully deep, spiritual trip which reinforces how short sighted the Jedi Order truly is, and how they only have a narrow minded understanding of the true nature of the Force.  The arc touches on themes of religious dogmatic belief versus spiritual truth and expands the Force in ways that I hope are further examined in the Sequel Trilogy.

Presentation:

Joel AronThe high definition Blu-Ray release of Lost Missions highlights how far the show had come from its humble beginnings with its cinematic premiere and the premiere episode, “Ambush.”  What really stood out with the series was its cinematic feel, from lighting, editing, and finally to camera moves.  The show literally looks and feels like a weekly Star Wars movie which just happens to be animated.  The work of stellar Lucasfilm Animation supervisor, Joel Aron is on full display in the show’s 1080p presentation.  Shadows are deep and rich, and the show’s expansive color palette gives Clone Wars its own sense of reality and and gives establishing shots an almost photo-realistic look.

Matt & DavidNot to be outdone though is the exceptional sound effects work on the show thanks to the efforts of Star Wars veterans, Matt Wood and David Acord.  The Dolby 5.1 track highlights the amazing volume of work these two sound effects wizards brought to the series each week.  The sound is immersive and dynamic, immediately transporting the viewer to that galaxy far away.  Meanwhile, Kevin Kiner’s brilliant music adds emotional weight, and appropriate dramatic tension to every scene. Lost Missions, like all Star Wars releases, does not skimp on presentation,making for a complete movie-going-like experience for the viewer.

Extras:

Unfortunately, Lost Missions, like a lot of other Disney home video releases, is short on extras and bonus features.  Gone are the Jedi Temple Archives which had been on previous sets and gave fans options to look at pre-visualization work, production sketches, character models, and extended or deleted sequences.  Previous sets had also included little mini-documentaries highlighting the making of some of the more important arcs in the series.  Fortunately, what little there is in the way of bonus features is quite good.

Crystal CrisisThe set includes the unfinished four part Crystal Crisis on Utapau arc which was previously available on the Star Wars Official Site.  The episodes have completed vocal work, as well as music and sound effects; the only incomplete parts of the episodes is the animation.  So in a sense you are getting to watch the episodes from the perspective of George Lucas, who would see the the near complete episodes in this state before offering his recommendations, and any changes he wanted to see.  It’s a nice experience, and the vocal performances by Matt Lanter (Anakin) and James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan) are so good (frankly some of their best work on the show) that you quickly get lost in the story and forget you are watching an unfinished work.

However, the real stand out among the extras on this set is the amazing 16 minute documentary chronicling the people behind the show.  Due to its limited run time, the creators of this short make the smart decision of choosing to focus on one aspect of the show rather than trying to cram in a 6 season overview in only 16 minutes.  You can really feel the sense of nostalgia and loss among some of the Lucasfilm Animation employees featured in this short.  We are treated to some really wonderful insider secrets such as the annual Lucasfilm Animation Christmas Pot Luck which was affectionately renamed Pouchonica after Pouchon Venerin, one of the animators who arranged the yearly get together.  There is a tremendous sense of camaraderie found throughout the interviews of the Lucasfilm animators, and it is no wonder so many of them stayed on to work on Rebels.

The documentary concludes with a touching tribute of the final day of work on the show.  Joel Aron, animation supervisor, took a series of very powerful portraits of the crew.  These pictures are raw and filled with the conflicted emotions of the staff.  You can find Joel Aron’s amazing Lucasfilm Animation portraits here.  This finale is a touching tribute to the staff’s love of Star Wars, and their dedication to George Lucas, and his vision.

My only complaint about this particular extra is that it feels like one part of a larger documentary chronicling the series.  The Clone Wars really deserves a proper documentary exploring the genesis of the show, from designs, to casting, as well as a deeper examination of key moments of the series.  Hopefully, some day the show will get a complete series release along with some new bonus features for fans of the show.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Seasons 1-6 Original Soundtrack Review

Clone Wars SoundtrackThis week also saw the release of the long promised Clone Wars series soundtrack.  Unfortunately, the album is only 1 hour in length, spaced over 28 tracks.  The soundtrack is more or less a “Greatest Hits” collection gathering some of Kiner’s best work over 6 seasons.  My biggest gripe with this release is that many of the album’s tracks were previously available to listen to on Kevin Kiner’s official web site for free, and many enterprising fans have simply ripped the music, creating their own Clone Wars soundtracks.  And with 6 seasons worth of episodes to choose from, this soundtrack was bound to be missing some of Kiner’s best work from the series.

Kevin KinerHaving said that, what is actually presented in this collection is nothing short of outstanding.  The album contains some brilliant work from Kiner, including some of the best moments from Season 5 of the show.  Some of the more exceptional tracks are taken from the final Ahsoka arc.  Some pieces, like Duel in the Temple, Ahsoka Leaves, and Jedi Eulogy are as good as much of John Williams work.  Other standout tracks include the final duel music between the Emperor, Darth Maul, and Savage Oppress.  This piece is driven by Kiner’s pulsating rhythms, underscored by  classic Star Wars motifs.  Finally, one of George Lucas’ demands from Kiner when scoring the show was that each planet the series visited had to have its own theme based on ethnic and regional music found throughout the real world.  Tracks such as Rodia, and Jedi Master Aayla Secura, highlight Kiner’s amazing skill and deft ability at giving each new world it’s own “voice.”

I certainly hope this is not the final compilation of Clone Wars music we will be able to get our hands on.

Overview

Yoda vs SideousBoth the Blu-Ray release of the Lost Missions, and the series soundtrack are outstanding releases, but both releases also highlight Disney’s dismissive attitude about the series… after all it wasn’t created in house, so it isn’t their baby.  Unfortunately, that leaves fans of the show with two releases that come across as quick money grabs rather than a celebration of the importance of The Clone Wars series in both the lore of Star Wars, and as the property which carried the Star Wars banner for 5 years, and introduced new fans to the Star Wars universe.

These complaints aside, both releases get my highest recommendation.  The Blu-Ray release, despite the lack of extras, tells some of the finest Star Wars stories to date, and answers many questions fans have had about the nature of the Force, give more insights into characters from the Prequels, and provide closure to many loose plot threads.  Meanwhile, Kevin Kiner’s series soundtrack is chock full of classic Star Wars music and features highlights from some of The Clone Wars finest moments.  I wish the set included more cues, but hopefully those were saved for a future release.

You can order Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Lost Missions Blu-Ray set here

You can also order the Clone Wars Season 1-6 Soundtrack here

Clone Wars Logo

May the Force Be With You

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3 thoughts on “The Clone Wars Era – Out With a Bang and a Whimper

  1. I’d say TCW kept the Star Wars banner held high for just over 5.5 years in total (August 2008 to March 2014). If you take Rebels into consideration, Lucasfilm Animation will have been maintaining the continued existence of the Star Wars franchise for over 7 years before the release of The Force Awakens.

    If Disney want to thank anyone for delivering a thriving franchise into their hands, aside from Lucas himself, they should thank Dave Filoni.

    Hearing some of Kiner’s TCW themes makes me wish he had been given more freedom to develop interesting original themes for Rebels.

    Like

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