Author of Space Bastards, Eric Peterson watches Star Wars: The Clone Wars for the first time and weighs in!
WHY CLONE WARS IS GOOD. AND WHY I WISH EVERYTHING ELSE WAS AS GOOD. By Eric Peterson
I have six episodes left to watch of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I have watched over 100 of these episodes. I have watched zero “bad” episodes. By that I mean I have yet to watch a single episode of The Clone Wars that has left me feeling that it was poorly written or executed. There may be some story arcs that are less than enthralling for me. There are some that are not my favorites. But even those do not let me down, leave me wondering “Why is this character acting this way?” or making me roll my eyes with poor expository scenes or other nuances that are so often in television and film writing these days.
The Clone Wars greatly reminds me of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s different shows in the DC Animated Universe. I’m referring to “Batman the Animated Series,” “Justice League Unlimited“, etc. The shows are very similar in some key ways:
- Both and Paul Dini writing some episodes. But I think that is just chance. I don’t believe that is why both are so good. Mainly:
- Both shows just have a tendency to at the very least, at their very worst, do everything right.
Neither series is Game of Thrones. Nor are they Breaking Bad. But those shows are mathematically different, to their very core. They are dramatic shows, with short seasons, meant to keep millions and millions of viewers dialed in for a very limited amount of weeks over a very small amount of seasons.
No, what the DC Animated Universe shows and The Clone Wars both do really well is making sure that they uphold a very strict level of quality over a very long period of time. I also feel they are “fine wine viewing.” What I mean is that they take their time. They do not seek out huge events that span several episodes, seasons, etc. They do not need to. Sure, there’s stuff like the Darth Maul stuff that is a huge deal… Or in the DC Animated Universe, maybe the whole Cadmus arc… But these are not shows that go “Eh, forget all the other stuff. Lets get there.” No. They give us lots of adventures– things that we may not even acknowledge we want to see (like a diminutive alien colonel with a bunch of droids stranded on a mirage planet), because they REALLY just want to show us things that THEY like. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it all turns out okay, most times, because by the end we end up relishing the stories because regardless of the topic, they are just so well told. They make sense, namely. They have empathetic characters. The math is all there, and it never falls below a point of quality. I wish more TV shows and films would do this. To me, it is night and day when compared with a lot of other media out there.
Let me put it this way. Lets take that Star Wars: The Clone Wars arc I just addressed. I don’t know the name, really. We’ll call it “The Droid A-Team.” 4 episodes (Ed. The Void arc). Think about that. 4 episodes. They spent XXXXX amount of dollars making four 22-minute episodes telling that story. Spanning 3 real different locations. And by the end, we see a clone trooper become born again. We see sacrifice. We see a really mean character, arguably racist, grow sympathetic.
Now, I don’t want to waste a bunch of space and time talking meanly about movies out there. So lets just do this. Take the latest movie that you and your spouse, date, kids, whoever, decided to go out to see. Specifically because you thought it would be “dumb fun.” I do not mean The Lego Movie. Think of your throwaway action movie night. Think of that director who makes really dumb movies about big robots that wreck cities or whatever.
Now, if you’re like my friends on the internet, I can basically slice right down the middle of that crowd with a soft knife. Half of you are like “Yeah, that was fun. Seemed dumb. But I had fun.” The other half will go “Man, I could just not get past how dumb this was. I mean, I didn’t expect MUCH, but I expected SOMEthing that worked.” Now, on the internet, these two halves may call each other names and argue about the film’s merits.
But lets hold The Clone Wars right next to that movie. Now, The Clone Wars is not amazing viewing. It is not. It isn’t Citizen Kane, is what I’m saying. Its simplistic. But take that horrible movie you just saw and either just ignored its problems, or that horrible movie you really just cannot get over its dumbness, and hold it right up there next to ANY series arc in The Clone Wars.
Its night and day, right? And why? That latest dumb action movie with the fast cars and the muscle guys and the hot girls is simplistic, right? I mean, what is the REAL difference?
I feel that the real difference is in a very small amount of details that I wish that every single movie or TV show would just follow. Really, The Clone Wars is simplistic enough, and yet I don’t think any of us can argue that somehow this simple TV program really never dips below a certain level of quality. And I would bet that TV show at any given time has less people and budget than your $100,000,000 3 year action film. So what is the big difference?
- Why does The Clone Wars always seem to make sense?
- Why do the characters always seem to act like real characters? Why is Ahsoka always acting like Ahsoka (other than on Mortis or other situations where there is a reason for change)?
- Why are there not huge 5 minute long scenes where the villain paces back and forth badly just TALKING about his plans (we call this bad expository dialogue– telling and not showing)?
- Why are we always feeling loss when we’re supposed to feel loss? Why are we feeling joy when we’re supposed to be feeling joy?
Its because even though The Clone Wars can be diet cola pulp fiction sometimes (which it is, but thats its own topic), its writers, directors, and producers all follow a strict mandate about making sure that those above points are all taken into consideration. And they should. I mean, why wouldn’t you? Is there ever a point in the world where a director of _____ throwaway action movie is going, “Forget any of those points. I want people to feel NOTHING. I want them to just like my shots.” Sadly, it does happen. But it doesn’t need to.
I sometimes wish it was the norm in Hollywood to just have a new crew title for someone who maybe isn’t a full writer, but who can come in with a checklist and go “Okay, my job is not to ADD characters, or ADD new things to your movie. My job is to say ‘Nope. Right here this guy who walked into this table and stubbed his toe would not react this way. Change the dialogue. That is all. Just a simple change.'” Because the devil is in the details. You do not need ACTION MOVIE 5: THIS TIME ITS ACTIONIER to be Citizen Kane. It does not need to be The Great Gatsby just to make sure its making, you know, as much SENSE as The Great Gatsby.
I truly believe that shows like the DC Animated Universe or Star Wars: The Clone Wars understand and follow the same totems that really are valuable, even if viewers sometimes do not realize it themselves. Honestly, these are two simple shows, but the devil is in the details, and its that little attention to detail that upholds a really staunchly supportive beacon of quality from beginning to end. Think about a show you used to love, that maybe just hasn’t had a great season in a year or two. A show that is faltering. How would that show be if it wasn’t any more complex, but maybe just didn’t let you down as much?
Its a rare thing these days, and it does not have to be. I’m very happy, and greatly supportive, of shows like The Clone Wars that seem to almost follow a Pixar-like “quality of work” story Bible. Of course we know in Star Wars there are like MANY codex books to follow, from their various Keepers. But really, I feel that “quality of work” checklist, or ruleset, is what separates this and makes it so darn good. Always.
May the Force be with those guys on Star Wars Rebels.
-Eric PetersonHopefully Eric weighs in on those final episodes, if he finds them compelling (which we know he will).