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Star Wars: The Clone Wars — A Big Pile of Dooku

A long, long time ago, in a California mansion far away — George Lucas ran out of ideas. So, for the new cartoon feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is set between episodes II and III, he has outsourced story, script, and direction duties to younglings who take the saga down to the level of an 8-year-old playing with his action figures with many happy shouts of “Shoop! Ptaw! Fwooooooom!”

The look is, bizarrely enough, modeled after that of the 1960s cult TV show The Thunderbirds. That’s right. Lucas decided it would be cool if his characters looked like they were carved out of blocks of wood and moved jerkily, like marionettes. Considering the state of computer animation, that is a little like deciding to model your jumbo jet after an Edsel.

Anakin Skywalker and Ben Kenobi are still the best of buddies, fighting the growing separatist movement that will become the evil Empire. There are clones on one side and droids on the other side, but what’s the difference? Both consist of anonymous armies of automata that appear to have been programmed with only two functions: behave stupidly and be destroyed easily. There’s much light saber battling and laser-gun firing as Anakin learns that he’s been saddled with a pupil, or Padawan. She’s a wisecracking orange-hued girl in a tube top, miniskirt, and knee-high boots who calls him “Sky Guy,” and Anakin’s response to her suggests Mr. Roper with a light saber.

For political reasons, the good guys need the support of Jabba the Hutt, who holds the power to deny the Jedi the rights to pass through his corner of the universe — sort of like an intergalactic France. Like those Saddam-suppliers in Paris, Jabba’s got some shady connections: It turns out he has a purply uncle who lives in an Art Deco sin city. The uncle, dubbed Ziro the Hutt, has an effete manner, a general air of decadence, and a Truman Capote accent, so I kept thinking of him as Nambla the Hutt.

The two Hutts are both interested in Jabba the H’s kidnapped son, a puppy-sized squirt referred to as a Huttlet (Huttlett?). In order to get more suction with Jabba, the Jedi need to capture the fussy infant boy, whom they call Stinky and Jabba calls his “little punky muffin.”

In keeping with the general intent to show females as warriors instead of models for unfortunate haircuts, the villain is a dark lady from the Dark Side, Ventress. She is a shaven-headed piece of work in a backless top and lipstick she uses to give herself an unappealing Fu Manchu. She is able to wield light sabers in both hands as she and Anakin try to strike each other down. But after seven movies light saber battles are starting to look an awful lot like ordinary sword fights, and Clone Wars hasn’t come up with any new ways to stage them.

Everyone flits around trying to sound rakish (“That shield is certainly putting a crimp in my day!”) and issuing the Star Wars technobabble (the mission to rescue the Huttlet must be completed in “one planetary revolution” — isn’t that the same as “a day?”) that exhausted my interest somewhere around the third month of puberty.

It may be time for the Empire to think about bringing in some efficiency consultants. One can forgive them for building one Death Star that could be destroyed with a single shot, but then they built the same flaw into the next one. This time the evil army gets its impenetrable defense shield zapped because they don’t notice Anakin and his Padawan are hiding under a box the droid soldiers literally have to step over and around.

Sussing out who is behind all the skullduggery, Anakin says, “This smells like Count Dooku to me,” but to these two nostrils it’s the whole series that’s starting to smell like a big pile of Dooku. With each succeeding movie, the franchise’s value gets more diluted. What’s Lucas’s next big idea for brand extension: Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Darth?

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS

Directed by David Filoni

2 stars out of 4

99 minutes/Rated PG