Just when you thought all the light sabers had been laid to rest, George Lucas delivers a forceful summer surprise with “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which opens Friday.
The new animated feature, the unexpected spawn of the upcoming television series debuting on Cartoon Network and TNT this fall, takes place between the second and third installments of the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy.
It chronicles one Jabba the Hutt-tinged chapter in the infamous Clone Wars, hinted at in several of the big-screen outings.
Ironically, Lucas, who is the film’s executive producer, had no idea he’d ever be taking “Clone Wars” to the multiplex.
“When we did ‘Revenge of the Sith,’ I lamented the fact that I had to jump over the Clone Wars,” he said during a recent press briefing at Skywalker Ranch in Marin. “I thought, it’s too bad because they’re like World War II. There was a great, great canvas.”
He opted, instead, to do a five-minute “Clone Wars” animation series on the Cartoon Network, which eventually led to the upcoming half-hour weekly outing. Things immediately changed once he saw early footage from the series. “It was better than we ever imagined it to be,” he said, and he quickly assembled a feature film team for a separate story.
The result ushers in a slew of innovative feats from Lucas Animation, in its first full-length feature release. It also introduces two strong female characters, Ahsoka Tano, a teenage girl assigned to serve as Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice; and Asajj Ventress, a formidable foe working with the villanous Count Dooku.
Familiar characters — Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), Padmé, C-3PO and R2-D2 — are also on board.
But the fun part about animating this section of the “Star Wars” story was that it opened up the playing field.
“We were allowed to do stories about the clone troopers and get to know them; know what Jabba the Hutt’s family is all about — things that don’t have anything to do with the [films],” Lucas says. “We were not tied to this mythological uber story about the psychological pangs of why somebody turns into a bad person.
“Everybody wants to go to what they know,” he adds, “but to create something new from scratch, with new technology, is really hard.”
Even harder may be imagining something beyond “Clone Wars,” but Lucas isn’t about to jump out of creative hyperspace. On the horizon: A live-action “Star Wars” television series, set to unravel within a few years.
Out of this world.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
STARRING: Anthony Daniels, Matthew Wood
WRITTEN BY: Henry Gilroy
DIRECTED BY: David Filoni
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 38 minutes