Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Clone Wars (no, not Retro-Clones)

[or not]

My wife and I have been talking about down-sizing our TV costs by dropping our “On Demand” service, mainly because we don’t watch nearly as much television as we used to. The problem is that we DO enjoy a few television shows but due to scheduling conflicts we don’t often have the chance to view them when they actually air…and while I could go without most TV programs (I have in the past, lived for years without a television set), watching the occasional show on TV is one of the few things my wife and I can share. We just don’t have many hobbies in common: she is NOT a gamer.

So we’re talking about dropping the On Demand, but we haven’t yet. So over the weekend I had a chance to watch something that I had never yet seen, namely episodes of the Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Now it might surprise folks that with all my Star Wars love I’ve never (before) watched the Clone Wars…after all it’s been around for four or five seasons, and my favorite character (Count Dooku) figures prominently in the series, or so I’ve read. But as with gaming, my wife does NOT share my love of Star Wars and is likewise NOT a fan of cartoons/animation. And, truth-be-told, I’m not as big a fan of animation as I once was…certainly not television, syndicated animation. Yes, some of it is clever, maybe even quality, but as I said I have little time for television in general…tuning in to an animated series that my wife would pitch a fit over is pretty low on my priority list. Especially on Friday nights!

But I happened to be up REALLY late Saturday night (a little too much coffee with dinner) and there was nothing else on, and the wife and child were asleep and I happened to see the Clone Wars On Demand…a few anyway. So I watched the three most recent episodes.

Here are my thoughts:

- Wow. Cartoons have changed a helluva lot since I last watched ‘em. Talk about fantastic animation. If CGI can make kiddie shows look this good, why do all the movies on the SciFi channel end up sucking so much? I mean, besides the poor stories, plotting, and acting?

- Wow. Cartoons have changed a helluva lot, STORY-WISE, since the last time I watched ‘em. Linked episodes, the ones I watched were a straight-up war story, not an action-adventure-in-space cartoon. The plot centered military tactics and chain-o-command problems, duty and loyalty, honor and conscience. At the same time, the episodes managed to A) show the human side of (basically) stormtrooper clones and B) show the utter callous nature of clones towards anyone besides their own. The way they casually walk by downed opponents and fire a few shots into ‘em to make sure their good and dead…this is on the Kids Network? Whoa!

- I wouldn’t call The Clone Wars space opera…and I don’t want my space opera game to look like it. At the same time, I don’t think you could model it using an RPG like Cartoon Action Hour. I’m not sure if it IS RPG fodder. Which is (in some ways) kind of sad. Even Robotech/Macross had story lines in addition to being a “cartoon war story.” Clone Wars is a strange beast.

- I see why an outfit like Fantasy Flight Games would pick up the license for Star Wars when this is the main media output of the Lucas franchise. The Clone Wars is just begging to be made into a table-top war game, similar to what Games Workshop did with The Lord of the Rings. Watching the show was like watching a dramatization of a WH40K game, except with more meaning or “context” due to the storied history of the Star Wars universe. That context is what GW’s 40K universe lacks…I can’t imagine that FFG isn’t partnering with GW to make a tabletop game using clones and Jedi versus various Separatist forces. NOT that this is what *I* want from Star Wars, but it’s tough not to see the marketing potential inherent here.

- The CW gives me even more reason to ignore the growing “Star Wars canon.” The besalisk jedi master? He’s a role-playing twink’s wet dream. Three meters of Jedi muscle, four arms, two double-bladed sabre-staffs, and the ability to leap 30m into the air. Now THAT’s cartoony. Difficult to believe this guy got punked by clones the way Aayla Secura did (though as I’ve written before, she was only a ret-conned badass…same with Ki-Adi Mundi).

All right, that’s all I planned on writing about yesterday (that I didn’t get to). I have a couple more RPG-specific thoughts that are non-Clone Wars related that I hope to pen in the next couple days. Provided I can find a little time!
: )


  1. Not have a TV, you can find just about everything online via a hulu subscription ($8 a month for less commercials). Might be worth checking out.

  2. "The Clone Wars is just begging to be made into a table-top war game, similar to what Games Workshop did with The Lord of the Rings."

    See: Star Wars Mini's By Wizards Of The Coast.

  3. I've been sticking with the Clone Warts series since it started, but I actually prefer the Genndy Tartakovsky version myself.

    The thing about the "Clones Wars" is, as you pointed out - it's not really "Space Opera." I'd call it more "Military Science Fiction." Watching it, I'm reminded a lot more of Cameron's "Aliens" than I am of anything else.

    Not only is it not really Space Opera - I think it's hard to see it as "Star Wars." Yeah, it's got Jedi and Sith and a bunch of Star Wars trappings (aliens, planets, some characters), but in essence, it's about the clones and all of the things that go along with being part of a military unit during war time. It doesn't have the same sensibility that the live action theatrical movies have.

    Since you just got into the series, you should know that in addition to the episodes on Cartoon Network, there was actually a theatrical release of the Clone Wars a few years ago. It uses the same characters as the show, but has a self-contained story that you can watch even if you haven't seen the entire series. The really bad news, though - the story revolves around Jabba the Hutt's little punk nephew, Zillo the Hutt (or something like that - I forget his name). He's a completely ridiculous character.

  4. I would argue that the entire series is focused on the clones. Sure, one of the strong points of the show is that they show that even clones, the ultimate in faceless soldiers, are individuals and have their own personalities and issues, however there are plenty of other plots, characters and stories that focus on other things besides the clones.

    While there are many episodes that are not classic space opera, there are others that are just that. In many episodes you see some serious nods to classic Star Wars feel. It's a series and not just a trilogy of movies and therefore therei s room for a variety of episode types from the slapstick and tongue in cheek to the incredibly grim and serious.

    Overall, this show really demonstrates exactly how a table top game set in the Star Wars universe can be run.


  5. "Watching the show was like watching a dramatization of a WH40K game, except with more meaning or “context” due to the storied history of the Star Wars universe. That context is what GW’s 40K universe lacks…"

    So, I'm guessing that you haven't read much of the 40K fiction out there. It also has pretty extensive context, in my opinion. (Though I may be misunderstanding what you mean by "context".)

  6. @ Faol: I actually HAVE read quite a bit of the 40K fiction...I'm a big fan of Flight of the Eisenstein (which inspired a pre-Heresy Death Guard army of mine) and I can see my giant omnibus of Let the Galaxy Burn on the shelf from where I'm sitting.

    But the 40K fiction came AFTER the game for the most part, and much of it feels fairly "forced." Even the "fluff fiction" prevalent in so many of the 2nd edition codices (here I am thinking particularly of the Space Wolves, though I owned most of those books back in the day)...most of these fluffy anecdotes were better and (to me anyway) more "flavorful" than the later novels set in the 40K universe.

    For Star Wars, the tough part has always been designing a game that was good at modeling the films. For 40K, the difficulty was getting decent fiction that was true to the game..."decent" being the operative word.

  7. OK, I see what you're saying. I'm still not sure that I agree, though. Star Wars is as much (or more) a hodgepodge of random ideas that occurred to Lucas as he was filming each movie as it is anything like a coherent whole. I like the first film quite a lot on its own merits. I like the second film ("Episode V") quite a lot as an element of a trilogy. Beyond that, though, things get a little… poorly written (and that's not to say that the two good movies were particularly well-written). The "Expanded Universe" is even more incoherent.