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Sunday, 28 October 2012

REVIEW: THE CLONE WARS - THE COMPLETE SEASON FOUR BLU-RAY BOX SET


Revenge unleashed. Darth Maul and Savage Opress make a lethal combination in Season Four of THE CLONE WARS, out now on Blu-ray and DVD.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS – THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON

Created and Executive Produced by George Lucas

Available on Blu-ray (3 disc set) and DVD (5 disc set) from LUCASFILM ANIMATION/WARNER BROTHERS

Reviewed by Scott Weller

After a previous creatively uneven year, the fourth season of THE CLONE WARS, now available on stunning high definition Blu-ray and DVD from LUCASFILM ANIMATION/WARNER BROTHERS, is a more dramatic, more adult and more animation sophisticated confection than we’ve seen before. It may not be as much fun as its genesis years of 2008-2010, as the series shifts into high-gear darkness more akin to the Vader-is-born finale of the live-action Prequels, but it’s a 22 episode evolving and refined trip that’s well worth taking. The sturdy and zippy single episodes of the past are mostly abandoned this time around in order to tell bigger, longer running stories (that also make more out of the shows modest production budget) within five main arcs that really stretch out and diversify the established characters and diverse environs: the spectacular, action-packed epic water war set on the planet of Mon Cala, as Anakin, Padme Amidala and classic series veteran Admiral (“It’s a Trap!”) Ackbar, trying to stop the Separatist armies from gaining a foothold, or should that be flipper?, over the strategically important world’s new young King, the Umbara arc-some of the most dramatic and atmospheric war storytelling yet as the Clone Troopers of the 501st, later Darth Vader’s prime execution squad, led by Captain Rex, take on a deranged Jedi General- the fierce multi-limbed General Pong Krell, the Zygerrian slavers arc, where Anakin must confront the dark nature of his troubled past in order to defeat the return of a once vast slavers empire, and the fun and diverse planet-hopping, Obi-Wan/Bounty Hunters arc, where our noble Jedi with a disdain for the uncivilized must infiltrate an elite and lethal cadre of hired talents, including the nefarious Cad Bane, to stop an assassination plot on Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Last but not least, probably the least successful of the arcs in my honest opinion, is the re-emergence of Darth Maul, which sees the legendary Sith Lord, a fan favourite last seen decapitated in the live- action EPISODE I, now very much alive, totally insane and spider-legged limbed, wanting revenge against both the Jedi and his once Sith Master who seemingly abandoned him: Darth Sidious (voiced by the late Ian Abercrombie, doing double duties with Palpatine). Of all the storylines this year Maul’s was the only one that seemed the most forced and commercialistic, with Filoni and his team successfully, if implausibly, bringing the horny little devil back on Uncle George’s orders, but with no proper, rational explanation given of how he survived being cut in half and how he ended up at the bottom of a junk yard on a far-off world. Overall, fans worldwide have embraced Maul’s return, and now that’s he established back in the show his personal arc will surely get better, but I personally think the series didn’t need him back at all- that it would have gotten along fine enough with just Maul’s lethal and equally powerful and threatening force brother-the Frankenstein’s Monster-esque Savage Opress.

Padme helps the Mon Calamari fight Separatist invaders in the Water War saga.



Not totally extinct from the series, the single episode stories of Season Four are a mixed bag, with the return of the outlawed Mandalorian Death Watch (and their first female warrior, Bo Katan, voiced by sexy BATTLESTAR GALACTICA veteran Katee Sackhoff) in A Friend in Need, causing Genghis Khan and his hordes type havoc against Ahsoka and her fugitive boyfriend, Lux Bonteri, cyborg general General Grievous gets his ass kicked by the floppy eared Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans in early and controversial episode Shadow Warrior, Asajj Ventress, now an outcast bounty hunter with the death of her people in the creepy and enjoyable Massacre, gets some fun action in and out of  a speeding underground bullet train in Bounty (featuring an ill-conceived and truly hypocritical voice performance from Prequel hater Simon Pegg as classic villain Dengar), whilst lovable icon droids Artoo Detoo and See-Threepio partake in some bizarre but enjoyably harmless fantasy in two offbeat episodes clearly designed for the youngsters to delight in, between bouts of intense drama and death. On a sour note, though, still no individual stories for Mace Windu or Yoda. What’s going on???

Leading from the front. Anakin Skywalker and Captain Rex fight the Umbarans.

Four key episodes of the season (The Carnage of Krell, Escape from Kadavo, Massacre and Bounty) come in director’s cuts (but watching them its difficult to see what exactly has been added/deleted to them-they come in at pretty much the same running times as the original episodes IMO), though the Maul episodes director’s cuts are noticeable by their absence-saved for the recent US only single disc release of the story as a feature-length entity.
Threepio and Artoo encounter new life forms in Nomad Droids.

Best watched in the Blu-ray format, where the hard work of the animation team is really showcased, there’s the kind of classic and inventive fast paced storytelling and action you expect from STAR WARS with the high calibre of its behind the scenes team, led by Supervising Director Dave Filoni and George Lucas as Executive Producer, plus its aforementioned incredible locales (new stands outs like Umbara and Zygerria, as well as return visits to worlds like Naboo, Coruscant and Nal Hutta) beautifully realised with some of the most gorgeous state of the art animation yet seen on TV. Let’s also not forget the great voice acting from a fine series of regulars who have made the famous character roles their own in this specialised medium, particularly the core Jedi trio of Matt Lanter as Anakin Skywalker, James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan and Ashley Eckstein as Padawan Ahsoka Tano.

Obi-Wan goes undercover, and bald, to infiltrate a group of bounty hunters in Deception.

As always the special features accompanying these season sets are still not as comprehensible as fans would like them to be, but there’s enough to enjoy and discover. The Blu-ray and DVDs contain five great behind the scenes video commentaries on the story arcs, from Filoni, a perfect host, enthusiastic STAR WARS fan and splendid choice of overall animation leader for the series, with a core group of behind the scenes veterans including Joel Aron, Killian Plunkett and Keith Kellogg. As well as showing their own personal friendships and humorous banter, the teaming’s provide a wealth of interesting information on how the shows and storylines/characters were developed, what things were planned for but dropped, key things/little Easter eggs to watch out for in the episodes and a verbal sneak peek from a teasing Filoni of things to come in later CLONE WARS episodes (like a desert planet environment involving Captain Wolf and his Clone Troopers).

The new Darth Maul emerges from the fires of hell!


On the Zygerrian story, there’s the welcome presence on the viewing couch of writer Henry Gilroy, back on the series to adapt his popular THE CLONE WARS comic from DARK HORSE to animated reality, providing some intriguing anecdotes. For Maul’s return, the flavor is a little different, as the behind the scenes give way to Filoni with writer Katie Lucas, Maul vocal actor Sam Witwer and Obi-Wan actor James Arnold Taylor. Things feel a but less fun here, but some interesting material from Lucas and Witwer is revealed nonetheless about writing for Asajj Ventress and the playing of the new Maul. Fan favourite Taylor clearly enjoys his work on the show and the return of Obi-Wan’s greatest antagonist.

Major space battle action ensues in Plan of Dissent.

Not on the DVD, the Blu-ray has further noteworthy material in it’s Jedi Holocron area, delving deep into the behind the scenes canvas of the series, with lots of deleted scene (mostly of the animatic kind (check out a sequence here: http://www.sfx.co.uk/2012/10/18/clone-wars-season-4-deleted-scene/), including a different ending to the episode Escape from Kadavo, plus a few completed animation pieces), animatic and final episode comparisons, 3-D character turnarounds, occasional snippets from the voice cast who talk about their involvement in selected episodes (notably Dee Bradley Baker, who voices the many Clone Troopers) and lots of great conceptual artwork.

Hiding in plain sight. The evil Darth Sidious as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine in Crisis on Naboo.

A minor complaint to the Blu-ray release is that the box sets seem to be getting cheaper looking and produced each year. The inside plastic disc holders will prove breakable over time, and should have been in more sturdy, attractive packaging. Apart from an inside sleeve wrap, there’s also no deserving booklet/guide to the series and no Bounty Hunter poster with the UK release. What happened there, LUCASFILM/WARNERS?

STAR WARS AFICIONADO RATING: A solid and spectacular animated hit once more worthy of the STAR WARS reputation. Season Four overall storytelling: 3.5 out of 5. Disc extras 3.5 out of 5


Get STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS – THE COMPLETE SEASON FOUR on Blu-ray here:





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