Star Wars bad to the Clone

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      SAN FRANCISCO - George Lucas is one of the few people in the entertainment industry who can do what they want, when they want. And so when the creator of both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises told Warner Bros. Pictures that his latest project—an animated television series—should be launched on the big screen, that’s what happened.

      Girl power has never been a central theme of the Star Wars franchise, but that is exactly what the character of Ahsoka Tano brings to the table in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ashley Eckstein told the Straight.

      “She proves to young girls and girls of any age that girls can achieve the same thing boys can,” Eckstein, who provides the voice for Tano, said in a telephone interview.

      A new addition to the Star Wars universe, Tano, a Togruta youngling, was raised in the Jedi Temple since she was an infant. When the Clone Wars break out, Tano is only 14 years old. But the Galactic Republic’s resources are spread thin, so Master Yoda deploys her to the battlefield early to serve as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan. Although well-trained in the ways of the Force and wise beyond her years, Tano remains inexperienced and has a lot to learn from Skywalker, who, in turn, still has much to learn about being a teacher.

      Creating Tano for The Clone Wars was a collaborative process, Eckstein said. For two months, she and director Dave Filoni, producer Catherine Winder, and writer Henry Gilroy diligently crafted a strong identity for the alien girl.

      “We really worked on how we thought Ahsoka would sound, how we thought she would act, and what her sense of humour was,” Eckstein continued. “And we really got to the point where we were like, ”˜Okay, that is Ahsoka.’ ”

      Eckstein said that as The Clone Wars expands the Star Wars universe through this feature film and an upcoming television series, she loves learning about the character she portrays.

      “I don’t know much about Ahsoka’s future or Ahsoka’s past,” she explained, “So I definitely look forward to every single session and episode that I go into.”

      “I am in this position where if we are doing something as television and it turns out to be good enough to be a feature, then we just switch it over,” Lucas told a crowd of reporters at Big Rock Ranch, the headquarters of Lucasfilm’s animation division.

      “We don’t have a business plan where things are pegged to be one thing or another. The first few shots came back and I looked at them on the big screen and I said, ”˜This is fantastic, this is better than we ever imagined it would be, and this is so good it could be a feature.’ ”

      And so Star Wars: The Clone Wars—the seventh Star Wars movie—jumped from the Cartoon Network and will open in cinemas across North America tomorrow.

      At the ranch—a beautiful piece of isolated land outside of San Francisco—director Dave Filoni joined Lucas to introduce The Clone Wars, a film unlike anything Lucas has done before.

      The mythical conflict of the title first sparked fans’ imaginations in 1977, when it received a brief mention in the original Star Wars movie. “You fought in the Clone Wars?” Luke Skywalker asked Obi-Wan Kenobi. “Yes. I was once a Jedi knight, the same as your father,” Kenobi responded mysteriously. Ever since then, fans have wanted to know more.

      Covering a period of three years and set between 2002’s Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars will finally give audiences the opportunity to see Lucas’s vision of a war that has been on his mind for 30 years.

      At the conclusion of Attack of the Clones, the Galactic Republic wins the first battle of what becomes the Clone Wars. But the conflict quickly spreads to engulf hundreds of star systems and threatens a period of peace and stability that has lasted a thousand years. The security that the Jedi knights once ensured can no longer be counted on; an ancient evil has reemerged.

      Which is where The Clone Wars picks up, albeit on a more kid-friendly note than the one Attack of the Clones ended on. As war rages across the galaxy, Jedi knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker lead a Galactic Republic army of clones against the Separatists’ droid armies.

      The animated film could easily have been a third Star Wars trilogy in itself. Lucas said that when working on 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, he lamented having to gloss over the Clone Wars because of the feature films’ necessary focus on Anakin Skywalker. “If you go back [to the Clone Wars], it is like World War II,” Lucas noted. “There is a huge canvas there to be mined.”

      Lucas explained that he and the film’s crew were able to take the story wherever they wanted and begin to fill in the countless holes in the Star Wars universe that the feature films have left behind. With a newfound freedom to wander wherever his imagination allowed him, Lucas selected animation as the medium to bring the latest chapter to life.

      “The fun part about animation, and The Clone Wars in particular, is that we are allowed to go and do stories about clones and get to know them and find out what they do for recreation, and find out what Jabba the Hutt’s family is all about,” Lucas said.

      The live-action films, he continued, are basically about one man: Anakin Skywalker. “So it is very, very narrow. And you pass through a lot of things, and you look and say, ”˜What is that over there?’ But you never get to go and look at it. So this allows us to go and look at all of that stuff.”

      For The Clone Wars, Lucas and Filoni decided on a unique, highly stylized form of animation which, Filoni argued, reduced the computer to merely another type of paintbrush.

      “I came from a 2-D–animated background where we used design and shape and colour to make animated characters all the time,” the director explained. “And I was aware and really afraid of the kind of lifeless CG [computer graphics] that you read about in the press.”

      Filoni said that he was looking for a way to force a style into computer animation that would preserve the imperfections and painterliness of other, more traditional art forms. “And so I thought that by having artists hand-paint a texture all over the characters, that that would somehow keep the spontaneity that an artist provides.”

      As Filoni answered the media’s questions on animation, Lucas looked at his director with approval. Moments before, Lucas had introduced Filoni as “my padawan”, a title used to describe a Jedi knight’s apprentice. If Lucas has indeed found a student that he feels he can one day entrust with the universe he has created, Filoni has a lot to live up to.