On the Saturday before the one-hour premiere of season 4 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, we headed to Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific for a special screening of the first two episodes, "Water War" and "Gungan Attack." The location may seem odd for a show set in a "galaxy far, far away," but it wasn't, as the Ahsoka and the rest are heading underwater for the start of the season known as "Battle Lines." We won't give away too many details about the episodes, but what happened at Saturday's event is a good indication of what you can expect.
The screening, unlike the actual television broadcast, was show in 4D. As part of the 4D experience, the theater was cold in a misty, windy sort of way. There were times when we were splashed lightly with water and lights flickered to mimic explosions. Outside of the theater, there was an aquarium show that featured divers fighting with lightsabers. If you're a fan of The Clone Wars, you will be in for a treat this week.
When we spoke with members of The Clone Wars cast on Saturday, three words-- "dark," "epic" and "cinematic"-- kept popping into the conversation.
"As the war is progressing, everything is getting darker, the stakes are getting higher relationships are becoming more intense," says Catherine Taber, the voice of Padamé Amidala in the series.
"The battles are really epic this year," says TC Carson, who plays Mace Windu.
"It's really like watching a motion picture," says Stephen Stanton (Captain Tarkin) of the fourth season. "It has a beautiful look to it and the storytelling is much more on a mature or adult level."
The CG animated, half-hour series fills the gap between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The events that take place during The Clone Wars help further develop some of the characters who appear in the prequels.
"It actually is a cool time in the Star Wars saga. We get to see how Anakin slowly starts to fall," says Matt Lanter, who plays Anakin Skywalker. "We haven't seen in the films how he takes that slow fall to the dark side."
While The Clone Wars features characters familiar from both the prequels and George Lucas' original trilogy, it stands on its own as a piece of the Star Wars universe. Undoubtedly, many of the young fans at Saturday's event were too young to remember seeing Revenge of the Sith upon its 2005 release and probably weren't even born when Attack of the Clones came out in 2002. There are new characters to capture the audience's imaginations, like Ahsoka or Darth Maul's brother, Savage Opress.
"One of the magical things about it is that this whole world has been around since I was a teenager," says Clancy Brown (Savage Opress). "Each generation, it seems to reinvent itself. It's new enough every time around for whatever generation comes in."
Ahsoka, a teenage girl who, as a Padawan, is training to be a Jedi knight under Anakin Skywalker, is the breakout character of the series. She is a young, bold hero whose image appears in the form of cosplayers at conventions and on bed sheets sold at chain stores. Ashley Eckstein, who portrays the character in the series, was wearing a dress made from Ahsoka bed sheets when we met her at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
"I think she's resonated with a lot of the fans because for the most part The Clone Wars is told through her eyes," says Eckstein, adding that she believes both young girls and boys can identify with the character. "She's the Padawan. You look past gender. The kids have really related to her."
As a chapter of the Star Wars saga, The Clone Wars is already part of a long-standing pop culture phenomenon. However, it also fits in with a recent wave of U.S. animation that focuses on dramatic and complex, action-based stories. Like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Cartoon Network's Ben 10 franchise, it's a show that holds as much appeal for adults as it does for children. Perhaps part of this has to do with the generation that is now making animated programming.
"I think that our generation grew up hungry because of Star Wars, because of Robotech," says Supervising Director Dave Filoni, referencing the 1980s anime series that brought dark, often heartbreaking, action-filled storytelling to a children's television audience. Filoni adds that, working in the animation industry, he had asked himself, "Where is this generation's Robotech?" Certainly, The Clone Wars might be it.
The popularity of The Clone Wars, and other similar shows, may be a sign of the times as well. Dee Bradley Baker provides a number of voices on both The Clone Wars and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien (which airs Friday night on Cartoon Network right before The Clone Wars). We asked him what he thought were the similarities between the two shows.
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"They both essentially take a place in a moral universe, where the issue is right and wrong, good and bad how you choose to try to be heroic or overcome your shortcomings," says Baker.
"That's part of what I think is what everybody wants these days," he adds. "It's a world that's increasingly, seemingly ambiguous, and lots of tough choices all around, but people want a sense that there's someone heroic making things right, that we are able to do that, that we are able to connect and do something right that matters."
Season 4 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars premieres Friday at 8 p.m.
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