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Star Wars: The Clone Wars & r & & r & by MARYANN JOHANSON & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & "Y & lt;/span & ou fought in the Clone Wars?" Oh man, do I remember hearing Luke Skywalker say that when I was 8 years old and thinking, "Wow, cool! Clone wars! What could that have been?" Now I'll concede that what the Clone Wars actually turned out to be is probably not as mindblowing as my 8-year-old mind could have invented, seeing as how it's just a big galactic civil war with cloned humanoid soldiers on one side and droid armies on the other. But I'm old now. I bet today's 8-year-olds will find Star Wars: The Clone Wars pretty awesome.

Don't tell anyone I said so, but I kinda thought Clone Wars was pretty awesome, too. At least as far as overblown Saturday morning cartoons go. Sure, it's basically nonstop battles with a few funny lines thrown in, but the battles are actually highly entertaining, wildly varied and way more coherent than anything George Lucas created for his most recent trilogy. The director here, Dave Filoni, knew how to take the best of what Lucas gave us with this universe and play with it, while ignoring Lucas's worst excesses.

The story is, as is the way of things with Star Wars these days, simultaneously very simple and horrifically complex. We're in between the events of Episodes II and III: Anakin Skywalker is a full Jedi Knight but has not yet gone to the Dark Side. Jabba the Hutt's son -- that's right, I said "son" -- has been kidnapped, and Republic General Skywalker, along with General Obi-wan Kenobi, have been dispatched to rescue him. Why would the Jedi care about the son of a gangster? Well, it seems the breakaway separatists, led by evil Count Dooku and his droid armies, have succeeded in taking over certain of the hyperspace lanes vital for galactic travel, which leaves only the space lanes of the Outer Rim for the cloned Republic armies, commanded by the Jedi, to move about on... but those are controlled by the Hutts, and so the Jedi have to make nice with them before Dooku does.

Oh, it's all cheesy at times, no question: The universe appears to be full of catwalks ready-made for lightsaber-dueling upon; we get to visit the Coruscant nightspot run by Truman Capote the Hutt (actually, he's called Ziro the Hutt, but he'll always be Truman Capote the Hutt to me), and Anakin's Padawan learner is almost as annoying as Jar Jar Binks. (I suppose some fans find the "roger, roger" battle droids cheesy, but I think they're hilarious.) But so what? The original Star Wars was cheesy, too -- we just didn't realize it because we were only in third grade.

The animation is both clever and magnificent. Everything not organic -- spaceships, robots, cityscapes -- looks completely realistic, much like those things looked in the recent trilogy, which was mostly CGI anyway. And everything organic, like people's faces, is stylized enough so that you're not expecting photorealism in them. The story isn't one of deep emotion anyway, so we're not looking for any great sensitivity in those faces.

I went into Star Wars: The Clone Wars not anticipating anything to hold my interest, but I was hugely entertained by it. The Force was with me. (Rated PG)

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