Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 09:53 UK

'Film addict' Lucas on Clone Wars

By Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News, Los Angeles

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Star Wars animation to open

One of the most successful movie series of all time returns - with the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This one is different from previous instalments - it is entirely animated.... and it came about by accident.

A movie series that relies heavily on computer graphics has gone one step further: now there is not a single human actor in sight.

Star Wars audiences grew up with special effects, puppets and models in the first trilogy, and sophisticated computer animation in the second trilogy.

George Lucas's Lucasfilm company is a world leader in animation techniques and has been widely praised for the richly detailed universe it has created.

So, in some ways, one critic has mused, it is a natural progression for the creators of Star Wars to get rid of meddlesome humans and stick to a world they can control totally.

Anakin Skywalker's padawan, Ahsoka Tano
Anakin Skywalker has a padawan [apprentice] called Ahsoka Tano

And of course, if a scene goes wrong, rather than film another costly "take", just press "delete", as it were, and start again.

But what is surprising, especially for a multi-billion dollar Hollywood uber-brand like Star Wars, that is so tightly-controlled, is the unusual genesis of this latest movie: it was never meant to be made.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars was conceived as a cartoon series for American television.

(A word of warning here: the next few paragraphs are unapologetically geeky - so if you are not a nerd, best skip them).

Fans will remember the Clone Wars were mentioned in the very first movie - Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977 - in an exchange between Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker
Fans will see Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker

They refer to the devastating conflict between the droid army of the Separatists (the baddies) and the army of Clonetroopers created by the Republic (the good guys who later become the Evil Empire) who are led by the Jedi (the cool guys with the lightsabers).

Yet the conflict itself, which sets the scene for the first trilogy, was only briefly glimpsed in Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005).

Creator George Lucas felt there was enough material for a spin-off animated TV show.

It was designed to tell, in dozens of 30-minute small screen "mini-movies", the many tales and adventures of the Clone Wars. (OK, non-nerds, back you come).

But when George Lucas saw the first finished material from the TV cartoon series, he decided it was too good for just the small screen.

"I have the advantage of not having to have a business plan about movies," he tells me at his vast, sparkling production facility nestled in the hills of Marin County (on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, where real estate is among the world's most expensive).

George Lucas on his latest Star Wars project

"I have the advantage of being able to come up with an idea and say 'this is a good idea' and 'gosh this turned out so great, why don't we move it over here and do this'....it's kind of ad-hoc movie-making.

"We started working on the [TV]series and we developed all this new technology, new techniques, this different look to everything and I saw it.....and I said 'wow this is good enough to be a feature film. Why don't we make a feature film?'".

The TV series will still go ahead in the autumn, and will of course benefit from the publicity juggernaut of the feature film.

While the TV show is clearly aimed at younger viewers (with the introduction of a new feisty female Jedi sidekick called Ahsoka Tano), the film's director Dave Filoni is confident older audiences will not be put off.

"People are still getting used to the idea now that film-makers are doing animated movies for everybody," he said.

"But we're seeing a big breakthrough with Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda [two recent successful animated movies]. Audiences at large are just going and adults are enjoying it, kids are enjoying it and I think Star Wars has always been part of that."

Clone troopers fight against an army of battle droids
Clone troopers will fight against an army of battle droids

The animation style itself is noteworthy.

The battles, the space scenes, the alien worlds are astonishingly detailed, epic and gripping.

The characters, meanwhile, are drawn with the sharp angles of the Japanese anime style and move like Thunderbirds puppets.

There is no attempt to make them realistic: producers say this was deliberate, to set the animated show apart from the Star Wars that had gone before.

Audiences will have to decide for themselves if it is a success, but it certainly gives this Star Wars incarnation a unique character.

Of course Star Wars die-hards will be trampling over Yoda to point out that George Lucas himself said, some years ago, that there would be no more feature-length films. Now he admits he cannot let go.

"It's hard to put it down, it's addictive. Obviously for the fans too but it's worse for me than most people!"

Remember the six existing Star Wars movies to date have made more than $4bn (2bn) worldwide (that is just ticket sales, it does not include merchandise), and the addiction Lucas talks of seems enviable to say the least, and certainly understandable.

Anakin Skywalker
Anakin Skywalker is first seen as a child in the Star Wars films

And it will not stop with Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

He is working on another spin-off TV series, this time much darker, more adult.

"This is the kind of thing where the studios say 'you can't do that, it will destroy the franchise'," he tells me, after our interview is over.

Still, he's doing it. He is George Lucas: he invented Yoda.

For this new project though, he is using real actors.

The film version of Star Wars: The Clone Wars will open in the US and UK on 15 August followed by a TV series in the autumn.


SEE ALSO
Star Wars: Clone Wars pictures
10 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
Animated Star Wars movie planned
13 Feb 08 |  Entertainment
Lucas begins Star Wars TV series
17 Oct 07 |  Entertainment
Digital studio for Star Wars show
27 Oct 05 |  Entertainment
Star Wars series to run and run
15 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
Star Wars to become new TV series
26 Apr 05 |  Entertainment

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