Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns for a fourth season tonight with a two-episode premiere at 8:00 pm on Cartoon Network. This season is called "Battle Lines," and the struggle intensifies in the latest 22-episode cycle of the CG-animated saga from creator George Lucas and Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore. In the first two episodes of this three-part story arc, "Water War" and "Gungan Attack," the inhabitants of the watery world of Mon Calamari find themselves on the brink of a civil war. The Jedi soon realize they will need the help of a powerful and amphibious ally to stop the war and drive out the Separatist invaders. As always, I got a rundown from supervising director Dave Filoni.
Bill Desowitz: What's going on this season?
Well, this year's our best. I know I probably say that about all the [seasons], but I think we've clearly seen a progression with each season, not just the look but the stories we've been able to do. And it's really been a refining process each season, and this one front to back is the best. We've been able to do everything we want visually and storywise.
Right off the bat, you've got exciting underwater action, and the animation is vastly improved.
DF: Well, my whole thing with making Clone Wars is that it will be something that lives up to expectations from year to year to year. And in 20 years, people will decide to watch and it will still be exciting to watch and have beautiful animation. Kids love the action and the big heroes and big battles, and that's where you get the "Battle Lines" moniker. But there's also a lot of fun with more comedy between C-3P0 and R2.
BD: What's the story arc this season?
DF: Last season we really developed Ahsoka's character. She's at a point now where she's more on a par with Anakin. She's still in the assistant mold but is more experienced now that she can handle herself to a bigger degree. So we see her a lot stronger; we see more of the Palpatine [influence] on Anakin as we get to the second half of the season, when he starts to become the Palpatine of later and the Jedi don't necessarily trust Anakin. We see a lot of turmoil with Rex in what it means to be a soldier; we introduce a whole bunch of new clones and Rex starts to look like the grizzled veteran. And two of my favorite story arcs are Ventress and Savage Oppress. Ventress, who has been an evil character, is definitely challenging and questioning her morality. You'll find that we have several threads that we pick up each season. And we tell different stories about all of these characters that aren't implicitly connected but keeping it moving forward. Each week you almost don't know what you're gonna see.
BD: What's going on animation wise?
DF: Definitely, with Keith Kellogg, our animation supervisor that I've brought in, he's done a phenomenal job in getting the facial shapes to react a lot better with the rigging team. He's had a lot meetings with the animators on just subtle ways that this thing can push and how eyes can exaggerate; ways to take the characters feel more pliable and more flesh oriented. I think that's been the big step for us: when you look at the character, you react to their expressions and don't worry about their stylization. And then the action has just gotten better and better. I started asking the directors to get away from martial arts and get back to some brawling: more like I used to see Indiana Jones do. I wanted to see some of the guys fighting like that, not with a particular style but with a lot of guts.
BD: And what about the environments?
DF: Yeah, we made a huge leap in environments at the end of last season with the "Padawan Lost" and Wookie Hunt" episodes. We look at environments that have a lot of foliage and sticks and leaves and tons of detail. A lot of times when you see these CG shows, they can feel kind of empty. I wanted to get away from the model railroad approach where we get much more immersive: little barnacles in the ocean, little sea creatures of all kinds. Environments have become a bigger character.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.