star_wars_the_clone_warsOn the DVD for Clerks II, director Kevin Smith labeled the behind-the-scenes mini-doc that chronicled his return to his first and biggest hit “Back to the Well.” The title was an overt admission that, following the critical drubbing of Jersey Girl, his one departure from the Askewniverse, he needed to return to familiar territory. Since the public was hardly clamoring for Mallrats 2 (though he’s claimed for years to have a comics-based follow-up story) he went back to Clerks in an effort to rejuvenate his fanbase by giving them the continued story of the two slacking clerks that made him famous to begin with.

So too George Lucas, for all his talk of finally getting around to his long-rumored movie about the Tuskegee Airmen or the smaller, more personal stories he always says to be ready to make, continues to draw from the Star Wars well at seemingly the drop of a hat. The movies he produced and shepherded during the mid- and late-80s and early- to mid-90s flopped and have largely become fodder for punchlines. So it was back to Star Wars he went, beginning in 1997 with his revisiting of the Original Trilogy and then the Prequel Trilogy that began in 1999 and ended in 2005. At that point, again, he said he was done with the series and would get back to a more independent-filmmaking mindset.

So now in 2008 he’s brought The Clone Wars to audiences. The property, animated and featuring little of the original voice talent from the movies, was originally conceived as a television show. That ongoing series is still happening, but Warner Bros. and Lucasfilm executives were reportedly so impressed by the arc formed by the first three episodes they decided to splice them together into a theatrical release.

The movie takes place chronologically between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and tells the story of Anakin Skywalker’s and Obi Wan Kenobi’s experiences during the titular Clone Wars, an event Star Wars fans first became aware of in the original movie when old Ben Kenobi referenced it to Luke while the two chatted in Ben’s home on Tatooine.

The Clone Wars is actually well trod ground in the Extended Universe, with comics series, novels and even a previous cartoon series telling these tales. But this appears to be separate from all those. It also messes with the established Star Wars universe rules by giving Anakin – who at this point is not yet a Master in the Jedi Order – a Padawan learner all his own named Ahsoka.

The decision to make this into a theatrical film was reportedly made a relatively short while ago and so the campaign has, by necessity, had to pack a lot into a short period of time. Sure things dribbled out here and there early, but they were at the time meant to promote the TV show, which will still debut about a month after the movie hits theaters and run on Cartoon Network. It’s that already-in-place decision that has this movie being released by Warner Bros. as opposed to 20th Century Fox, the studio that released all six theatrical movies to date.

So let’s take a look at how Warners is selling this return to the world of Star Wars to the masses in a post “Now we know how Anakin becomes Darth Vader” environment.

The Posters

The theatrical poster for the movie is certainly meant to convey explosive action as the film’s main selling point. It puts all the main characters – at least among the good guys – front and center and primed for action, with lightsabers drawn and postures at the ready. It’s bright and colorful and, since the story is mainly just about a bunch of battles it conveys that readily. There’s little to no character arc or personal conflict presented here, relying mostly on our familiarity with the characters, or in the case of the new Padawan our unfamiliarity, to draw us in.

Two more posters were later released that weren’t so much theatrically-intended as they were just promotional efforts. The first puts the characters in a design that looks a lot like that used for the release of the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy, with a frame of stars around the action scene. The other was more interested in clones, putting Anakin and Obi-Wan amidst a squadron of troopers with lightsabers drawn. The first is a lot better than the second, simply because of its harkening back to the other movie’s posters.

There were also a series of character-centric posters created. They’re all pretty consistent in how they present a slightly askew camera angle, succeeding to some extent in creating a sense of motion about the image. That’s important since everything else about the campaign, indeed a major selling point for the movie, is the constant action.

The Trailers

In the teaser trailer we get the basic setup of the time that the story takes place in, sometime between Episodes II and III, with Anakin Skywalker now mentoring his own Jedi apprentice. The two of them, along with Ob-Wan Kenobi, are sent on a mission to retrieve the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt before the Hutts join the Confederacy being led by Count Dooku.

While others have said they’re not crazy about the look of the computer animation, I love it. It’s so outrageously stylized that it’s not distracting at all, which I think happens more often when computer animators try to achieve too much photo-realism.

But aside from that this is a really cool trailer that promises a return to an exciting Star Wars universe that’s filled with all the characters from the prequel series that we enjoyed. Yeah, I’ve got some minor quibbles about the idea of Anakin having a Padawan, but that’s a minor gripe that I’m willing to overlook in anticipation of the big-screen release and the TV series it will lead in to.

The first theatrical trailer is a bit better at setting up the movie. Again, it’s primary goal is to show the look and feel of the movie, though there are more hints as to the plot. We get small notions that there’s something involving the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt’s child and how important finding it is to the overall war effort. But still the ultimate idea here is to make it clear that there are lots of awesome battles going on that involve not only the small group of core characters but the larger clone army as well. It works pretty well and certainly is in line with how previous Star Wars movies have been presented.

The second theatrical spot seeks to create more of an epic sense, with most of the introduction being smaller moments that are accompanied by softer music. Then we get into the action and the story. Interestingly this is the first time in all three trailers that I think we’ve heard the iconic theme music, which only kicks in as the action sequences ramp up.

Online

Much like the prequels before it, Clone Wars benefits greatly from the established presence of StarWars.com, the long-lived official site for the franchise that’s now been turned over almost entirely to the new movie. Bringing up the main URL actually redirects automatically to the Clone Wars content, allowing it to be the first thing people see when they visit, though they can navigate back to the main site from the top navigation menu.

The first thing that’s offered along that navigation bar is “The Movie.” There you’ll find:

  • Story Synopsis: Brief introductions to the main story points as well as characters both old and new that populate the film
  • What Are the Clone Wars?: In case you were unfamiliar with the premise behind the last great battle of the Galactic Republic, this should fill in the knowledge gaps
  • The Star Wars Saga: Places Clone Wars into the timeline of the existing six films, right between Episodes II and III
  • Who Are the Clones?: Explains what all the guys running around in white uniforms are
  • Who Are the Separatists?: Explains who the bad guys in the conflict are, including positioning them in the context of the broader series of films.

“Videos,” the next section, contains a ton of content. Not only are all three trailers there but there are also quite a few character-centric videos, most of which are introduced by director Dave Filoni (wearing David Armano’s hat) or someone else from the behind-the-scenes crew. There’s also a sub-section devoted to Crew Intros so we can get to know them as well.

Both the “Characters” and “Planets” sections are meant to help us get to know the people in the movie and the locations they’re going to be heading to. Each entry comes with a link to its Database Entry on the main site as well as, in the case of the Planets, a couple of pictures from the scenes that take place there.

“Gallery” contains what are essentially the computer models for Characters, Vehicles and Scenes, as well as a pretty good selection of Concept Art from the movie’s inception stage. None of these images are, unfortunately, downloadable, but they’re still nice to look at.
The first thing to come up under “Downloads” is The Clone Widget, which you can grab and add to your blog or social network profile. Like most widgets its a mini-site, with the videos, games and photo galleries. There are also Desktop themes and Icons to download, a variety of Posters and downloadable skins for either printing out and applying to your iPod or uploading to your personal Webpage.

Next up is “Games & Fun.” There you’ll find both the Sharpshooter and Live Fire web-based games as well as Activities like crossword puzzles and Printables like coloring pages for you to download and print out. There’s also a section called Videogames that has the information on the console games that tie into the movie.

Going back to the main movie page, there’s a side menu labeled “Altitudes.” Really there’s not much to worry about there. Click on any of the locations and you see a brief clip from the movie and occasionally access to the same sort of content that’s available through the regular menu, only it’s presented via little pop-ups.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Toys “R” Us helped the movie out by installing digital clocks in their stores that are counting down to its August 15th opening, with some stores holding costume and other contests as well to build excitement. The store got its own exclusive toys and will keep the focus on Clone Wars going through the Christmas season.

McDonald’s is offering what is actually its first ever Star Wars-themed Happy Meal. (All other movies had had promotions through Taco Bell, Burger King or another fast food chain.) 16 toys were offered, with characters from throughout the Star Wars saga. All were the same idea – a huge character head mounted on a vehicle that’s associate with them – but some were pullbacks, some were wind-ups and some were something else.

Also in the food realm is Kraft, who put Clone Wars imagery on its kids-oriented Lunchables packaging. The site not only contained a bit of movie content but was also a lot of games and other things to keep kids interested while visiting.

While it’s not really a cross-promotion, Lucasfilm is supporting its own cause by making the Clone Wars a focal point of the Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney Worlds Resort throughout the summer.

The DVD for the movie is said to be scheduled for a quick turn-around time, hitting stores in November to make sure it’s available in time for Christmas shoppers and soon enough to still be relevant to those watching the TV show.

Lucasfilm partnered once again with Andretti Racing and Blockbuster to redesign the paint job on Marco Andretti’s #26 car. (The first time was for Indiana Jones 4.) The Clone Wars design appeared on the car when it raced at the Grand Prix of Sonoma on August 24th. The car was unveiled at Comic-Con as part of the huge Clone Wars presence there.

Other than that, though, the movie will reportedly be lacking in promotional partners. That’s largely because of the condensed time-frame between the time it was decided this would be a theatrical release – again it was originally intended to open the TV series – and the time it actually hits screens.

There were, however, a number of TV spots that supported the movie.

Media and Publicity

Just a couple weeks before the movie was released, it got a series of commemerative covers on TV Guide, just like some of the prequel movies did before it. The issues came bundled with DVDs of exclusive content, with the DVD being sponsored by Toys R Us, which was a big promotional partner for the movie as we’ve already seen.

Of course each and every return by Lucas to the Star Wars franchise is a media event in and of itself, with words like “visionary” and “auteur” thrown around perhaps a tad too freely. In the online press that’s tempered somewhat with interviews with him that all too often provide glimpses at the disdain with which he views fans. You can’t blame the guy for being a tad put off by the 1,598th Wookie that walks up to him, but if he’s going to keep revisiting the characters he should at least put on a better attitude.

Overall

It’s a tough thing to try and sell a new Star Wars movie right now, especially one that departs so drastically from the established pattern.

While the campaign in and of itself is completely enjoyable and works on a number of levels. It’s not nearly as weighty as the campaigns for the prequel films, but this one is all about the fighting and not so much a part of the overall franchise mythology, so that’s not all that surprising.

Unfortunately the campaign is weighed down in some regards by its’ televisions origins. It’s hard to get it out of your head that you’re watching a TV show with delusions of grandeur.

Going theatrical also means it’s going to be held to a higher standard than if it had appeared on TV first, and the initial reviews bear that out, with critic after critic going after it with claws sharpened.

Still, the release of a new Star Wars property is bound to gin up some excitement and the campaign here is definitely meant to draw people in to a new story with some familiar characters. I just hope for everyone’s sake that nostalgia is a strong enough call to action to help the movie achieve some sort of success.

2 Comments

  1. Solid observations. Anyway this afterthought of a movie just doesn’t cut it for me. I think the characters look rather ugly – but I did enjoy the Aksoka-Anakin exchange.

  2. > but I did enjoy the Aksoka-Anakin exchange.

    This is why cinemas should ban smoking crack cocaine.

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