Admiral "It's a Trap!" Ackbar leads Jedis and Calamari into battle in "Water War," the first half of Star Wars: The Clone Wars' two-episode Season 4 premiere Friday.
Packed with action, political intrigue and plenty of familiar characters, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is moving its sprawling cartoon clashes to a truly exotic CGI battle zone: underwater.
“For a long time, water was sort of taboo in computer animation, but that’s changed,” supervising director Dave Filoni told Wired.com by phone. “We avoided it in the television series, but decided to jump head-on into the deep end of the pool with these three massive underwater episodes [that kick off Season 4 of Clone Wars]. But the water itself was the least of our concerns. The hard part was animating the characters and the cameras to make them feel like they were in an underwater environment.”
“Water War,” the first episode of Season 4’s two-part premiere, which airs Friday, takes place on previously unseen ocean planet Mon Calamari, where a civil war rages between shrimpy Calamari prince Lee-Char and sharklike separatist tyrant Riff Tamson. From its scuba clones and weaponry to its political assassinations, the episode builds darkly upon Clone Wars‘ life-during-wartime intrigue.
But “Water War” recedes into the towering shadow cast by “Gungan Attack.” In the season’s second episode, Filoni and his Clone Wars colleagues, including CG supervisor Joel Aron and animation supervisor Keith Kellogg, introduce mammoth spinning machines whose massive underwater vortexes hurl around thousands of combatants. It’s Clone Wars‘ densest battle yet.
“Keith worked hard with Joel to project geometries and characters far from the camera to populate the battles,” Filoni said. “For the swirling Nautilus ships, we used tricks like cards and paintings Joel placed onto a cone and projected into the action. They added an element that we hadn’t seen, and probably couldn’t see, in space. We’ve done similar things before, but never on this scale. We wanted it to feel like a Friday night blockbuster on your television screen.”
While the water world might be unfamiliar terrain, the upcoming Clone Wars season promises a new wave of returning Star Wars characters, including Admiral “It’s a Trap!” Ackbar, who swims deep into both action-packed episodes. He’ll be followed later this season by a returning Boba Fett, as well as other characters from the Star Wars films, Filoni promised.
‘Ackbar has a crazy level of fame for the amount of time he’s spent onscreen.’
“I’m not going to say who, because that’s never allowed,” he said. “But Ackbar has a crazy level of fame for the amount of time he’s spent onscreen. It’s the Boba Fett phenomenon, where you’ve got a character who doesn’t really do a lot, but is so beloved that it eventually spreads outside the realm of fandom. I think there was even a school that was trying to adopt Ackbar as a mascot! Who would’ve thought that would happen to a character named after food?”
The back-to-back underwater episodes were previewed last weekend at Long Beach, California’s Aquarium of the Pacific alongside Yoda, General Grievous, clone troopers and R2-D2. The throng of young and old Star Wars geeks seemed to enjoy the scene, caught as it was between hyper-real Clone Wars creatures and surreal marine life like stinging sea nettles and leafy seadragons. The event featured life-size Star Wars characters, green-screen photo ops, lightsaber training, demos for Sony Online’s new Clone Wars Adventures game, aquarium duels and other fun previewed in the gallery above.
“I thought it was a great setting,” said Filoni. “There’s something cool about watching Star Wars‘ fantasy world, then experiencing something real just like it. I used to make that connection between Han Solo and the guys down my street who worked on their cars.”
Filoni said Clone Wars is hitting its stride in Season 4.
“Visually, it’s where we’ve always wanted it to be,” he said. “Now it’s just a question of how much detail and saturation we can create, and balancing our stylized sensibility with what the movies have already shown. We sometimes have to be careful to keep in our own world.”
With a fifth season already in production, can Clone Wars fans expect a sixth round of explosive animation?
“At the end of the day, it comes down to George Lucas, and he loves the show,” Filoni said. “I don’t think fans are going to have to worry about Clone Wars not coming back for Season 6. George is having a great time collaborating with the team, and as long as he keeps enjoying them, we’ll keep making them.
“Lucasfilm knows that if we don’t make this show at a quality level, our fans will crow about it, as they should, since Lucasfilm set the standard back in 1977 with the first Star Wars film. This is not something that you can churn out. You’ve got to make it better and better, which is what I think that we’ve done.”
Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ two-part season premiere airs Friday at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on Cartoon Network.
Image credits: Star Wars: The Clone Wars images courtesy Lucasfilm. Photos by Scott Thill/Wired.com