Director: Genndy Tartakovsky (of Samurai Jack fame)
Released: Mid 2005 on Cartoon Network, Late 2005 on DVD
Clone Wars is a series of 25 animated shorts, most under 5 minutes long, adding up to a total runtime of 133 minutes (Amazon reports 69 minutes on the first DVD (20 3-minute episodes), 64 minutes on the second (5 12-minute episodes) - both retail for about 14 USD). They cover the timespan between Star Wars Episodes II and III - a time when the Old Republic, insidiously destabilized from within by the Sith, more or less battles itself, creating an artificial power vacuum.
Wait, let me do over now that you have the facts.... let the strains of John Williams' inspired fanfare wash over you ...
Episode 2.5: Clone Wars
The Republic reels with conflict. The Separatists, armed with countless armies of Count Dooku's battle droids, are in bitter combat with the Republic's dauntless clone troopers. The Jedi Council, seeing the threat to the Republic's way of life, sends in brave Knights to aid the planets in most need of help. They can usually turn the tide wherever they go, but there are many trouble spots and only so many Jedi...
In the midst of the chaos a smaller conflict is raging which may yet prove to have far larger consequences than anyone - except the scheming Darth Sidious - can imagine. A young apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, becomes involved in dangerous plots and situations that seem perfectly designed to snare his ambition. He must tread carefully, with far more than his own life at stake ...
*camera pans over a fleet of ships in space*
The animation style of the Clone Wars can be described as angular and ... sparse. But unlike budget saturday morning animation, this doesn't mean skimping on, or re-using frames to save costs - instead, every frame that isn't crucial simply doesn't exist. In 5 minutes of animation, stories that would otherwise comprise a typical half hour cartoon are started, dissected and ended (or segued into the next action hotspot, on the second volume). Don't blink, or you'll miss Mace Windu's sneer that precipitates a droid army's destruction; look away and you might miss Anakin's hot-headed moment of decision as he takes off after Asajj Ventress in defiance of Obi Wan; your sneeze just made you miss General Grievous' reverse backflip into the concealing shadows (where did he go?). Even the quieter moments of reflection feel more intense when presented sparingly, and the brief times of focus on a character's face work wonderfully to concentrate the viewer's attention and give the series a depth that the movies lack.
It helps that the short episodes mostly are composed of battles - and thus not requiring particular pathos - but there's no denying that the medium is remarkably effective at portraying the emotion that the movies generally failed to. Mace Windu is grimly determined, Kit Fisto is proudly exultant, Ki-Adi-Mundi exudes quiet competence, Obi Wan's leadership really comes out in his role as a general and of course Anakin is surly, defiant, and torn by disturbingly un-annoying angst (yes, he's really surly - not whiny).
Whether the budget, time constraints, or good sense was involved is not known (it might be in the DVD commentary but I haven't seen it yet) - but the voice acting is for the most part not done by the actors from the movies (with the exception of Anthony Daniels). Without wasting words, it works well - I didn't even realize they weren't the actual actors until I read the cast list. It did however explain why I found the voices remarkably good... (ooh burrrrrn).
Soundwork is flawless. From the opening, merely a sound of jackbooted Troopers marching (ominous!) to the immortal sounds of lightsabers and the subtle changes in blaster effects that become closer and closer to those of the classic Star Wars Trilogy, ever-reminding us of the eventual divide between Empire and Rebellion, every sound is as meticulously crafted as the animation work.
Overall, Clone Wars easily stands as a self-sufficient chapter from the saga, one that fills in the blanks and enhances several characters beyond the films. One could even argue that the Star Wars experience might be richer by only watching this rather than the 3 first movies - there is love, there is despair, there is manipulation of a mighty empire, there are ample battles and there's a feeling of dread as we near the inevitable end (all the elements are here) - but I'm not that fanatical. The very fact that matters remain unresolved (much like in The Empire Strikes Back, commonly considered the best Star Wars movie) heightens the dramatic impact delivered - and just like Empire Strikes Back, Clone Wars is something you should not miss.
I've seen the producer's name spelled "Genady", "Gennady" and "Genndy"; from what Russian I recall, I think the "a" should be there. /msg me if you know otherwise.
About the title: Star Wars: Clone Wars is the animated series. Star Wars: the Clone Wars is the game. They are indeed separate entities.