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What ‘The Clone Wars’ Can Teach ‘Star Trek’

Can the franchise make a ‘Star Wars’-like transition to animation?

On March 7, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” released its sixth and final season onto Netflix, marking the end of the George Lucas era of the Star Wars franchise.

Since its first release as an animated feature film in 2008, “The Clone Wars” has consistently proven doubters wrong about whether or not an animated series could be successful in what is primarily a live-action film franchise. There was worry that it would cater too much to kids, which was also a criticism leveled at the Star Wars prequel trilogy, or that it could never live up to the film saga.

Not only did it live up to the film saga, it far surpassed my own expectations and I came to love it as a worthy addition to the franchise. Although its beginnings were somewhat childish, sticking to some of the worst instincts of the prequel films, the show proved that it could be entertaining for all ages while also sometimes dark, intense and often meaningful in its portrayal of the galaxy far, far away, particularly as the series moved away from the events of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and closer to the events of “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”

Above all, what “The Clone Wars” proved was that Star Wars had a place on the small screen, even in animated form. There did not need to be actors filmed in front of a camera, or giant sets, or anything not created in a computer or recording studio. The vision of Lucas and the core ideas of the franchise transcended live-action.

Star Trek could learn a thing or two from “The Clone Wars.” With all of the discussion about the future of Star Trek, both in the rebooted film universe and in possible television shows, little mention is given to how the franchise could be told in animated form. I myself prefer live-action, because it is easier to invest in real people rather than animated ones, but that does not mean animation should not be considered. Good stories can be told in animated form; it wouldn’t even be the first time Star Trek has been animated, with “Star Trek: The Animated Series” having aired in 1973 and 1974.

There is, of course, one big concern: animation can let you do anything, far more so than CGI on a live-action show, and that is not always a good thing. Animation is not constrained by the normal limits of CGI and live-action so it can let imaginations run wild, but what we often see with less constraints is more emphasis on spectacle than story. Any Star Trek animated series would need to have a great creative team behind it, one that can bring the right mix of animated effects and real human stories. Those stories would help illustrate that animated shows, much like “The Clone Wars,” are not always just for children.

Pushing for an animated series could also make a studio think twice about rejecting it. The cost of an animated series would be far less than a live-action series, but still bring with it a rabid fanbase and good ratings. With less cost on talent and effects, the more possibilities there are for profit. We’ve seen how good Star Trek can be on a limited budget as well; “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” had the smallest budget of any Star Trek film, but it is widely regarded as the best of the film series.

With all that said, do I think there will be an animated Star Trek series? Probably not. A new series in general isn’t something that seems to be on the horizon, so for now the future is in the film universe, and that will always be live-action. But the idea is certainly worth considering. Like Star Wars, the vision and ideals of Star Trek are far more important than what the show or movie looks like. As long as Star Trek holds true to its core principles, it could be told with sock puppets and still find a way to resonate with people.

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