LOS ANGELES — Darth Vader: Sith lord, murderous imperialist, deadbeat dad ... dirty old man?
The latest entry into the "Star Wars" canon features a new, female character whose charms are not lost on Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi general on the brink of becoming the baddest bad guy the galaxy has ever known.
Ahsoka Tano — who easily out-toughs even Princess Leia in her prime — is smart, sassy and skilled with a light saber. And despite that she's merely a teen 'toon, Ahsoka kicks up more chemistry in a few scenes with the animated Vader-in-waiting than the real-life Natalie Portman could muster over three whole films.
To be fair, there's nothing overt about "The Clone Wars" to indicate a relationship between Ahsoka and Anakin. But whether the filmmakers intended it or not, their mutual magnetism is a presence we haven't felt since ... well, at least going back to the push-pull of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.
But if you thought a smuggler hooking up with a princess was inappropriate, then there's a reason to have a bad feeling about this:
For starters, when Anakin meets Ahsoka, she's barely a teenager, while he's in his early 20s. What's more, he's supposed to be her teacher. And finally, he's already secretly married to Portman's character, the aristocratic and wooden Queen Amidala.
Ahsoka first arrives in "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" in the midst of battle, announcing as she sashays down the ramp of her arriving space transport that she's to begin immediately training as Anakin's padawan. He protests at first, but orders — especially ones from Yoda — are orders.
Their clashing headstrong personalities generate immediate sparks. He's averse to the burden of an apprentice; she's eager to prove not only that she's worthy, but of immediate use against the hostile army that's bearing down.
From there, she exhibits enough battle pluck and witty repartee to win over her brooding mentor — he warms quickly to the idea of having a young assistant (who Mark Rahner of the Seattle Times describes as "a tiny girl with huge eyes and a tube-top who looks like a slutty Disney character." Fair enough).
Video: ‘The Clone Wars’ It's not long before they give each other cute, jab-in-the-ribs nicknames — he's "Sky Guy," she's "Snips" (apparently for her snippy demeanor). They spend most of the film toting around a rescued infant, making veiled parenting jokes along the way. Their petty competitions devolve into mutual concern, rescue and more post-traumatic bonding.
Not since David and Maddie delicately danced the love-hate line on "Moonlighting" have two people — or in this case, a person and a pint-sized humanoid alien known as a Togruta — stirred up so much tension by outwardly avoiding it.
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Even Yoda hints early on that Anakin, who already has issues with attachment, could have trouble letting go of his apprentice when the time comes.
And by the way, where does this leave Amidala?
The antiseptic queen finally arrives late in the movie, long after you've wondered what she was up to while Anakin was chasing across the stars with an extraterrestrial Lolita. And sure enough, the animated Amidala hews to Portman's dead-eyed policy wonk, droning on about treaty negotiations and interplanetary trade routes while Anakin and Asokah treat bad guys to a light saber's bite and trade barbs.
A character like Asokah, voiced by Ashley Eckstein (wife of major leaguer David Eckstein, who's also diminutive, pesky, handy with a stick and frustratingly difficult to root against) would've given some much-needed emotional juice to the romantically DOA "Star Wars" prequels.
Instead, she's relegated to the critically bashed animated appetizer before the Cartoon Network show coming this fall. And since "The Clone Wars" is wedged between episodes two and three, her disappearance before "Revenge of the Sith" will have to be reconciled.
Maybe she and Anakin keep it clean, she learns all she can from him and returns to her home planet of Shili to become the Togrutan equivalent of "Hanna Montana." But one can't help but wonder if a second forbidden love adds some velocity to the dark descent of Anakin Skywalker.
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