Animated 'Star Wars' revives the franchise

Subcultures collide tonight as the world of animation enthusiasts and George Lucas aficionados rejoice at the premiere of the self-described Epic Micro Series "Star Wars: Clone Wars" (7 p.m., Cartoon Network).

"Clone" consists of three-minute animated installments of the story of the Jedi Knights leading the Republic's Clone Army against new and ruthless enemies across the galaxy. Look for new renderings of all the major characters, including Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi and others.

"Clone" puts some juice back into the franchise. It's no secret that the recent movies have become dull and way too long, bogging down in talk of trade agreements and arcane Imperial politics.

In contrast, these often beautiful and graphically powerful three-minute stories have no choice but to get right to the point -- which usually consists of plenty of shoot-'em-up action. Yes, these cartoons are violent. Hey, it's "Star Wars," not "Star Pillow Fight."

  • "Combat Jump" (8 p.m., History) looks back to the 1943 battle for Sicily, which featured the first large-scale paratroop invasion in U.S. history. Led by Col. Jim Gavin, more than 3,400 men dropped behind German lines to seize roads and bridges and prevent an enemy counterattack on the forces storming the island's beaches.

"Jump" deviates from the standard format of black-and-white clips and "talking heads" interviews with a number of full-scale re-enactments of the paratroopers in action.

Unfortunately, neither the production values nor the acting level of the participants is terribly high. The History Channel should leave moviemaking to the professionals.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Friends in need on "Joan of Arcadia" (7 p.m., CBS).
  • Scheduled on "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC): a new look at the 18-year-old who drove his car into a school parking lot, killing four students.
  • Harm returns on "JAG" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • Series star Kelly Ripa's daytime cohort Regis Philbin guest stars as a used-car salesman on "Hope & Faith" (8 p.m., ABC). Oh boy, we haven't seen them together since ... this morning!
  • Kate takes a break from her date-making hobby on "Miss Match" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): embattled media mogul Martha Stewart discusses her life, career, recent troubles and thoughts about her future.

Series notes

On back-to-back episodes of "Wanda at Large" (Fox), animal rights and wrongs (7 p.m.), standup comedy (7:30 p.m.) ... Angie holds the purse strings on "George Lopez" (7 p.m., ABC) ... A hidden kitty gets someone's dander up on "Reba" (7 p.m., WB).

Tom and Bill are at a loss for words on "Married to the Kellys" (7:30 p.m., ABC) ... Homecoming blues on "Like Family" (7:30 p.m., WB).

Carmen's secret revealed on "Boston Public" (8 p.m., Fox) ... Brad sees Claude in a new light on "Grounded for Life" (8 p.m., WB) ... Food poisoning forces the gang to broadcast from the hospital on "Life with Bonnie" (8:30 p.m., ABC) ... Competitive coaching on "All About the Andersons" (8:30 p.m., WB) ... Joe tries getting a handle on a wayward handler on "The Handler" (9 p.m., CBS) ... A judge (Ann-Margret) becomes a bomb-threat target on "Third Watch" (9 p.m., NBC).

Late night

Lauren Graham, Paul Tracey and Brian Regan appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Jennifer Garner, Paul Bettany and Jason Mraz on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

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