Well this is already weird.
I won’t pretend television criticism is something I’ve had a lot of experience with, but I also won’t act like I’ve been keeping up my usual pace of content. Maybe it’s from boredom. Maybe it’s out of curiosity. Maybe The Clone Wars has now reached an unforeseeable five seasons, becoming too great of a cultural blind spot for me to continue ignoring it any longer. In order to stay true to my inconsistent productivity, I will make absolutely no promises about keeping this up, especially if the series sours quickly. Honestly, the best you can hope for is mildly clever space dick jokes amidst paragraphs of my best Zack Handlen impersonation.
The Clone Wars kicks off right in the thick of things. Maybe too much so, because Steve Melching’s teleplay spares no expense at any context or place setting, apart from a lousy two paragraph open crawl. Is Yoda’s secret diplomatic mission to Toydarian-inhabited Rugosa immediately after the animated movie? Before Genndy Tartakovsky’s miniseries? Does anyone else care?
I can’t be the only one who doesn’t understand why the allegiance of King Katuunko would give either the Republic or the Confederacy a strategic advantage in the war. Well, apart from securing the galaxy’s finest scimitars and hand-crafted silk tunics. One should assume that Yoda will have to work especially hard to impress the Toydarians though, considering the Force’s unique influence doesn’t work on them. To their credit, director Dave Bullock and the show’s production team have smartly shied away from Watto’s vaguely Semitic overtones in favor of a generalized Persian quality. It’s still cheap, but less offensive is still an improvement.
Before Yoda can convince Katuunko that the Republic critically needs a Rugosan base of operations, Count Dooku’s apprentice Asajj Ventress arrives, intent on convincing the Toydarians their swath of ineffective battle droids is a reason to side with Confederate Forces. Katuunko decides to let the winner of a gambit between Ventress and Yoda determine his kingdom’s entire allegiance, the logic of which is completely stupid. In statistics, there’s the idea of a small sample size — I use it against myself all the time in my baseball shower arguments — and the constrictive nature of putting too much stock in a short time frame. The Asajj/Yoda gambit, where Katuunko will join the Confederacy if Ventress can defeat Yoda’s sparse forces, is like dropping 1,000 Republic credits on a single coin flip. Just dumber.
What follows is essentially one drawn-out action sequence, where Yoda and his three clone troopers — Thire, Jek, and Rys — fend off the staggered onslaught of super battle droids, destroyer droids, and AATs. In what is hopefully an fleeting misstep for the series, the battle droid characterization here is all kinds of problematic. On the three item short list of “Stuff The Phantom Menace Gets Right,” depicting the battle droids as useless saber fodder separated them from the doofy consciousness of Stormtroopers. Trade Federation brass wanted lots of chances to shoot blaster bolts in as many directions as possible and at a minimal cost, and they delivered just that. “Ambush” gives the droids personality, moving them from Episode I’s stupid but brief “Roger Roger… uh oh” throwaway line to a throng of mechanized pratfalls. I’ve got to believe Nute Gunray can’t be too happy with the rapid depreciation of his investment.
Wounded and weary from the fighting, Yoda leads the troopers to a small cave to recover and raise their spirits. Despite protestations that they’re all the same, Yoda instructs the three to remove their helmets, before packaging a pocket sermon about the Force inside compliments of each of their unique strengths. Yes, even as clone troopers. The science over whether or not clones can diverge from their genetic source material is intellectual fodder for the Roddenberry types, but The Clone Wars deserves credit for shying away from George Lucas’ ill-advised thinking behind the Republic Army’s origins. It’s an extension of what Revenge of the Sith tried with Commander Cody and Obi-Wan; it’s also a reminder of why Attack of the Clones is the worst thing ever.
Yoda’s ooey-gooey pep talk also gives the remaining Confederacy forces time to spring a final attack. Yoda, still every bit the overpowered superhero, has little problem dispatching their ranks. He carves holes in AATs and pits the droid’s blasters against themselves. When Ventress sics droidekas on the Jedi Master, the shielded destroyers become too much for him. Thankfully, he’s bailed out by Thire’s rocket launcher, not that we had any real concern that Yoda wasn’t getting out of this one unscathed. King Kotuunko is angered by Ventress’ meddling and sides with the Republic, but not before the Sith apprentice tries to kill him over the decision. Yoda once again shows up and saves the day, but Ventress escapes, concluding a lackluster first episode from The Clone Wars.
“Ambush” and its extended action sequence might have been fine had it stuck to the smarter side Star Wars mythology. The risk with any prequel-based story is in adhering too closely to its sources’ precedents. When Yoda first fought Dooku on Geonosis, teenage boys everywhere flipped a shit at the sight of the little green guy’s leaps and tumbles and signature mini-saber; twelve year old me certainly did. But that finale also spat in the face of everything Yoda taught Luke on Dagobah, about how the quick and easy path is not always the best option. About shirking violence for patience and meditation. Rambo Yoda recalls exactly none of that as he’s hacking down packs of droids. “Wars not make one great… but an exception am I.”