Trust your friends and they’ll have reason to trust in you
It’s easy to see where the writers of “Downfall of a Droid” wanted to go with that proverb, but a simpler (and I’d argue far more on-the-nose) phrase might have gone like You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Joni Mitchell aside, The Clone Wars introduces a strange, well-intentioned coronation for R2-D2 through a troubling helping of backhanded compliments.
Once again somehow, General Grievous seems to have Republic forces on the ropes. Tasked with defending the crucial strategic point of the planet Bothawui, Anakin Skywalker and a small battle group must stave off the Confederate assault, hiding behind the planet’s outer ring of asteroids and hoping any stray debris (or potatoes) will do the bulk of taking out Grievous’ fleet. But the ever confident Anakin’s also got another trick up his sleeve, stashing General Rex and dozens of AT-TEs on the floating rocks and springing a surprise volley on Confederate forces. With his trap successful, Anakin begins his pursuit of a fleeing Grievous when a piece of shrapnel causes both Anakin and R2-D2 to careen off course, allowing the perpetually retreating General to make the jump to lightspeed. What’s worse, Anakin awakes mid-bacta session aboard the Resolute only to learns R2 was never recovered from his starfighter’s wreckage. I sure hope that droid from Episodes III-VI makes it out of this one okay!
That there is part of the problem in “Downfall of a Droid,” an episode that, for all its admirable character focus, botches most of its execution. Virtually no disbelief is suspended when Ahsoka informs Anakin of R2’s apparent demise, but the episode plays the moment like soap operatic beat anyway. The real issues however begin with the backhanded compliments, as Obi-Wan scolds Anakin that all droids are the same, and that attachments are dangerous for Jedi. Anakin then tells Obi-Wan that R2-D2 was important to him in a moment that feels very sweet — until he clarifies that it’s only because R2’s memory was never wiped, affording him an uncommonly vast amount of experience from which to draw. Imagine sending your dad a Father’s Day card that read I love you because who else can pay for my data plan? Make it one of those overpriced noisy cards too, but every time you open it the reader gets an earful of a faux Dust Brothers dance beat.
You could even borrow one of the beats from this episode, since several baffingly pop up during an undercover droid shopping spree with Ahsoka and Anakin, now outfitted with a brand new R3-S6 unit. Nitpicking only lends so much value to criticism, but the inclusion of this supposedly superior astromech droid ruins a lot of the good faith in “Downfall of a Droid,” not the least of which involves R3’s miraculous incompetence nor the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi had a perfectly functional R4 unit in Attack of the Clones. Battle damage or the occasional wiring malfunction seem organic enough, but this episode presents a veritable shitstorm in R3’s incompetence that cheapens its beats. More importantly, it makes me believe Anakin’s appreciation for R2-D2 runs skin-deep, at least as deep as R2’s ability to follow commands allows.
New R3 unit in tow, Ahsoka and Anakin land on Trandoshan Gha Nackht’s freighter nestled within the battle’s debris field. The pair destroy several activated IG-86 droids in the freighter’s cargo hold, but find no traces of R2, despite Anakin hearing his beep and despite Gha Nackht looking all around very sketchy. Then again, learning that the Trandoshan is in fact holding R2-D2 for Confederate forces raises more questions than it solves. How does a shady junk dealer have General Grievous on speed dial? Did Grievous know Anakin and Ahsoka would come looking for R2? And if Master Obi-Wan himself assumed Anakin had cleared the droid’s memory, what other reason would the Confederacy have to believe this R2 unit was so important? Maybe Palpatine’s spy network runs pretty deep. Like, psychic deep.
Details aside, “Downfall of a Droid” doesn’t understand that what makes R2-D2 unique and really, the only relevant astromech in Star Wars, is his spark of personality, a “won’t take shit” spunk that balances trustworthy experience and childlike wonderment. One can only hope that what is clearly a multi-part arc will redeem itself in future episodes. For R2’s sake.
- Since when can Trandoshans talk?
- On a related note, perhaps it’s my “Bossk bias” showing here, but Gha Nackht seems closer to Watto than the badass bounty hunter from Empire. And enough with the vague European accents.
- It’s always great to see a TT-8L gatekeeper droid, but methinks the upped security also made Gha Nackht seem more suspicious in the end. Hide in plain sight, breh.
- Apart from keeping continuity with the so-very-crucial Clone Wars movie canon, why include an older IG model here? Anakin and Ahsoka took them out like they were super battle droids. At least that explains Holowan Labs’ eventual upgrade?