“Duel of the Droids” — S1/E7

duel of the droids clone wars

After tearing the first part in this story arc a new one, “Duel of the Droids” gives me the wonderful opportunity to eat my own words. In this case, I’m more than happy to be wrong.

“Downfall of a Droid” left R2-D2 in the clutches of Trandoshan smuggler Gha Nackht, though it left quite a few unanswered questions about the Confederacy’s interest in a little ‘ole astromech. More frustrating was Anakin and Ahsoka’s new droid pinch hitter, R3-S6, who proved to be about as useful a navigator as a Sacagawea coin. That latter issue is resolved here, as R3 is revealed to be a saboteur for the Confederacy. Awesome kind of! Not only does this explain the ridiculous ineptitude behind the Golden Droid That Couldn’t, it adds some dramatic irony to a show that too often telegraphs its trajectory  ahead of time. Knowing that R3 was behind Grievous’ ambush of Ahsoka and the Clone Troopers shut my nitpicking self right up.

“Duel” resolves one issue but only provides a post hoc explanation for R2-D2’s importance in the hands of the enemy. Gha Nackht dismantles the little astromech, searching for anything of value that may aid Grievous’ chances of defeating the Republic — and anything that may aid Gha Nackht’s chances of doubling his reward. Lo and behold, R2’s memory bank, having never been wiped by Anakin, contains every Republic battle strategy. As revealed in the previous episode, this comes as no surprise, but it is news to Gha Nackht, who promptly uses this revelation to squeeze a few thousand more credits out of his deal with Grievous. And then the droid general makes his best decision thus far in this show and cuts the blabby smuggler down. Maybe the Separatists aren’t as dumb as I’ve made them out to be. Maybe, they’re even psychic.

Did Grievous know all along that R2’s memory bank wasn’t wiped? He seems genuinely surprised the droid contains every single attack plan of the Republic. Whether it was unclear character motivation or simply left unaddressed by this episode’s writers, it isn’t enough to ruin a strong episode, one that sticks its landing on Droid Appreciation Month. Obi-Wan’s stance on R2’s expendability, while harsh, takes into account his steadfast logic, obedience and consideration for the wellbeing of the Republic. When Anakin rebukes Obi-Wan’s order to simply sneak aboard Grievous’ new ship, Soulless One, and detonate everything on board, the moment polishes up what was once Anakin’s sloppily-executed appreciation for R2-D2 as well as blends into Skywalker’s tendency to make rash, emotional decisions. Because sneaking aboard a ship to rescue one droid is so very “Anakin.”

Also very “Anakin” is Ahsoka’s decision to take on General Grievous in a duel all by her lonesome. It may be ripping off Attack of the Clones’ Dooku/Obi-Wan/Anakin climax, but it’s great to see The Clone Wars consider Anakin’s headstrong influence on his apprentice. Ahsoka’s hide-and-seek antics and the eponymous “duel” between R2-D2 and the duplicitous R3-S6 are a touch ridiculous, but they both feel necessary. Ahsoka needs to prove her value as beyond the show’s perennial Mary Sue; meanwhile, we’ve spent so much time listening to characters’ adulation for R2-D2, actually seeing him kick ass is a relief.

Given the strong note it goes out on, “Duel of the Droids” makes this two-part arc look much better, if only through hindsight. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if its first half may have benefited from tighter writing, replacing blatant storytelling gaps with genuine ornaments of mystery. When Anakin expresses no surprise that R2-D2 saved the day once again, it’s a touching reflection on the droid’s contributions, one that the previous episode hammered home in all the wrong ways. I’m still not sure if Anakin appreciates R2-D2 as a companion yet, but his admiration has at least been qualified, if only by virtue of R3- characters’ qualifying their respect for the little droid, then surely by comparison to an inferior droid’s short circuits.

Stray Observations:

  • I was weirdly uncomfortable seeing R2 dismantled. Contrary to C-3PO, whom I’ve always viewed as more of an adult, seeing this droid virtually dismembered was a tad bothersome. Maybe it’s the child-like personality.
  • From Anakin’s bum rush of the Magna-Guards to that hallway battle between Grievous and Ahsoka, there’s some great action in this episode.
  • Gotta love Grievous getting himself out of paying Gha Nackt with one lightsaber stab. If ever there were an indication the Trade Federation still has some sway in the Confederacy, it’s in the fine print of Grievous’ deals.
  • The Clone Troopers using jetpacks to soften their landing on the Separatist ship were straight up awesome.
  • Once again, the show incorporates an interesting blend of orchestral and electronic music. Still not sure how much the electronic half is working for me, but I at least respect the effort to branch out in soundscapes.
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