Category Archives: The Clone Wars

“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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“Downfall of a Droid” — S1/E6

Downfall of a Droid Clone Wars Star Wars

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.

Stray Observations:

  • 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?

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“Rookies” — S1/E5

The Clone Wars Rookies

The Clone Wars has answered my prayers, if only for the better part of twenty minutes.

How about them commando droids? It’s in the upgrade of the mostly useless Federation droids that “Rookies” decides to get wise, however the fifth episode in this first season also benefits from a thematically consistent arc on sacrifice and desperation — and that’s despite the on-the-nose opening parable about experience building confidence.

The Republic’s outpost on the Rishi moon is one boring place, so long as you never venture outside to contend with the giant eels. It’s the base’s same low-key happenings that General Grievous plans to exploit when springing his latest assault on the Republic: taking the outpost by surprise with a stealth strike force, thereby providing an entry point for Confederate forces to invade Rishi’s neighbor, Kamino, and capturing the wellspring of Republic clones in the process. The BX-series of droids is a marked departure from a show that’s thus far made few qualms about the broad strokes in which it’s painting, yet for all the episode’s back-patting and audible compliments, at least its characters are using their brain circuitry.

Some of them anyway. As its title makes clear — again, more than obviously — some of the Rishi base’s newest Clone troopers are pretty green. Thankfully, Captain Rex and Obi-Wan’s pal Commander Cody are on their way for a routine inspection, hopefully kicking some rears into gear, too. As the series has done on numerous occasions already, the episode re-appropriates filmic moments into its own storytelling. This time, “Rookies” riffs on Han Solo’s stilted conversation with Imperial offices in A New Hope, right down to taking lines wholesale and putting them in the mouth of a BX commando. The reference isn’t particularly flattering for Confederate forces — it’ll take more than easy humor to give more than two craps about the droid forces — but it does offer the series a chance to poke fun at the “Roger, roger” stupidity of battle droids, and that’s a creative choice I’ll rarely balk at.

Just as the Rishi outpost represents the Old Republic’s watch, its fallen soldiers humanize that necessity of security. While Hevy, Echo, Fives, Droidbait, and Cutup are by and large forgettable clones, Hevy’s sacrificial detonation of the liquid tibanna is a harrowing distillation of the base’s destruction for a greater cause. Grievous’ sneak attack is ultimately thwarted when the Rishi outpost’s explosion garners the attention of Republic forces. Anakin and Obi-Wan, whose roles here are reduced to brief patches of war room banter, introduce an excess of auto-erotic stimulation by the episode’s end. Both their gratitude as well as Captain Rex’s soapbox induction of Echo and Fives into the 501st legion hit their points home much too strong. At the same time, it’s essential that the series recognize  moments of valor and courage are what distinguish its players. In the Clone Wars, where Confederate casualties ring up more like an endless list of sales receipts, it’s sensible that the Republic humanize its losses and victories. In the case of “Rookies,” doubly so.

Stray Observations:

  • In case you’re wondering, those Han Solo lines the commando droids borrow are “Negative, negative” and of course a perfectly awkward “Everything’s fine here. Thank you.”
  • Today in analogies: Rishi moon : Republic forces :: Endor moon : Imperial forces
  • Some solid callbacks to John Williams’ musical cues here. I caught more than a whiff of the Federation’s invasion march from The Phantom Menace and notes from Attack of the Clones’ “Arena” battle.
  • Staying with callbacks, those “meteors” the commandos arrive in seem kinda sorta maybe familiar to the “meteorites” on Hoth.
  • According to Obi-Wan, the Republic has an “invasion alarm.” One can only hope drunk clone troopers get bored and sound it in the middle of the night.

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“Destroy Malevolence” – S1/E4

Destroy Malevolence

The whole gang’s back together! Thank God. I was beginning to think Revenge of the Sith was just a dream and Padme actually died in the arena battle.

With the Malevolence in hasty retreat from Republic forces, Grievous goes to one last gambit by capturing “Senator” Padme Amidala, whom Count Dooku reveals is en route — What exactly is Padme doing here? No idea. It’s hastily explained away through Palpatine’s machinations, something Clone Wars has taken plenty advantage of already. Grievous secures Padme, with C-3PO in tow, and uses them as a bargaining chip against the sympathies of Obi-Wan and Anakin. Skywalker, not one to trust Padme’s safety with the incompetent Separatist leader, sneaks aboard the crippled Malevolence with Kenobi and R2-D2. They hope to rescue Padme and goldenrod as well as finish off the remains of the ship — with any luck while Grievous is still on board.

Sure, Padme’s presence here is a cheap but satisfying way of bringing the three together for the series’ first time, but it doesn’t make a great deal of sense in terms of storytelling. Again, I’m not sure why Padme is going where she’s going in the first place, apart from giving her a reason to be in “Destroy Malevolence.” Through its first four episodes The Clone Wars has already milked plenty out of “It was Palpatine,” and in some fashion this consistency with Episodes I and II is nice. But jeez, if the Rebel Alliance were this clueless, there would be no Empire Strikes Back after the “Great Galactic Bitch Slap of Yavin IV.” Padme’s presence does allow for some okay albeit broad character moments. Anakin and Obi-Wan show the chummier side of their relationship, and Anakin shares a nice beat with Padme about trust and love and cool Force powers — you know, stuff of romance.

Clone Wars continues to either hit or miss in its choice of callbacks. In the case of C-3PO’s tumble through yet another obstacle course, it’s a brutal miss. Attack of the Clones’ factory sequence was lamentable for taking too many liberties with the humor the droids lent to the Star Wars universe, exaggerating it to embarrassing lengths of slapstick with C-3PO. This instance is far more merciful in its brevity, and thankfully Obi-Wan’s quick rescue of Threepio is followed by a short duel with General Grievous. I was under the (apparently naive) assumption the two would fight for the first and only time in Sith, but seeing Obi-Wan hurl Droidekas like bowling balls was cool enough to make me forget about canon. Hey Qui-Gon, where was that move in Episode I?

Its exact demise may have been uncertain, but the Malevolence probably wasn’t making it out of the series in one piece, so this episode was more of an inevitability than anything else. Thankfully, it lands on its feet with the decision to send Grievous packing. Anakin re-programming the warship’s navicomputer to crash into a nearby moon was a nice touch; Grievous’ cutting off communications with Dooku mid-transmission was even better. His shame at a resume of successive failures finally provides some self-awareness on the series’ end. I faulted previous episodes’ shortsighted characterization of Count Dooku. Too often the Separatist leader forgot that his droid general was just as likely to fail in the worst possible way as he was to succeed. It remains unclear if Grievous engaged the hyperdrive only to run back to Dooku anyway, but where their dynamic goes from here is something I look forward to. For now, let’s appreciate that The Clone Wars is finally developing its character moments and shifting at least one important relationship, as opposed to merely creating and then destroying surface level MacGuffins.

Stray Observations:

  • The Federation’s “firefighter” droids are a new benchmark of stupid. Why they would resemble anything like a fire department’s uniforms is beyond me, though I suppose an idea as dumb as that requires a real-world proxy.
  • Little from Ahsoka Tano means little complaining on this end.
  • Really thought the writers would try a “Padme as rough and tumble Leia” angle here. Alas, she self-destructs her cruiser in an attempt to take out Grievous and then reactivates Mousy Helpless Mode. Padme’s cogency as a galactic politician was always criminally underused in the Prequels. One can still dream, I guess.
  • Anakin goes to sabotage the Malevolence’s computer while Padme… cleans the droids. Star Wars at its most regressive!
  • Anakin adds insult to injury: “How’s the housecleaning going? Make me a Corellian club sandwich when you’re done too, toots”*

*Only half of this dialogue has been altered

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“Shadow of Malevolence” S1/E3

Shadow of Malevolence

Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by themselves.

Both “Ambush” and “Rising Malevolence” began with less than a simple ease into their individual stories, and whereas those episodes practically hurled background information and context at the audience, a single proverb here was plenty enough.

If its title were any indication, “Shadow of Malevolence” picks up where “Rising” left off, though to what extent in that sketchy timeline is anyone’s guess. The important thing to remember is General Grievous still has that damn ion cannon, and he continues wreaking havoc on the Republic through hit-and-run surprise attacks — FYI that’s three in a row, Clone Wars writing staff. Grievous’ latest target is the Kaliida Shoals Medical Center, the Republic’s floating galactic respite for thousands of recovering clone troopers. With Republic forces, Jedi, and generals alike off fighting other battles yet again, — Seriously, where are these more important battles when taking out Grievous seems like the obvious strategic coup? — Anakin suggests a surprise assault on the Malevolence itself, hoping to take out Robo-Wheeze in the process.

“Rising Malevolence” is contained enough, and while its subject matter clearly isn’t probing any character depths, it affords us a nice doubling between Anakin and Grievous. The episode’s primary concern lies with exploring the motivations and consequences behind wrongheadedness, a subject all too fitting for a story centered around the “Chosen One,” even if the aforementioned proverb makes this none too subtle. Anakin’s improvisation to intercept Grievous via smuggler’s shortcut, the Balmorra Run, jeopardizes the safety of himself, Ahsoka Tano, the rest of Shadow Squadron and tagalong Plo Koon, in addition to hurting the Republic’s chances of saving the Medical Center from Grievous’ attack. The danger, of course, is a bit of a letdown in that it’s less greedy pirates and more migratory patterns of Neebrays — picture airliner-sized whale sharks with billowy side fins. They fly.

Anakin’s brashness to not think past where he was leading Shadow Squadron’s Y-Wing fighters — much less, bother to ask Master Plo about a shortcut he’s familiar with — is amplified and embellished when Grievous arrives out of hyperspace to spring a would-be surprise hit on Koliida Shoals. If only to distract Grievous’ attention and the ion cannon’s overpowered devastation, Anakin leads a full-on assault on Malevolence’s bridge, but Shadow Squadron is forced into a sloppy evasion in avoiding the superweapon’s blast. And troopers die. The Clone Wars growing a pair here is illustrative of a willingness to demonstrate costs and risks of decision-making, and while Anakin’s quick thinking certainly goes on to spare Koliida Shoals’ infirmary patients from certain death, the Republic pays the price in another way. To his credit, Anakin leads the charge himself, a fitting blend of self-sacrifice and headstrong confidence.

Grievous shares much of the latter with General Skywalker; where the two differ is the former. Grievous, like nearly every Star Wars villain really, is driven by vengeance and self-sacrifice. He has no qualms about smacking around hapless droid pilots and has proven time and again he’s not afraid to ditch a battle. When Shadow Squadron fires a volley at the ion cannon just as its charging reaches its apex, the weapon overheats (or something) and explodes, crippling Grievous’ warship. Obi-Wan and a fleet of cruisers arrive to finish the job, but Grievous stays true to form and high tails it on outta there. Erm, spoilers?

As mentioned earlier, “Shadow of Malevolence” is the second of a three-part story arc, though I struggle to find any real connective tissue beyond the eponymous ship and a certain android general’s incompetence. All was not lost however, and “Shadow” definitely deserves credit for having the cajones to kill off characters and, you know, show some actual stakes in this Clone Wars business.

Stray Observations:

  • Shadow Squadron? Malevolence? Oh I see what they did there…
  • Today in Confederate gaffes: “Grievous, those battle droids are expensive.” Um, no Dooku. They aren’t. They’re cheap and easy to mass produce. That was the whole point. Sith Lords these days.
  • Yesterday in Confederate gaffes: Only an episode ago, Dooku left us with a palpable disgust of Grievous’ obvious strategic failures. Now? Dooku has supreme confidence in his mechanical underling. Someone must’ve done some serious Sun Tzu cramming last night.
  • First-person Y-Wing cockpit action? Great band name and a nice addition in this episode.
  • Why is he Master Plo and not “Master Koon?” General Kenobi; General Skywalker; Master Windu. Unless Koon is his equivalent “first name,” in which case the Kel Dor are the closest to a Chinese proxy in the Star Wars Universe

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“Rising Malevolence” S1E/2

Clone Wars Rising Malevolence Plo Koon

With Disney’s announcement Monday that it would be canceling The Clone Wars after this season — its fifth — and not a day after I reviewed its very first episode, it’s safe to say Dad was right. I really do kill everything.

It’s only the second episode, but “Rising Malevolence” [named after yet another warship the Confederacy decides to waste on General Grievous] already has some changes. Instead of “Ambush’s” opening crawl, two paragraphs of Flash Gordon-styled voiceover are thrown at the viewer to process in no more than ten seconds. Confederate surprise attacks! Plo Koon! Secret weapon! It’s a lot to take in; not because the material is deep or complex, but because they’re chucking it at you so damn fast.

When Master General and Jedi Power Battles Superstar Plo Koon and three Republic attack cruisers stumble upon the location of a secret Separatist weapon, he contacts Anakin, stationed at the nearby Bith system, for assistance. Unfortunately, Anakin must tend to his apprentice Ahsoka at the behest of the Jedi Council and several inconsequential strictures and regulations. Which really sucks, because Count Dooku and General Grievous on board the Malevolence jam Koon’s transmissions and disable the Republic fleet’s weapons, decimating the ships and forcing the crew to jettison to safety in their escape pods with minimal life support and weak communications.

But Grievous isn’t done yet. He sends out a tactical team — in the loosest sense of “tactical” — and a Droch-class boarding craft to eliminate the remaining survivors, lest Plo Koon warn the Republic of the Separatists’ dreaded new ion cannon. Ahsoka, revealing that Plo Koon was once her master before Anakin, petitions the Jedi to help them the fuck out. Anakin shoots Ahsoka down, reminding her to recognize her place in the Jedi Order and to do as she’s told. That is, until Anakin reveals he’s down with her plan all along, zipping off to the Abregado System in their junky Falcon rip-off du jour, the Twilight. Agreeing to the Council’s request is one thing, Anakin says; how you get that done is something else entirely.

Ahsoka’s presence in The Clone Wars film, and now the series, is troubling because she’s really just doubling the role Anakin should be playing. Making her Anakin’s apprentice deflates his characterization, too because as “Rising Malevolence” already shows, being a “Master” to anyone forces Anakin to be too responsible. It’s not enough to underdevelop Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship; Anakin needs a half-baked relationship with his own apprentice now, too. That said, Anakin’s logic here also makes for an interesting dynamic, one that introduces (too little, too late for the Prequels) an alternative characterization of Anakin that ventures beyond pouting and immature explosions of severe violence. He can get shit done while still being rebellious. If nothing else, it’s a nice homage to the late Qui-Gon Jinn’s personal philosophy.

Anywho, the droids converge and take out an escape pod, sending the clones inside flying out into space to suffocate. Brutal. Then follows a pretty measly action sequence where Plo Koon sluggishly bats away the droid team’s laser blasts before using the Force to… throw a clone trooper at the boarding craft for cover fire. Cool? Anakin and Ahsoka arrive shortly thereafter, and R2 fixes the Twilight’s hyperdrive just before the Separatists can fire their ion cannon on them. Steven Melching must’ve had The Empire Strikes Back playing in the background when he wrote this one.

Okay, so what happened here? Count Dooku is once again frustrated with Grievous fucking things up. The Jedi Council is solely comprised of holographic desk-jockeys. The Republic now knows about the Separatist’s weapon and… that’s it, really. Anakin and Ahsoka come to some lame agreement about sharing the blame for breaking the Council’s rules, but the moment feels more like redundant characterization than actual development. At least “Ambush” had some half-interesting ideas about individuality. Here we just hear more from the uninteresting shoe-horned biography of the galaxy’s #1 Mary Sue.

Stray Observations:

  • Sixth-grade me did not imagine Plo Koon sounding like a Halo Elite with that elaborately deep voice.
  • I love how much this episode tries to hype up a “secret” weapon that wasn’t that impressive in Empire. In Episode V, the ion cannon looks and does exactly what it sounds like. In The Clone Wars? It’s a superpowered weapon that shoots out electric sparkling jellyfish.
  • Maybe I’m picking nits here, but those Droch-class “juicers” the battle droids used seemed pretty conveniently-sized to pincer the Republic escape pods. They’re used for more than boarding escape pods though, yes?
  • Since when did Anakin become a bureaucrat? Sure, part of his scolding Ahsoka for breaking from the Council’s orders was for show, but he felt a little too snippy. A little too Obi-Wan.
  • The latest in PG-rated death threats: Count Dooku’s “I want all those life pods destroyed…”
  • Grievous is ridiculous in “Rising Malevolence.” Moreso than Revenge of the Sith. He’s hacking up his lungs and bitching out battle droid crew members even as Dooku tells him how much he fucked up. He’s Dooku’s pathetic, half-robot, goofy lapdog.
  • On that note, there are way too many apprentices. Anakin is Obi-Wan’s former apprentice; Ahsoka used to be Plo Koon’s; now she’s Anakin’s; Grievous and Dooku. The Clone Wars is running a FREE APPRENTICE OFFER  at its yard sale. I miss Darth Maul.

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“Ambush” S1/E1

Clone Wars Ambush Yoda

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.”

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