In this ongoing series, Ian Blackout revisits Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, in a (roughly) chronological order of events and grouped (roughly) into story-arcs.
Supply Lines (2010)
Season 3, Episode 3. Written by Steven Melching and Eoghan Mahony, directed by Brian Kaling O’Connell.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.“
As Twi’lek freedom fighters attempt to push back a Separatist invasion force on their home of Ryloth, senator Bail Organa travels to the neighbouring Toydaria. Hoping to convince this neutral world to help the Republic in offering their planet as a staging ground to launch aid operations, Lott Dod and the Trade Federation also arrive, reminding King Katunko that assisting the Republic will be seen as a breach of their neutrality. Luckily, Bail has Jar Jar Binks to assist him in this delicate negotiation…
‘Supply Lines’ sits in the show’s third season, and the confidence by then of Lucasfilm Animation is evident in the opening battle. The sheer number of moving assets on-screen is notable, not to mention the detailed models and texturing to back those up. We get some fantastic camerawork on and off the battlefield, with the type of smooth panning shots you’d expect from a live-action production.
Also worthy of praise here is Corey Burton as the voice of Count Dooku, almost indistinguishable from Sir Christopher Lee (2008’s The Clone Wars movie saw the Dracula actor reprising the role in the recording-booth). And while we’re focusing on vocal performances, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that Ahmed Best returns here to voice Jar Jar. Especially since there are a few episodes of The Clone Wars where he doesn’t, and the difference is jarring, to say the least.
Speaking of everyone’s favourite Gungan, Binks is taking to political life almost exactly as one would expect. His purpose in ‘Supply Lines’ is purely comedic, and the dinner-party scene where he has to distract the Trade Federation delegates from Republic aid-ships launching outside is pure Terry And June farce in both intent and execution.
Extra geek-points are awarded for ‘Supply Lines’ using the Blurrg beasts on Ryloth, which made their 1985 debut as stop-motion creatures in Ewoks: The Battle For Endor. So some part of that underrated movie remains canon, at least…
Season 1, Episode 1. Written by Steven Melching, directed by Dave Bullock.
“Great leaders inspire greatness in others.“
Following King Katunko’s decision to discreetly help Ryloth, Master Yoda himself journeys to Toydaria to convince the king that his world would be better protected by joining the Republic, and allowing the Republic to build a supply base there. The Separatist council have gotten wind of this however, dispatching the assassin Asajj Ventress to bring a message from her master and defeat the diminutive Jedi. Count Dooku’s offer to the king is similar in structure to Yoda’s, but far heavier in threat…
We go right back to the start for this instalment: season one, episode one. And it shows. Without the production budget of The Clone Wars movie which preceded it by two months, Toydaria is rendered as a sparsely populated world. The Clonetroopers, Battle Droids and Force-users are ported in from the existing library of course, but any characters new for this story (as well as the background scenery) are lacking in crucial detail.
If anything, ‘Ambush’ was seen as something of a damp squib to open the series with back in 2008, and that hasn’t necessarily changed in the intervening decade. Jedi Master Yoda proves the best value for money here, with a beautiful scene in a cave where he talks to the clones about their uniqueness in the Force. This is followed by a brief battle scene where we get a glimpse of the Lucasfilm Animation team’s strengths at that point. But ultimately, ‘Ambush’ features neither the political complexity of what would come later, nor the weighty action to really justify the standoff.
There’s also a lot of Battle Droid humour in here, some of which works, some of which doesn’t, all of which remains a fairly contentious issue to this day. But as even one of the tinnies themselves points out, that’s in their programming…
Bombad Jedi (2008)
Season 1, Episode 8. Written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Kevin Rubio, directed by Jesse Yeh.
“Heroes are made by the times.“
On the advice of Chancellor Palpatine, Naboo Senator Padmé Amidala travels to Rodia to affirm the planet’s continued allegiance to the Republic. Padmé is sure of her success as a family friend, ‘Uncle’ Ono, holds a significant post in the government. Unfortunately, Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation has other plans, and has blackmailed Ono into imprisoning the senator upon her arrival. Luckily, C-3PO and Jar Jar Binks are on-hand to assist in this delicate negotiation…
Had you been watching the film and series in broadcast-order, you’d be forgiven for sensing a theme by this point. Almost as if the creative team sat around a table and said “Right, the stories where Padmé goes on a basic political errand only to get captured don’t seem to be getting the best feedback. But people just love C-3PO worrying about everything in sight and Jar Jar Binks falling over a lot, so how about we work those into the plot at the same time?”
While our senator is off balancing diplomacy, espionage and prison-breaking, Jar Jar and Threepio are effectively left ‘minding the car’. A simple task which results in the vehicle being destroyed, a furious sub-aquatic beast rising from the depths and the Gungan attempting to pose as a Jedi – and succeeding at it.
Credit where it’s due, our heroine facilitates her own rescue here, no knight (Jedi or otherwise) in shining body armour is needed. Credit where it’s also due, Jar Jar and C-3PO are great. With Ahmed Best and Anthony Daniels voicing their characters from the saga-movies, there’s an authenticity to the gently amusing script which percolates right through the animation. The zig-zag of slapstick and verbal sparring lifts what would otherwise be a fairly procedural entry in the series.
This combination of characters and plot won’t be to all viewers’ tastes of course – a caveat which applies to each of the above episodes – but when they’re laid out so earnestly it really doesn’t matter. That’s why some stories in the series are based around comedy, some are war tales, westerns, spy flicks, political dramas and even horror movies. All have their fair share of action; all have their place in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
The Clone Wars accomplishes great things when it believes in itself, and each of these entries adds depth to the overall story of a pan-galactic war. And it’s a volume with many, many pages so yes – you’d better believe that Jar Jar’s going to be on a few of them…