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.
For this particular entry, we pull out three separate stories from early in the timeline, still in overall story-order but grouped together here under their common-thread of Republic Clonetroopers…
Clone Cadets (2010)
Season 3, Episode 1. Written by Cameron Litvack, directed by Dave Filoni.
“Brothers in arms are brothers for life.”
With the war showing no signs of coming to an early end, the pressure is on the Republic to get troops ready for the ever-expanding galactic battlefield. The cloning facilities on Kamino oblige as fast as amended organics and intensive training will allow, but not all soldiers progress at the same speed. The Jedi have resorted to employing mercenaries to bring the clones up to speed, and Master Shaak Ti witnesses hired guns Bric and El-Les overseeing final tests in the simulated battlefield known as The Citadel…
It’s a delicious irony of The Clone Wars that the most interesting episodes are the ones revolving around characters who look almost identical, and are all voiced by one actor. Dee Bradley Baker gets to shine again as the ragtag group of clones known as Domino Squadron, so named because of how often they fall. As is quickly becoming the norm for the show, troopers Hevy, Fives, Echo, Cutup and Droidbait all have distinct personalities, both in their animated idiosyncrasies and Baker’s vocalisations.
‘Clone Cadets’ introduces us (canonically at least) to the Arc Troopers, a higher echelon of clone more suited to commando-tasks, but all the more unpredictable because of it. Whereas the regular troops have been bred for obedience with problem-solving creativity, the Arcs are a step closer to their unmanageable genetic host, the late Jango Fett.
Tonally, Domino Squad are effectively the underdogs here, so it’s a fairly safe bet as to which way their progress will go. Sure enough, their attempts at conquering The Citadel, combined with a 22-minute runtime, means the writers’ rule-of-three is firmly adhered to, as the boys finally learn to work co-operatively as a team (although one would wonder what the Kaminoans had been brainwashing them with for the previous ten years, if they were still this sloppy at the point of being shipped off to war).
Another odd touch is the ‘bad batcher’ clone, 99, a genetic anomaly who is unfit for military service, but has been kept around by the Kaminoans as a janitor. His role in this story is as the kindly old-timer (even though he’s the same biological age as the others), who reassures, inspires and wishes he could fight alongside his brothers on the front line. The character’s faintly heartbreaking here, especially as previous Clone Wars-era novels (now reclassified as ‘Legends’, alas) make it clear that the Kaminoan scientists have no time for defects, and it’s not in their nature to have evidence of their professional failure pushing a mop around the corridors. Still, there’s a limit to how thematically grim the show can be, realistically.
All in all, ‘Clone Cadets’ is a very strong episode, bringing us characters who will go on to have larger roles in the series as it develops. And seeing more of how sterile and claustrophobic the training facilities on Kamino are, is it any wonder our boys are champing at the bit to knock some Battle Droid heads together?
Season 1, Episode 5. Written by Steven Melching, directed by Justin Ridge.
“The best confidence builder is experience.”
Having eventually passed their training with flying colours, Domino Squadron are still new to the war nonetheless, considered ‘shinies’ by virtue of their clean armour. The group find themselves deployed to the Rishi Moon outpost near Kamino, a small but vital hub for the Republic’s communications network. Fighting boredom and preparing for a routine inspection of the base by Captain Rex and Commander Cody, the squad are taken by surprise when Separatist Commando Droids arrive first, intent on disrupting the comms-station in preparation to invade Kamino. But the Seps haven’t counted on how capable these rookies can be…
Only five episodes into the first season, the barren, night-time setting of the Rishi Moon and the superb animation of the Commando Droids (think Battle Droids, but with more aerodynamic heads, ninja-skills and no sense of humour) means The Clone Wars takes a darker, more menacing tone. Combine that with a script which kills off characters throughout, and suddenly the stakes of the war are raised, from the clones’ perspective.
With General Grievous and the Jedi ‘locked off’ on their respective ships, each trying to ascertain the status of the outpost, this truly is a clone-centric story, and it demonstrates how disposable the troops will be, not just in-universe as military and political pawns, but also to the writers who need to introduce a sense of threat in a show full of characters we know will survive to Episode III. And, as noted above, given that some of ‘Rookies’ protagonists will go on down the future seasons of The Clone Wars, they’re not just introduced to be red-shirts.
In addition to ‘Clone Cadets’ Arc Troopers, here we get a nod to the 501st, a legion who go on to be nicknamed ‘Vader’s Fist’, the elite squad which marches with Anakin into the Jedi Temple in Revenge Of The Sith. Except that here, they’re still the good guys.
But ambition is one thing, luck is another. As ‘Rookies’ so eloquently shows, even with the hardest of training and best of intentions, sometimes you just end up being dinner for a giant rock-burrowing eel…
Season 1, Episode 15. Written by Steven Melching, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Arrogance diminishes wisdom.”
From a perma-night space rock to the snowy plains of Orto Plutonia now, as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are despatched to the system to investigate a missing security patrol (never a good sign). Along with their coterie of troops, they’re accompanied by representatives from nearby Pantora, Senator Riyo Chuchi and Chairman Chi Cho – the latter of whom is keen to reinforce his government’s claim to the world as an asset. But this depends on the planet being uninhabited, and our heroes are about to discover why the Republic’s patrol stopped checking in…
And so we move back toward the political diplomacy aspect of The Clone Wars, but very much its application in the field. In what is frankly a refreshing development, here we have C-3PO tagging along to be used as an interpreter (his actual job, remember), while the Jedi are there to act as diplomatic intermediaries (their original jobs, remember) in addition to their status as generals in the war.
The young Riyo Chuchi (voiced by Jennifer Hale) is a great addition to the overall storyline, managing to come across as cautious and inexperienced without the audience wondering how she got so far up the ladder to begin with. Her counterpart Chi Cho (Brian George), on the other hand, is possibly a little too ‘on the nose’, the Pantoran Chairman’s gruff demeanour and fusty colonial attitudes telegraphing his character arc a little too clearly.
The snowbound setting and the Jedi’s cold weather gear are instantly evocative of Hoth, and this terrain lends itself to some outstanding action scenes. It’s a testament to Steven Melching’s writing and Brian Kalin O’Connell’s direction that the combat and politics mix so well, as this becomes something of a sore-point later in the series.
Speaking of niggles, ‘Trespass’ showcases the Talz, bulky bipedal white-furred humanoids, around eight-feet tall and living in a tribal setting, observed to not be sophisticated enough to have developed interplanetary travel. Although Threepio has their dialect in his databanks, the Talz are treated by all the other characters as a ‘new’ species. Which would be fine and dandy if Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars micro-series hadn’t brought us Foul Moudama, the Talz Jedi, four years earlier in 2005 (although he was later reclassified as ‘Legends’ anyway). And considering that 18 years after the war a Talz can be seen getting drunk in Mos Eisley, one really has to wonder if the furry dudes were ready to be introduced to galactic ‘civilisation’ at all…
Although action-packed, these episodes aren’t the most intensive clone-centered stories we’ll get from this series. The politics is kept to a relatively subtle level, there are little-to-no Force powers on display and droids play a purely functional role. But they’re a great example of just how much fun The Clone Wars can be telling the smaller, incidental tales that still have larger consequences…