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.
Downfall Of A Droid (2008)
Season 1, Episode 6. Written by George Krstic, directed by Rob Coleman.
“Trust in your friends, and they’ll have reason to trust in you.“
With Separatist forces poised to wrest control of the Outer Rim Regions from the Republic’s grasp, Anakin Skywalker is despatched to the crucial Bothawui system with a fleet to fend them off. Confrontation ensues and Anakin is prompted to engage the enemy single-handed, but loses his trusty Astromech droid R2-D2 in the process. Instructing Skywalker to simply replace his electronic navigator, Obi-Wan Kenobi eventually cedes to his former padawan’s desire to recover him, since the droid is carrying a wealth of Republic tactical data which mustn’t fall into enemy hands…
Directed by ILM effects-veteran Rob Coleman, this particular Clone Wars outing takes us back into the airless reaches of space which – as demonstrated earlier – lends a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere with its dark, cramped ships. A mere six episodes into the first season, some of the character movement still feels a little clunky here, too. That’s not to say there aren’t thrills to be had along the way, but Anakin’s grim determination to recover Artoo tends to suck any joy right out of the airlock.
We’re introduced to the ‘agency temp’ Astromech R3-S6, colloquially known as ‘Goldie’ after his black and gold colour scheme (a direct reference to supervising director Dave Filoni’s love for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team). But it’s no great spoiler to say that this electronic newcomer is more than meets the eye, his apparent clumsiness on the battlefield telegraphing a more sinister agenda.
Also new for this story is the Trandoshan junk-scavenger Gha Nachkt (voiced by Ron ‘Hellboy‘ Perlman), whose lumpy stature and hunched demeanour will come as something of a surprise to viewers whose only previous contact with the reptilian species has been on the bridge of the Star Destroyer Executor in The Empire Strikes Back. Let’s just say that Bossk comes off as Arnold Schwarzenegger to Gha Nachkt’s Danny De Vito (evoking the latter more in Batman Returns than Twins, in fact). Naturally, his character’s disposition and development follow the same general direction as the replacement droid.
Adding more notes of discord (literally) is Kevin Kiner’s score for the episode. Stepping away from his usual militaristic tone for the series, several of the tracks here venture into what can only be described as dance-territory. While this isn’t a mis-step in itself (Kiner’s mix of styles worked to great effect in The Clone Wars movie), the jumping back and forth between the orchestral sections and their synthesised counterparts is somewhat jarring.
Then to confound matters further, the Republic standoff at the asteroid field is soundtracked by a piece which appears to borrow heavily from Wojciech Kilar’s ‘Vampire Hunters’, from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There are only a finite number of notes and a finite number of combinations thereof, of course, but Coppola’s film was what could be referred to as ‘a staggering success’, so it’s not too cynical to assume that similarities between its own score and that of a popular Star Wars TV series may well be picked up almost instantly. The pieces are even in the same key. We won’t post links here but a certain proprietary video platform is a huge place and this is easily researchable.
But the biggest problem ‘Downfall Of A Droid’ faces could be the good old prequel-trap. Exploring character motivations and shining a different light on future events is one thing, but we’re ideally expected to buy into the prospect of Anakin losing R2-D2 permanently, despite having seen the pair together in Revenge Of The Sith. It’s almost enough to make you forget that we have General ‘I don’t meet Skywalker in person until Episode III’ Grievous round the corner from the young Jedi for most of the 22 minute runtime…
Duel Of The Droids (2008)
Season 1, Episode 7. Written by Kevin Campbell & Henry Gilroy, directed by Rob Coleman.
“You hold onto friends by keeping your heart a little softer than your head.“
With R2-D2 still missing, Anakin’s squad is redeployed to investigate reports of a secret Separatist listening post – luckily this ties in with the Jedi’s instinct that his friend isn’t yet lost forever. Meanwhile, R3-S6 is proving to be a liability in the field, and junk dealer Gha Nachkt thinks he may have struck gold with this latest acquisition…
And breathe. As we journey to the ochre clouds of one of the moons of Ruusan in the Mid Rim, the constriction of telling a story in a literal vacuum is released somewhat. ‘Duel Of The Droids’ features a fantastic skydiving sequence as our heroes stealthily descend to Skytop Station, a spherical core of the Trade Federation ships seen in The Phantom Menace and at the battle of Geonosis. And while the animation may not yet be deft enough to show the wind howling through Skywalker’s hair (that’s some serious Brylcreem action he’s got), it feels like a breath of fresh air nonetheless.
The pacing is certainly closer to ‘fun adventure’ this time round, with a clear objective for the Republic squadron, a game of cat and mouse inside the battle station and a frantic race to the finish line. The titular duel is a little twee when it eventually arrives (you can probably guess the participants), but is framed within a larger battle so never feels too forced.
Elsewhere we now have the Clonetroopers using grenade-type ‘droid poppers’, sending out a localised ion blast which overloads enemy circuitry. Clone Captain Rex gets an “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, which is always nice. We also have two prime examples of the Jedi’s skill in using their lightsabers to cut through walls/floors in a startlingly perfect circle – a trait which was eased out in future episodes. That’s only a very minor gripe of course, but much like the score’s prolonged tendency to switch to slightly inappropriate techno, it’s difficult to not notice after being brought to your attention (you’re welcome).
But perhaps the most satisfying aspect of ‘Duel Of The Droids’ is General Grievous becoming noticeably more unhinged. With his erratic behaviour concerning even the Separatist command-chain at this early point, the Kaleesh cyborg comes across as one of the true wildcards of the series. We also get some fairly nifty saber action (only with two arms – got to hold something back for Revenge Of The Sith, right?), the only issue being that this is in a brief duel with Ahsoka Tano. That both will survive the encounter never becomes a problem, but the teenage Togruta seems to be conveniently deft at holding off the one known as ‘the Jedi killer’. Then again, she’s Anakin’s padawan, so who knows how intensive the training regime is?
This droid duology is a fun brick in the wall of the The Clone Wars, but both episodes have significant issues and are ‘filler’ at best. The portrayal of a conflict we’ve already seen the end of increases the risk of ‘red-shirting’ characters we meet for the first time, even in a galaxy as large as this one. But it’s always great to see Grievous…