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.
Cloak Of Darkness (2008)
Season 1, Episode 9. Written by Paul Dini, directed by Dave Filoni.
“Ignore your instincts at your peril.”
Following his capture on Rodia, Trade Federation kingpin Nute Gunray is being transported to Coruscant to stand trial for war crimes, escorted by Jedi Ahsoka Tano and Luminara Unduli. Aware of Gunray’s cowardly nature, his Separatist cronies have other ideas, however, and Asajj Ventress is despatched to either rescue or silence the Viceroy…
You’ve got to love an intern. Always eager to help, yet often mistaking enthusiasm for consideration. And it turns out that when things go south on this particular babysitting mission, Anakin’s apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, with the padawan Ahsoka Tano deciding to use a sledgehammer to crack a Klee-klee nut. Our duology of parables this time is based very much around the tactical use of restraint, and Tano whipping out a lightsaber during Gunray’s debriefing isn’t even the most startling example of ‘no, tone it down a bit‘.
Without wanting to stray too far into spoiler territory, it’s fairly safe to say that a villain like Nute isn’t going to stay captured for long, and it’s the mechanics of his rescue which form the backbone of the plot here. The pacing of the episode is one of constant escalation, with Gunray’s escape on one side of the Republic Cruiser perfectly balanced with the three-way lightsaber fight on the other.
In addition to the regular cast, Olivia D’Abo gets to properly expand the character of Luminara Unduli, one of the Jedi seen briefly during the arena-battle in Attack Of The Clones. The actress’s rounded British tones (think ‘BBC announcer’) are a great counterpoint to the more American-sounding Jedi we’re used to, and manage to take the edge off a script which can be, at times, a little clunky.
Also stepping into the Galaxy Far, Far Away is James (Buffy) Marsters, lending his voice to the Senate Commando, Captain Argyus, a role with slightly less nuance given his character’s theatrically coiffured hair is one step away from a moustache to be twirled when others aren’t looking. Although there’s a reason that Marsters’ IMDB page only lists one appearance in The Clone Wars. He may have been wearing a red shirt under the blue Senate armour, who knows?
But written by Paul (Batman: The Animated Series) Dini, the real strengths of ‘Cloak Of Darkness’ lie just under its surface. We see the Jedi’s use of psychology during prisoner interrogations, more like traditional mind-games than the telepathy one would perhaps expect. At the other end of the scale, there’s some outstanding lightsaber choreography on display, including a beheading and a ‘kebab’ moment to follow up the one dished out by Grievous in the last episode. Naturally these are bloodless incidents and the head-removal is illustrated by a helmet becoming separated from its body-armour, but this is still a surprisingly dark play for a show which aired on Cartoon Network.
Elsewhere, the Separatist commanders are still presented as pantomime villains, which is understandable given the portrayal of the Republic as ‘the heroes’. The sliding-scale of wartime morality is later explored by The Clone Wars, but Season One wasn’t quite the place for shades of grey. We also have the slight niggle of Ahsoka holding off Asajj Ventress remarkably well, given the former is a padawan and the latter a fully paid-up assassin under the tutelage of one Count Dooku. Although again, the Togrutan did a sterling job against General Grievous, so perhaps this is to be expected.
A solid entry in the series and certainly a highlight of the first season, ‘Cloak Of Darkness’ hints to the audience that there’s more than just blaster-fire and lightsabers to this war. As well it should…
Lair Of Grievous (2008)
Season 1, Episode 10. Written by Henry Gilroy, directed by Atsushi Takeuchi.
“Most powerful is he who controls his own power.”
With Nute Gunray liberated from Republic custody, Kit Fisto has tracked the ship used for his escape to the Vassek system. With the Jedi’s recently knighted padawan Nahdar Vebb one step ahead of his former master and already on the planet, all clues point to an empty, vast and intricate fortress. But while its owner isn’t presently home, he’s not too far away…
And so from one green-skinned Jedi glimpsed in the Geonosis arena to another, as we’re properly introduced to Kit Fisto. And one rather suspects the combination of the Nautolan’s dreadlock-like head tentacles and easygoing, beaming grin led to him being portrayed with a soft Jamaican accent by Phil (Marvin who gets shot in the face in Pulp Fiction) LaMarr. Kit certainly comes across as measured and methodical at any rate, unlike the one who was until recently under his charge.
Nahdar Vebb is the first of this episode’s nods to Return Of The Jedi, being a Mon Calimari Jedi – the same species as Admiral Ackbar from that film. Voiced by Tom Kenny who also brings Nute Gunray to life, Vebb is brash, impetuous, and symptomatic of the Jedi Order’s rush to advance generals into war before they’re truly ready. As above, this aspect of the storyline is somewhat less than subtle, and as above we don’t hear much from this character again. Not least because there’s another general whose character needs building.
Yes, Grievous is namechecked in the title and goes on to steal the show accordingly. Inside the stunningly rendered castle which serves as one of his bolt-holes, we’re treated to a narcissistic set of statue dioramas depicting the general’s previous victories on the battlefield, as well as a look inside of his ‘parts cupboard’. As sole caretaker of the facility and chief mechanic/medical officer, EV-A4-D gives us an insight into the Kaleesh general’s propensity for ‘improvements’. He also serves as another nod to the third Star Wars film as he’s the from same series as Jabba’s EV-9D9 administrator droid. Rounding out this visual hat-trick are the surveillance camera droids Grievous has installed, as featured at the gate of Jabba’s palace on Tatooine.
To match the dank interior the Jedi find themselves exploring, Grievous’ pet and guard-dog, Gor, is a delicious creation, evoking the work of H.R. Giger, all teeth, claws and animalistic determination (and not the last time we’ll see the artist’s work inspiring the GFFA). Every part of the castle looks grotesquely gorgeous, from the clones’ head-lamps cutting a swathe through the gloom to the exquisite lighting once all the sabers are ignited.
Continuing the character-arc of the increasingly demented warrior, Grievous hasn’t felt this threatening (or at least relentless) since his Jedi-killing debut on Hypori in Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2D Clone Wars series in 2004. If anything, it’s almost a shame that the general uses his four-armed attack here, as it lessens the reveal in Revenge Of The Sith when he duels with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Although only mid-way through the first season, both of these episodes show The Clone Wars coming on in leaps and bounds in terms of modelling, detailing, lighting and movement. It’s an old theatrical tradition that you should always leave the audience wanting more, and in terms of General Grievous’ background, development and echoing stronghold, that’s precisely what Henry Gilroy and Atsushi Takeuchi have done. When can we go back to Vassek, please..?