TV Discussion

Star Wars: The Clone Wars #7 – ‘The Problem With Pirates’ – TV Rewind

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.

Dooku Captured (2009)

Season 1, Episode 11. Written by Julie Siege, directed by Jesse Yeh.
“The winding path to peace is always a worthy one, regardless of how many turns it takes.”

Acting on a lead to hunt down Separatist figurehead Count Dooku, Anakin Skywalker has gone missing, while Obi-Wan Kenobi flies to his former padawan’s last known co-ordinates in the Outer Rim. Reunited, the pair discover the Sith Lord there, but a game of explosive cat and mouse leads to all abandoning ship. Anakin and Obi-Wan find themselves stranded on nearby Vanqor, while Dooku falls into the clutches of pirates, a group eager to exact the best reward for their new, in-demand merchandise…

And so we return to the spiritual core of The Clone Wars, namely the stark halls of a Separatist cruiser reverberating to the sound of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s bickering. The first act of this particular story is very evocative of their mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine at the beginning of Revenge Of The Sith. And while it’s great to get back to this familiar territory, the antagonistic nature of the pair’s informal relationship never works quite as well in its animated form. The barbs certainly feel as if they look better on paper than they sound on the screen.

But we’re not here for the Jedi. We’ve known that ‘independent business-beings’ exist in the Galaxy Far, Far Away since we met smuggler Han Solo in 1977 of course, but ‘Dooku Captured’ introduces a future-stalwart of the Star Wars animated strand in Hondo Ohnaka, a Weequay pirate who can best be described as the dodgy, grizzled cousin of a California Raisin who sounds like Ricardo Montalbán (and is, in fact, brought to life by voiceover veteran, Jim Cummings), and whose crew inhabit a giant flying saucer.

Ohnaka cuts the figure not quite of an antihero, but occupying that middle-ground of innate, fascinating untrustworthiness, joining the Watto, the Jawas and Ugnaughts. But far from just being a scrap-merchant, this businessman deals in anything he and his subordinates can lay their hands upon, however they manage to acquire it. The gang is populated mostly by Weequays, using the same core animation-model (but a different one from Hondo himself) with varying clothes and accessories. The overall look of breeches, bandanas and the occasional prosthetic limb is certainly one which evokes the piratical renderings of broader popular culture.

Visual callbacks to Return Of The Jedi continue with Hondo’s pet Kowakian Monkey Lizards, Pikk and Pilf. True to form, the critters provide a distracting sideshow while the pirate boss makes his real manoeuvres in the background. And speaking of visuals, we’re treated to a lot of on-screen entities by now, as the technical specifications at Lucasfilm Animation were raised and circumvented as the team went on. Casting the reference-net slightly wider, we also get to meet a Gundark creature (re. The Empire Strikes Back‘s “strong enough to pull the ears off a..”), as Anakin Skywalker tries to avoid getting close enough to test precisely how much power would be needed.

‘Dooku Captured’ begins briskly and slows down a little as it forks into two story-threads, but all the while retaining that rolling sense of lighthearted adventure. Hondo Ohnaka welcomes you to his party. But don’t drink the booze, you don’t know what they’ve done to it…

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The Gungan General (2009)

Season 1, Episode 12. Written by Julie Siege, directed by Justin Ridge.
“Fail with honour rather than succeed with fraud.”

After being contacted by pirates offering a valuable political prize for the right price, Senator Palpatine has despatched the Gran Senator Kharrus and Representative Jar Jar Binks to the planet Florrum to deliver payment in return for Count Dooku. But by now, Anakin and Obi-Wan find themselves captured alongside their Sith nemesis (courtesy of that booze mentioned above). With Hondo planning a double-cross, the three have little choice but to work together to fashion an escape…

With writer Julie Siege penning both parts of this arc, the rollicking fun continues right out of the gate, including the borderline slapstick of a Force-enhanced breakout, soundtracked by Dooku now being pulled into our heroes’ verbal sparring. With Corey Burton’s Count threatening to steal the show through his curmudgeonly, comedy straight-man to Anakin and Obi-Wan’s sniping, the dialogue is lifted above the last episode’s quips, particularly since Burton is almost indistinguishable from Sir Christopher Lee in his taciturn rumblings.

The busy sets and detailed action sequences are lit by Florrum’s rich colour palette, with a little clone-on-droid excitement thrown in as the ransom-carriers arrive for their transaction. And as the episode title implies, this half of the story throws everyone’s favourite Gungan back into the spotlight. And as we all know, that can only be a good thing.

Or at least, that was the plan on-paper. Because for this episode (and a few more to come later), Jar Jar Binks is voiced not by his movie alter-ego Ahmed Best, but by someone credited only as B.J. Hughes, an assumed pseudonym of a performer who hasn’t been officially identified. Lucasfilm themselves have been coy when it comes to this Gungan understudy, and with good reason. He is, to put it delicately, not particularly adept at the sole task he has been awarded. Binks is a divisive figure at best of course, but it’s surprising how a lacklustre imitation of Ahmed’s distinctive vocals can rob the character of the legitimacy he at least carried earlier in the same season. Hughes just doesn’t have the wildcard ‘squeak’ which defines the hapless amphibian’s shrieks and exclamations.

This aside, ‘The Gungan General’ is another incredibly solid episode. There’s little in the way of lightsaber action (considering we follow two Jedi and a Sith), but fans of dark-side menace may smile at Count Dooku performing one particularly effective Force-choke, as well as garrotting one of his captors with a pair of energy-binders.

Geek-points are duly awarded to the animation team for giving Senator Kharrus the Staff Of Ra to carry about, an artefact originally seen in 1981’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark. That movie famously featured carvings of R2-D2 and C-3PO in its hieroglyphs of course, and this returning of the favour won’t be the last time we’ll see Indy referenced in The Clone Wars.

Overall, this pair of tales is a great side-adventure introducing some new faces to help flesh out the GFFA. It’s just a shame that one of the old faces lets the side down…

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