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.
Jedi Crash (2009)
Season 1, Episode 13. Written by Katie Lucas, directed by Rob Coleman.
“Greed and fear of loss are the roots that lead to the tree of evil.”
As Aayla Secura’s forces are besieged at Quell in the Outer Rim, the Jedi race across the galaxy to assist. Arriving just in time, Anakin Skywalker is injured in the melee aboard her star destroyer, and the battle results in Aayla, Anakin, Ahsoka and a handful of clones being jettisoned into an uncalculated hyperspace jump. Crash-landing on a planet of sparse grassland, the team have to figure out where they are and if they can find a way off-world…
Keeping it all firmly in-house, ‘Jedi Crash’ is directed by ILM effects veteran Rob Coleman and written by Katie Lucas, daughter of George. And things get off to a flying start as we’re plunged straight into the action, witnessing for the first time a standoff between Republic star destroyers and Separatist cruisers which occurs inside a planet’s atmosphere. The visuals of detailed ship-models causing rapid explosions in a range of reds, oranges and yellows, all set against an electric blue sky is stunning, the amount of detail which goes into each frame a stark contrast with the beginning of the season.
Making her dialogued-debut this episode is one Aayla Secura, the blue-skinned female Twi’lek who appeared in Attack Of The Clones‘ arena battle after George Lucas saw the character in Dark Horse’s Star Wars: Republic comic and earmarked her for inclusion in the film. It turns out that Aayla speaks Basic (the in-universe label for English) with a moderately heavy French accent. This is fine in itself of course, but when that accent is layered onto a ‘pouty’ character who is already baring a midriff and not-inconsiderable cleavage in the middle of a battlefield, a viewer could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow as to the gender-politics behind the scenes. It also won’t be the last time that accents rear their head this week.
Once the heroes land on the planet Maridun, the clear blue skies of Quell are swapped for rich, textured cloudscapes, framing the plains below. As in the battle, the amount of animation detail here is breathtaking, and arguably far more satisfying than what follows.
Finding an inhabited village populated by short, lemur-like creatures known as the Lurmen, our heroes are perplexed to learn that this group colonised the previously-barren planet as a means of declaring themselves neutral in the Clone War. As such, they have no inclination to assist the Jedi and be seen to take sides. Although the village elder, Tee Watt Kaa, reluctantly agrees to tend to the injured Anakin Skywalker, he is steadfast that the group will receive no other aid. Younger members of the tribe look furtively askance at their leader, and that loud clunking sound is the profound drama of the next episode roaring into life…
Defenders Of Peace (2009)
Season 1, Episode 14. Written by Bill Canterbury, directed by Steward Lee.
“When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose a side.”
The opening ‘fortune cookie’ sets the unequivocal tone for what is to follow. We live in increasingly binary times, of course, both literally and figuratively. Whether it’s the fundamental difference between 0s and 1s which form the operational core of the electronic device upon which you’re reading this article, or the eyebrow-raising political views of your neighbour, colleague or relative, fence-sitting has never been so inviable. But hey, maybe war brings out the worst in people?
Just as Aayla and Ahsoka have persuaded the Lurmen village to assist them in nursing the wounded Anakin Skywalker, a Trade Federation lander-ship arrives on the planet unannounced. Citing this as proof that the Jedi have brought the war with them, Tee Watt Kaa tells the group they must leave, and that his tribe will not oppose the droid forces. But the Separatists are here for less personal reasons, having rolled up on the world to test their new superweapon – one which destroys all organic matter in its path while leaving machinery unharmed. And the Lurmen village is in its path…
So. Political neutrality and moral pacifism are great concepts on flimsiplast, but mean little when the Trade Federation is knocking on your door with an eye on your green-space and a radiation Defoliator in the cargo hold. As the Lurmen learn to their cost, there are no spectators in this game, only players: winners and losers. All credit goes to writers Katie Lucas and Bill Canterbury for addressing the issue so early in the run of The Clone Wars, although it ends up being handled as subtly as one might expect. The series isn’t called The Clone Peace for a number of reasons.
Part of the problem could be that a 22-minute TV show aimed at a wide demographic cross-section is not perhaps the best place to roll out a philosophical discussion of warfare. While neither the Jedi nor Clonetroopers are presented to be pro-war here, they’re met with an absolute rebuttal from the Lurmen elders on the nature of pacifism vs survival – namely Secura’s observation the Separatists don’t operate on moral principles, so those can’t really be used against them. But the political core at the centre of this arc is shown to be as relevant in 2018 as it was a decade earlier, when a young member of the tribe confides in Ahsoka “many others agree with me, but we were raised under a very strict code. We must respect it, even if we don’t agree with it”. Well, quite.
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Scattered over this slightly flawed and lopsided debate are the Lurmen themselves, speaking in a bizarre melding of Irish and Scottish accents which sound for all the world like the voice-cast haven’t really perfected either. Having the characters talk so earnestly in vaguely comical tones doesn’t help the audience take their point of view any more seriously.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Actually it sort of is, when our Trade Federation supervillain for the episode is the corpulent Nemoidian, Lok Durd – theatrically voiced by George ‘Sulu’ Takei like a pantomime Darth Vader turned up to 10. Durd was created with the intention of becoming a regular feature on the show, since villains like General Grievous have their survival of the war assured by their presence in Revenge Of The Sith. Alas, though our antagonist makes it out of this scrape alive (albeit in Republic custody), this never came to pass for the rest of the run. Here’s hoping he’ll see the light of day when The Clone Wars returns on Disney’s streaming-platform.
In terms of pacing, ‘Defenders Of Peace’ plays out as a sort of dramatic dancing partner to ‘Jedi Crash’. A subdued opening leads to a full-on ground battle in which, yes – the Lurmen are forced to take a side or be swept underfoot, hammering home that fortune cookie. Visually, the first half is more desaturated in its colour palette, reflecting the script’s tonal unrest. But as dusk and the story’s finale approach hand in hand, those Instagram-skies make a return, as dramatic as the fire unleashed by Lok Durd’s ‘Defoliator’ weapon.
This is an intriguing dulology, roaming into an area not usually explored by Star Wars and then not exploring it properly.
Still, if the moment where Aayla Secura selflessly rescues Clone Commander Bly from death doesn’t give you pause for thought as you remember their scene in Episode III, you might not be cut out for the subtleties of a galactic civil war…