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.
Blue Shadow Virus (2009)
Season 1, Episode 17. Written by Craig Titley, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“Fear is a disease; hope its only cure.”
Over a decade since its invasion by the Trade Federation, the Outer Rim world of Naboo is back on alert as sightings of battle droids have been reported out on the grasslands. Senator Padmé Amidala, Representative Jar-Jar Binks and C-3PO are despatched to meet Captain Typho and investigate.
Interrogating a captured tactical droid, the group discover evidence of a weapons laboratory hidden beneath the planet’s surface. The initial reason for the sighting was a premature leak of a re-engineered, fatal virus worked on by twisted biologist Dr Nuvo Vindi. As he’s determined to destroy life on a galactic scale, the Republic heroes have to stop the doctor from getting off-world. If they can survive that long…
So, hot on the heels of Lok Durd, Separatist super-weapons are still very much on the menu; the more wantonly destructive the better. The virus-plot here is reminiscent of Karen Traviss’ 2004 Republic Commando novel, Hard Contact. But where that title saw a pathogen being developed to target the specific genetic makeup of Jango Fett’s clones, here it’s a little more broad. Well okay, a lot more broad.
In resurrecting the Blue Shadow virus and plotting to deploy it on thousands of worlds, Nuvo Vindi would (if successful) more than likely end up killing himself and those he purports to work for. It’s an ill-laid plan which reflects the episode as a whole. Vindi is more the archetypal ‘mad scientist’ than calculating mastermind of course, a trait cranked all the way up as he’s voiced by Michael ‘Basil Exposition’ York, who brings a manic Wolfenstein-esque accent to the character.
And while our evil doctor certainly tries his best to upstage everyone, ‘Blue Shadow Virus’ is a production crammed full of supporting players. Padmé and Threepio lead the first act with Jar-Jar, assisted by a fine visual rendition of Naboo’s Captain Typho. In fact, Typho’s character model captures the look of actor Jay Laga’aia so closely that it’s all the more jarring when voice-actor James Mathis III gives him a standard American accent, rather than Jay’s New Zealand twang from Episodes II and III. Still, since the entire clone army speak more like Australians in this series, it seems the Kiwis just can’t catch a break in the animated GFFA (with the honourable exception of the Pantorans).
Anakin, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan Kenobi arrive as the plot thickens, or rather to enable the plot to take place in different locations. Added to this crowded stage is another new character in the form of Peppi Bow, a young female Gungan shaak-herder who first notices the Blue Shadow killing the local fauna. Alas, Peppi doesn’t actually have that much to do in a story involving three Jedi, a gung-ho senator and a crazed scientist, instead bordering on shrieking antics which threaten to overshadow Jar-Jar (who is still being voiced by ‘BJ Hughes’ at this point). Although at least this suggests the problem could be a species-wide issue with the Gungans, rather than a gender-specific one.
And true to form so far in the series, this is an episode featuring Padmé so naturally she’s going to get captured and need to be rescued. While the recent Forces Of Destiny project may have been erratic in its execution, we certainly can’t deny how valuable it is on a thematic level.
But despite the plains of Naboo being rendered in a form so sparse they appear close to the level of animatics, we get some solid visual treats. The Naboo hangar where Darth Maul made his theatrical entrance is on display here, and a moment with thousands of Vindi’s bombs rattling expectantly in their racks feels for all the world like the inside of the B/SF-17 bomber ships we see in The Last Jedi‘s opening space battle; a sort of call-forward, if you will.
And the sight of Droidekas hurtling down (and around) a tubular corridor before launching into a plasma-fuelled assault against Clonetroopers should warm the heart of even the most jaded Prequel-basher. Of all the Separatists’ mechanical creations, destroyer droids are arguably the most terrifying and subsequently under-used.
‘Blue Shadow Virus’ isn’t one of The Clone Wars‘ strongest hands, but it features some interesting cards nonetheless…
Mystery Of A Thousand Moons (2009)
Season 1, Episode 18. Written by Brian Larsen, directed by Jesse Yeh.
“A single chance is a galaxy of hope.”
As Dr Nuvo Vindi is transported to the capital city of Theed to stand trial, one of his droids manages to release the airborne Blue Shadow virus into the subterranean laboratory. Containing the infection below ground, Ahsoka, Captain Rex and their clone squadron become infected. Now Anakin and Obi-Wan must travel to the fabled Iego, the only planet still known to have a cure for the previously extinct strain. And once there, the Jedi find that a mysterious entity doesn’t want them to leave…
“Are you an angel? […] I’ve heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live on the moons of Iego, I think. They’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe…”
Anakin Skywalker ~ The Phantom Menace.
An audience would perhaps be forgiven for thinking that this whimsical observation by the young junk-shop sales assistant had been used as the sole springboard for an entire episode of The Clone Wars. In fact, in order to facilitate a visit to Iego in ‘Mystery Of A Thousand Moons’, the happy ending of ‘Blue Shadow Virus’ is effectively ret-conned with one of the disease-carrying canisters being deployed after the credits have rolled. The show pulled a similar trick only a few chapters previously, where the end of ‘Dooku Captured‘ showed Anakin and Obi-Wan swapping out their spiked drinks, only to wake up in a cell at the beginning of ‘The Gungan General’ after they’d apparently been drugged anyway.
And for all the narrative effort of steering the story through Hyperspace to this planet, Iego appears to largely consist of rocky outcroppings, textures and character models recycled from The Clone Wars movie at the beginning of the series. Characters created specifically for this outing feel a little rushed, as if their inspiration wasn’t nurtured enough on the path to the screen.
Not least of all these is Jaybo Hood, a prepubescent resident of Iego who has reprogrammed a horde of droids left behind by the occupying Separatist forces. The mechanical mob, while no longer malign, exists purely to act as house-staff for Jaybo as he lounges in a hammock. Intellectual and bratty in equal measure, Hood gives the audience a glimpse of how Anakin might have turned out had he stayed on Tatooine. Which is to say, faintly annoying. The ‘mystery’ of what’s keeping ships grounded on the planet turns out to be surprisingly linear in its origin, yet the boy genius hasn’t worked this out, neither by necessity nor curiosity.
Meanwhile, the chasms of this world are shown to play host to giant, mobile and sentient Venus fly trap-inspired creatures. It almost feels as if ‘Mystery Of A Thousand Moons’ was a testing-ground, with the production team just throwing in ideas to see how they’d look. When one of the aforementioned angels is finally revealed for a single scene (pictured above), the inclusion feels almost perfunctory. Ironically as if writer Brian Larsen had realised we could hardly go to Iego and not meet at least one of its most famous talking-points. One is all we see. Neither the planet nor its inhabitants appear in the series again.
While there are the seeds of some great ideas in these two episodes, together they feel like a disjointed detour. Then again, they do feature some of The Clone Wars least interesting characters, so perhaps that’s only to be expected.
But fear not, next week we’re back into the thick of battle, and how…