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.
Storm Over Ryloth (2009)
Season 1, Episode 19. Written by George Kristic, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.”
Following the defeat of Jedi Master Ima-Gun Di in ‘Supply Lines‘, the planet Ryloth has been occupied by the Confederacy of Independent Systems. While Wat Tambor’s fleet enforce an orbital blockade, a plea in the senate leads to Republic intervention. Now Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano lead a taskforce to clear the way for a retaliatory ground assault…
This outing sees padawan learner Ahsoka leading her first squadron into battle. She’s nowhere near ready for this of course, and it’s reflective of the increasing demands placed on the Jedi Order throughout the war. Naturally, the young Togruta has picked up her mentor Skywalker’s approach for following orders, the results of which see Ahsoka struggling with one of the primary burdens of command, namely surviving to see one’s troops die.
Confined above Ryloth’s surface, this is very much the opening act of a frenetic trilogy. The space battles look absolutely outstanding, not only in their animation elements (check out the fire on ruptured Star Destroyers, raging against the hard-vacuum), but the cinematography and editing which ensures the audience always know where the characters are.
And throughout the conflict, we’re treated to seeing actual tactics being formulated and adapted, on both sides. This is so much more engaging than just showing the action up-close that one has to wonder why the show doesn’t give us more of it.
Over in the Separatist quarter the audience becomes reacquainted with Attack Of The Clones‘ Wat Tambor, appearing via hologram at this stage, and are introduced to Nemoidian military strategist, Mar Tuuk. Fittingly, that latter is not as cowardly, incompetent or cartoonish as the Trade Federation types we’ve already met – Nute Gunray, Rune Haako and Lott Dod. Voiced by Corey ‘Dooku’ Burton, Tuuk is what the CIS machine should be, the brains to Grievous’ brawn.
But as has already been ably demonstrated by the Malevolence trilogy, stories from The Clone Wars told entirely in space feel dark and claustrophobic, even in the spacious bridge of a cruiser or limitless expanse outside of one. But there’s plenty for a viewer’s attention to latch onto here and it’s established that all of this carnage is leading toward something. The surface of Ryloth, for one…
Innocents Of Ryloth (2009)
Season 1, Episode 20. Written by Randy Stradley, Henry Gilroy, Scott Murphy, directed by Justin Ridge.
“The costs of war can never truly be accounted for.”
With the CIS blockade broken by Anakin Skywalker’s outlandish manoeuvre, Mace Windu prepares the Republic’s ground forces to free Ryloth from the grip of the Separatists. Calculating the Jedi’s trajectory, Tambor’s forces plan to stop their progress by using a Twi’lek village as living shields. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Commander Cody lead the way with an advance recon squad…
The pleasant surprises continue on the ground now, this time under the auspices of writers Randy Stradley, Scott Murphy and Henry Gilroy. This trio may seem excessive for a 22-minute episode, but it’s a tactic which has paid off.
There are several interesting inclusions here as real-world factors push through to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Rather than outright, indiscriminate warfare, the Republic are very much peacekeepers on Ryloth, now. And it’s jarring to note that the clones – knowingly dispensable assets, remember – are already developing a cynicism about the more delicate aspects of the war. When told that a primary objective of the mission is the absolute lack of civilian casualties, Clonetrooper Boil starts bemoaning the locals’ presence, asking why “the tailheads” can’t just keep out of the way. A note of familiarity might ring for audiences who have watched any recent military-based films or documentaries set our the modern era.
Separated from the squad, clones Waxer and Boil come across Numa, a Twi’lek child who has evaded separatist capture, but is now isolated in her ghost-town of a village. Frightened and alone, Numa’s presence feels a little manipulative at first (especially given the recent sneering), but the bonding and trust between them grows gradually. Dee Bradley Baker’s vocal performance as the clones carries just the right amount of sincerity to sell Boil’s realisation that there’s a human (okay, Twi’lek) face to the war without preaching to the viewer.
Critical to this exchange is the fact that Numa speaks Twi’leki/Ryl without subtitles, because the clones don’t understand her. All of this put the emphasis on subtle vocal inflections, reactions and intricate visual storytelling.
We’re also treated to some expert mind-manipulation from Kenobi as he herds a group of starving Gutkurrs (giant, flea-like creatures) away from his squadron. Taking place in both the thick of battle and the quiet caution of reconnaissance, the voice-cast bring some fantastic ‘stress’ acting. The rational part of the viewer’s brain is dimly aware of course that this is actors yelling in a sound booth, but it never feels like that.
Speaking of vocalisations, fans of in-universe pronunciation debates will be pleased that ‘Innocents Of Ryloth’ addresses the decades-old question of how one says “Twi’lek”. It’s been a source of contention since Bib Fortuna’s species was named in spin-off publishing material for 1983’s Return Of The Jedi, but the name was never spoken on-screen (although neither was “Ewok”). In the first five minutes of this episode, Jedi general Obi-Wan Kenobi refers to the indigenous race as “Twy-lek”, and we later see him fluent in their language, so he would know. So it’s a matter of no small amusement less than five minutes later when that same character refers to that same group of people as “Twee-lek”. Whether this was direction or improvisation seems to be unknown, but we truly do not deserve Kenobi’s voice-actor James Arnold Taylor.
Proof that sometimes the broth needs more than one cook, ‘Innocents Of Ryloth’ is an outstanding item on the menu of The Clone Wars.
But… *dips finger and tastes* yes, needs more Mace…
Liberty On Ryloth (2009)
Season 1, Episode 21. Written by Henry Gilroy, directed by Rob Coleman.
“Compromise is a virtue to be cultivated, not a weakness to be despised.”
Completing the story-arc true to form, ‘Liberty On Ryloth’ begins with all guns blazing before stepping back to take stock and recalibrate. Henry Gilroy is on sole writing duties and the complications of warfare continue their barrage. We see the CIS – under the direct, in-person command of Wat Tambor – firebombing civilian villages in an attempt to distract the Republic forces…
It’s an approach which is partially successful, but even the finest tactical droids can’t fully account for the presence of one Mace Windu. This episode brings us a fantastic combination of Force powers and melee attacks from the Haruun Kal Jedi Master. One moment he’s shattering a tank’s blastproof windshield with his palm placed gently against it, the next he’s levitating that tank and hurling it over a cliff. Come back two minutes later and all you’ll see is the whirling dervish of Mace’s trademark purple lightsaber blade, as slices of hot battle droid ricochet outwards.
Foreshadowing the role of Saw Gerrera later in The Clone Wars (before he transferred to Rogue One for his denouement), we’re introduced to Twi’lek freedom fighter Cham Syndulla (father of Hera from Rebels). It’s a fitting conclusion to this parable that Cham and his uprising aren’t enthused about the clone army’s presence, fearing that even in success they’ll be trading one occupation for another. The Twi’leks would rather win or lose on their own terms, under their own steam.
This is a tricky subject to approach in what is essentially a children’s TV show, and it’s one which neither taken nor resolved lightly (although the episode is called ‘Liberty On Ryloth’, so that’s a good indicator of where things will end – if not how they’ll get there).
T.C. Carson finally gets to show his skills properly as the voice of Mace and complements the fantastic animation perfectly; not giving an outright impersonation of Samuel L. Jackson (who returned for the season-opening Clone Wars movie), but being more than close enough in tone and timbre to reassure the audience that this is the character they love.
In fact, there are very few holes to pick here. The Twi’lek villager character models are great individually, but there seems to be a lack of variation in both wardrobe and colour which makes them a bit ‘samey’ when they’re viewed en masse. While the Ryloth plains fall victim to the sparse feeling of the earliest episodes of the show, there’s some outstanding hologram work on display throughout. For an entry in the first season, this still looks fabulous.
And it turns out that Aayla Secura’s French accent is applicable to the city of Lessu as a whole. Although this is a good thing in terms of wider context, it’s probably best not to wonder why she’s still got the Gallic-twang after living in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant since she was a toddler.
But we’re here for the action not the accents, and The Clone Wars delivers brilliantly with this trilogy of battle-heavy episodes.
Join us next time as we head to the peace and quiet of the Jedi Archives…