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.
Bounty Hunters (2010)
Season 2, Episode 17. Written by Carl Ellsworth, directed by Steward Lee.
“Courage makes heroes, but trust builds friendship.”
Republic forces have lost contact with a medical station above Felucia, sending Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ahsoka to investigate. Flying into a Separatist ambush, the three are forced to crash land on the planet below. There they come across an apparently abandoned farm, only to discover the townsfolk in hiding, having hired a quartet of mercenaries to protect their valuable harvest from marauding pirates…
And so we come to the first (timeline-wise) of several homage episodes of The Clone Wars. The title before the opening dedicates ‘Bounty Hunters’ to the memory of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, upon whose seminal masterpiece Seven Samurai this story is based.
We’re introduced to the four bounty hunters in question, Sugi, Embo, Rumi and Seripas (the latter bringing his own homage to The Wizard Of Oz), who along with the Jedi form a protectorate not only to fend off the pirates, but teach the farmers to better defend themselves against the next bunch who fancy their chances.
On paper this is all fantastic stuff, of course. The old Expanded Universe of Star Wars was always at its best when being used to tell different styles of story, projected through the lens of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The problem in practice is that trying to fit Seven Samurai‘s narrative (or that of John Sturges’ own tribute, The Magnificent Seven) into a 22-minute tale leads to only the loudest beats being heard. The whole thing becomes rather ungainly as a result.
None of the characters we meet for the first time are able to be explored, only presented. And for the very most part, the ones we know already are reduced to a means of performing that introduction. The exception which sneaks past this rule is the return of Hondo Ohnaka, the Weequay gangmaster whom we last met throwing a party and kidnapping Jedi. Here however, we actually see Hondo and his band plundering and posing a credible threat, all of which is executed in his own louche style.
But even with this greatness, it’s perhaps a shame that the most memorable thing about an episode intended as a touching tribute is the introduction of Kyuzo bounty hunter Embo, not least because he’s able to use his hat as a weapon (a quick nod to Goldfinger‘s Oddjob) and we actually see him snapping a pirate’s neck. Embo will return, but not for a while…
The Zillo Beast (2010)
Season 2, Episode 18. Written by Craig Titley, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“Choose what is right, not what is easy.”
A Separatist onslaught is trying to overpower the neutral Malastare, a world rich in potential fuel reserves. Deciding out of the goodness of his heart that someone should probably intervene, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine authorises the deployment of an Electron Proton Bomb. This occurs under the supervision of Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker, to free the native Dugs from unwelcome interference and sign a lovely treaty with the Republic.
However, while the device certainly puts a dent in the CIS invasion fleet, its detonation also creates a giant sinkhole. Worse still, all this activity seems to have woken something down there. Something the natives thought long-extinct…
Here the layers of metaphor deepen and entwine, with the Republic’s have-a-go intervention being a clear reflection of certain aspects of US foreign policy in recent decades. And to prevent this being too on-the-nose, it’s wrapped in a tribute to Godzilla (which is itself a metaphor, of course).
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The real moral crux of the story comes once the Dug high council declare that this prehistoric terror should be killed (not wholly unreasonable given the history between the two species). The Jedi fundamentally disagree, citing the Zillo Beast as an innocent party in all this, but still being politically bound to aid the Dugs. Further fuel is thrown on the fire when Chancellor Palpatine suddenly expresses an interest in bringing the creature back alive to Coruscant for analysis, coincidentally immediately after he’s told that its scales are highly resistant to the blades of lightsabers.
Visually we’re in safe hands here, with a gorgeous opening ground battle which evokes images of Geonosis, painted in deep purples. The lime-green chemicals poured into the sinkhole to flush the creature out complement this, as does Kevin Kiner’s score drawing on the more mystery-infused elements of John Williams’ Indiana Jones work.
And round out the hat-tipping this episode, T.C. Carson gets to give voice to a “I have a bad feeling about this” as Mace Windu, and there’s even a Wilhelm Scream shortly afterward.
‘The Zillo Beast’ is enormous fun (pun intended). Its politics can feel a little heavy-handed, but that’s to be expected within the short timescale, and points should be awarded for the show raising these issues in the first place…
The Zillo Beast Strikes Back (2010)
Season 2, Episode 19. Written by Steven Melching, directed by Steward Lee.
“The most dangerous beast is the beast within.”
The journey to bring the Zillo Beast from Malastare to Coruscant at Supreme Chancellor Palpatine’s behest goes smoothly, but once there Doctor Sionver Boll worries about the treatment and welfare of her new test subject. The Jedi raise safety concerns about about housing a creature of this size in an urban environment, which prove well founded as the Zillo grows increasingly agitated in its captivity…
And with only a slight gear change, the title of this direct follow-on is a tip of the hat to The Empire Strikes Back, of course, while the overall tone switches from Godzilla to King Kong. Palpatine is relatively open in his desire to adapt the Zillo beasts’s scales into armour for the Clones, and displays some genuinely creepy moments here, despite his tendency to lean into theatrical moustache-twirling. It’s also our Chancellor who gets to utter “I have a bed feeling about this”, today.
Coruscant looks absolutely gorgeous in its Season Two animated form, with the scenery shots every bit as photo-realistic as the live-action Star Wars movies. Additionally, dropping the monster into this environment is a great way to show off the scale of both, quite an achievement in a completely artificial environment.
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Back in the lab, Doctor Boll perhaps seems a little too emotionally swayed in the role of chief scientist, but her character is the conscience of the audience where everyone else is just thinking of damage limitation. The sweeping score and matching cinematography of the final act mean that there’s arguably more emotion here when the creature dies than with any Jedi we’ve seen exiting up until now.
When all is said and done, ‘The Zillo Beast Strikes Back’ cashes the cheque of carnage that its predecessor so casually wrote, to the point where we actually see civilian casualties once the lizard starts destroying the cityscape. Farewell Zillo, we hardly knew you. Although a cliffhanger in the final moments suggested more green-eyed goodness which never came to pass. Perhaps the upcoming revival-season of The Clone Wars might oblige?
But the creature-features aren’t over yet, and neither are the homages. Join us next time as we go bug-hunting…