In this ongoing series, we revisit Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, in a (roughly) chronological order of events and grouped (roughly) into story-arcs.
Senate Spy (2009)
Season 2, Episode 4
Written by Melinda Hsu, Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Steward Lee.
“A true heart should never be doubted.”
The Jedi Council suspect Senator Rush Clovis, from the ostensibly Republic-aligned world Scipio, of being in league with the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Years ago, Clovis had been close with Naboo’s Senator Amidala, and the Jedi ask Padmé to spy on her former confidant. When she refuses, the task is given instead to Jedi Anakin Skywalker. When Padmé learns of this she is incensed and decides to grasp the assignment after all, with Anakin as her undercover bodyguard. Accompanying his secret-wife on a mission to wheedle information out of her ex-boyfriend will be a test of Skywalker’s spiritual and professional detachment…
And so, one of the strongest story-arcs in The Clone Wars opens with, ironically, one of its weakest episodes. Structurally and at several key points, the plot is a retooling of Alfred Hitchcock’s acclaimed 1946 film, Notorious, so this really shouldn’t be the case. It’s rare in this show that we get to see the intelligence-gathering leading up to a Republic ground-assault. It’s just a shame that we get to see it gathered by characters we won’t want to be around.
Anakin and Padmé’s swooning and squabbling opens the proceedings, but even that’s all forgiven as we’re introduced to Rush Clovis. Dramatically, the character is already on thin ice. As Scipio is home to the Muun species and the Intergalactic Banking Clan as a result (the chairman of which, San Hill, was on Geonosis during Attack Of The Clones and is known to be a leading Separatist), it’s difficult to imagine how the planet and its representative are still perceived as being sympathetic to the Republic.
But the problem is more that Clovis is airdropped in as a secret from Padmé’s past, and the all-round petulance which results means it’s difficult for the audience to choose any side to be on. What’s probably supposed to be an air of faintly disreputable charm from Clovis is channeled as overkill. From a narrative point of view, the duplicitous senator is intended to be untrustworthy and he’s intended to be unlikeable. Whether he was meant to be this annoying is another matter. He’s voiced by London-born performer Robin Atkin Downes, who has previously portrayed Ima-Gun Di and Cham Syndulla in the series.
Clovis gets a British accent, but not the received pronunciation of an Imperial officer nor the cockney swagger of a Weequay pirate. Instead he’s given a sort of soft, North London lilt, making the character sound for all the world like Vince from Just Good Friends (your humble correspondent showing his age and UK televisual upbringing, there). This isn’t a fun, moustache-twirling villain, just someone you’d go right out of your way to avoid at a party.
But as noted, the audience isn’t supposed to side with Clovis, although Padmé is presented here more as a plot-device than a character and it’s pretty difficult to take Anakin’s over-reactions in good faith. The important part is, it’s all about to kick off at Poggle’s place…
Landing At Point Rain (2009)
Season 2, Episode 5.
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Believe in yourself or no one else will.”
Padmé and Anakin’s mission proves successful, narrowly. Poggle The Lesser has implemented ray-shielding around his Geonosis factories and accelerated the production of battle-droids. Now a Jedi-led Republic invasion fleet heads to the barren world to put a dent in Separatist plans…
This is where the fun begins. We hurtle back to where the war erupted with blue and green plasma bursts, cutting through the ochre dustland. The air vibrates with chittering Geonosians working with an ingrained hive-mentality against the clones of a bounty hunter merely trying to emulate it.
And if ‘Landing At Point Rain’ doesn’t want to make you play Battlefront II (or perhaps more to the point, Republic Commando), nothing will.
A total change of pace from ‘Senate Spy’, that episode at least laid solid groundwork for the ruckus we witness. Kevin Kiner’s score harks back to the battle of Chistophsis in The Clone Wars movie, helped along by a visual callback to the Jedi vs Droideka standoff on the vertiginous bridge.
Troopers Waxer and Boil make a return here, Jedi master Ki-Adi Mundi mutters a very familiar sounding “there’s no such thing as luck”, and Ahsoka Tano references outside of the Galaxy Far, Far Away with “well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into…”.
To top it all off, Mundi unleashes the Flametroopers on an unsuspecting enemy, a full six years before their weapons would grace the big screen in The Force Awakens (and because it’s only bugs which get roasted, that makes the carnage padawan-friendly – we think that’s how that works).
But this battle has only begun. Our heroes are about to go deeper, and it’s about to get quite a bit darker…
Weapons Factory (2009)
Season 2, Episode 6.
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“No gift is more precious than trust.”
With the ray-shielding destroyed, Jedi master Luminara Unduli and her padawan Barriss Offee are sent to reinforce the Republic attack on the droid foundry. Paired with Anakin and Ahsoka, while the masters distract the Separatist forces, their learners are to sneak in and plant explosives in the factory nerve centre…
While the action doesn’t take a back seat for this episode, it shares the driving with stretches of subterfuge. The journey into the Geonosian lair is particularly tense, and the sequence with a hive of sleeping bugs is beautifully creepy, hinting at what’s still to come in the arc.
Kiner continues his sterling work helming the score. The choral-section is introduced here, a feature which raises any Star Wars soundtrack it appears in.
Luminara and Barriss had their screen debut in 2002’s Attack Of The Clones, and as a pair of visually striking characters made several notable appearances in the Expanded Universe fiction which led up to Revenge Of The Sith. And while master Luminara has already appeared in The Clone Wars, this episode acts as a formal introduction for her padawan, Barriss.
Watching the series retrospectively, the viewer really has to feel sorry for Barriss. In the now decanonised inter-movie novels, the youngster became addicted to a medical strain of the drug Spice, believing it enhanced her mastery of the Force. Looking further down the line of The Clone Wars (and without spoilers), she goes on to make some deeply flawed decisions regarding her role in the war.
And here? Well, when Barriss and Ahsoka’s plan to destroy the droidworks leaves the pair stranded under thousands of tonnes of rubble, the former takes emotional detachment to the point of ennui, effectively becoming ready to accept death without even trying to escape. Ahsoka has other ideas.
Master Luminara shows a similar (although far less extreme) approach with Anakin when it looks like their padawans aren’t returning. So points are due, and duly awarded, to Skywalker and Tano for refusing to give up when there’s still so much work to be done.
The victory of four being eventually reunited isn’t overdone, and although Unduli has the final word of thematic foreboding, this is an episode about tactical success, not meditation. Team Skywalker wins.
Legacy Of Terror (2009)
Season 2, Episode 7.
Written by Eoghan Mahoney, Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Steward Lee.
“Sometimes, accepting help is harder than offering it.”
With the droid factory destroyed, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luminara Unduli launch a cleanup operation and begin the hunt for Poggle The Lesser, who has escaped in the confusion. The Jedi track a Separatist tank to a temple in an area of the planet thought previously cleared. But underneath the ruined building, a terrifying discovery awaits…
The next act of this particular tale sees another gear-shift as we move into horror. The almost organic quality of the Geonosian architecture is used to its full, sinister effect in the catacombs, and the creatures’ hive-existence is exploited accordingly. The caste-system of the Geonosians was already evident in Attack Of The Clones, but now it’s established that even Archduke Poggle pays fealty to the queen.
‘Legacy Of Terror’ brings more gruesome detail to the species’ backstory as we meet Karina The Great, the bug queen in her subterranean lair. Karina sits in an underground chamber, distinct from her subordinates by means of a cranial mantle and attached to a gigantic egg-sac as drones work beneath her, tending to the future of the race. This in itself is a nod to James Cameron’s 1986 Aliens.
But to make matters even more un-nerving, Geonosian biology is such that the queen can even psychically control dead drones, by means of parasitic worms which reanimate their bodies to further serve the hive. These bugs effectively become zombies, and are namechecked such by Kenobi. Pushing against stereotypes of the genre, single head-shots are shown to be ineffective in stopping the hordes, which require either complete destruction of the head or total dismemberment. Luckily, lightsabers are at hand to make this task a workable option.
The only real downside to all this is that Karina somehow speaks Basic (ie English), unlike the rest of her species. While this has clearly been done as an aid to the audience understanding the conversations between her and the Jedi, it’s a shame that she wasn’t subtitled, like Jabba The Hutt, adding a layer of separation between the alien queen and the audience.
This is one of those episodes which almost forgets The Clone Wars is a kids’ show, with Lucasfilm Animation having an absolute blast homaging source material for which the target audience should have no real frame of reference. Horror for youngsters is always a tightrope, and the easiest way to dissipate the threat is through the use of humour. But there are no laughs to be had here, and ‘Legacy Of Terror’ is all the better for it…
Brain Invaders (2009)
Season 2, Episode 8.
Written by Andrew Kreisberg, Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Steward Lee.
“Attachment is not compassion.”
While Poggle The Lesser is transported to Coruscant for trial, the Jedi are called away to other duties. One of these is a simple medical supply run undertaken by Ahsoka and Barriss. But one of their accompanying troops has unwittingly brought some of the local fauna along for the ride, and it’s something which doesn’t want to be lonely on the trip…
That’s right, we’re in full on zombie territory now, as an infected Clonetrooper smuggles a satchel of worm-eggs aboard a ship headed for a medical centre. The clock is ticking and the crew are becoming more glassy-eyed by the minute. And poor old Barriss, she just can’t catch a break. One moment it’s considering death as a reasonable option when buried under the remains of a factory, the next it’s begging for death at the hands of a co-worker when your zombie clone squadron has held you down and infected you with a parasitic worm. Who’d be a Jedi?
Because the worms were shown in the last episode to be conductors for executing the will of Karina, it’s not entirely clear what the modus operandi is in ‘Brain Invaders’. The Geonosian queen could well be alive under the rubble of the temple, but that’s not shown to be the case. Clonetrooper Scythe, who initiated the infection, issues commands to the other troops verbally, which wouldn’t be needed if they were all under the same hive-control. It’s entirely possible that this behaviour is the worms’ standard biological reaction to the queen’s signal being cut off, but a 22-minute episode isn’t going to be able to explore that fully.
There are a couple more nods to the Alien franchise here, especially with this section taking place on a lone ship hurtling through space. But with enemy being possessed humans rather than a ravenous xeno, the end result is often closer to Children Of The Damned, with foreshadowing of Order 66.
There’s a level of intensity to the animated Geonosis arc which many filmmakers struggle to match with live-action, and the thread of narrative continuity has to be credited to Brian Larsen and Drew Z. Greenberg, the two writers who have worked across all five entries. It’s outstanding work from all involved and as we saw recently, it’s nice to have a few chills in the galaxy.
But the important thing is that young Barriss Offee survives this encounter, and with plenty to think about. Ahsoka and Anakin end the episode on a slightly philosophical note, but sometimes an alien organism which wants to eat your brain is just an alien organism which wants to eat your brain…