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.
Grievous Intrigue (2010)
Season 2, Episode 9. Written by Ben Edlund, Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“For everything you gain, you lose something else.”
The Republic find themselves constantly on the brink of defeat, their forces outnumbered by the Confederacy of Independent Systems who can manufacture new soldiers on demand. In a surprise raid, General Grievous storms a Star Destroyer under the command of Eeth Koth, kidnapping the Jedi Master and taunting the Chancellor’s office with a promise to kill him slowly.
Koth, meanwhile, manages to sneak out a signal telegraphing his captor’s destination, resulting in Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Adi Gallia launching a desperate rescue mission against the clock…
And so, after the excitement of zombies from Geonosis we come to a trio of episodes which feel a little lost, even in a series as all-encompassing as The Clone Wars. ‘Grievous Intrigue’ plays a bold hand in fully introducing Gallia and Koth, two members of the Jedi Council seen in The Phantom Menace, but it brings little else new to the party.
Mid-way through the second season, there’s already a marked improvement in the general standard of both texture-detail and the smoothness of character movement. The latter especially is not used in a particularly flashy way, but the fluid animation of Grievous’ retinue of Magna Guards and Commando Droids is a sight to behold, as is the lengthy fight choreography which ensues.
The downside to all this scrapping is that we see the Kaleesh general saber-duelling Kenobi, and not for the last time in the series. And each time they ignite sabers against one another, the Utapau battle in Revenge Of The Sith seems to become a little more diluted, particularly since many of the same moves occur here, far earlier in the war.
By the same token, a carefully placed dialogue exchange in Episode III reveals that Grievous and Anakin meet for the first time at the beginning of the film, meaning they can’t actually cross paths during the 129 episodes of this show.
So the team of writers are constantly walking a tightrope of pitting the most fearsome villain against established characters who the audience know are going to survive anyway, or introducing fresh-faced Jedi in startlingly red shirts.
All of this detracts slightly from what is a perfectly reasonable, if emotionally uneventful, episode.
The Deserter (2010)
Season 2, Episode 10. Written by Carl Ellsworth, Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Robert Dalva.
“It is the quest for honor that makes one honorable.”
Still hunting Grievous after his narrow escape, Obi-Wan Kenobi leads a squadron of clones to the surface of Saleucami to try and find the general’s crashed escape pod. The trail leads the troopers to a farmhouse, where one of the occupants looks far more familiar than he should…
We stay with the storyline from the previous installment, but the action moves down a gear or two as we dip into mystery, threat and the politics of clone warfare.
The title and header image above pretty much give away the general identity of the eponymous character, Cut Lawquane, a clone who absconded shortly after the Battle of Geonosis (also, the episode is nine years old and you wouldn’t be reading this if you were still avoiding spoilers, right?). As he’s settled in the Outer Rim with his adopted family, writers Ellsworth, Greenberg and Larsen begin to examine the morality of genetically enforced conscription, psychological free will and ultimately the ideological freedom which everyone claims to be fighting for.
But one episode isn’t really enough to tackle subjects this complex against the backdrop of a galactic conflict, and certainly not while the story slips into heavy handed ‘home-invasion’ territory with the Battle Droids in turn tracking their enemy to the farm.
There are some great touches; a soldier who’s abandoned a war out of self interest, still teaching his young family to “always help anyone we can”, and the almost unspoken understanding which is reached between Lawquane and Captain Rex. In this regard, it’s hats off once again to Dee Bradley Baker who voices all of the clones, managing to make them feel individual while using the same voice and even the same accent.
Speaking of which, vocal pedants will be less than enthused to note that all adult Twi’leks still speak with French accents across the Galaxy Far, Far Away. This is illustrated this week through Suu, Cut Lawquane’s post-war wife and mother to the two children (and who wears some of the least practical clothing you’ve ever seen for a manual labourer, frankly). It’s also interesting that the kids being raised by the Gallic-toned matriarch and Aussie-sounding stepdad both speak with standard US accents.
But who are we to judge, dear reader? This, after all, is a question very much at the heart of ‘The Deserter’.
Again, some interesting ideas and stunning visuals seem almost wasted as the storyline can’t quite find its groove. The moralistic angst feels like it’s happening too far away from the war to hold any real gravity, even though this physical distance is necessary to the plot.
As Rex rides off into the sunset (literally, here) we pine to get back to civilisation, even though in the GFFA that often means quite the opposite…
Lightsaber Lost (2010)
Season 2, Episode 11. Written by Drew Z. Greenberg, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“Easy isn’t always simple.”
Back to Coruscant now, where Anakin Skywalker and his padawan Ahsoka Tano scour the seedy underlevels, attempting to track an arms dealer who’s been selling Republic weapons to mercenaries and Separatists alike. When the youngster is pickpocketed and has her own coveted blade stolen, she’s too embarrassed to admit this to her master, instead seeking help from Jocasta Nu in the Jedi Temple Archives. The librarian refers Ahsoka to Master Tera Sinube, who has some valuable lessons to impart about patience…
Leaving the hunt for the droid general to one side for the time being, ‘Lightsaber Lost’ means the audience get to spend some real time with Ahsoka, always welcome and much needed in terms of her ongoing character development.
It’s at this point where we see just how much of Anakin’s impetuous nature has rubbed off on his charge, where the Jedi’s brash interrogation skills are filtered through what is essentially a panicked teenager. Luckily we have Master Sinbue, an elderly lizard-like Cosian, on hand to calm her worst tendencies in a way which is less playful but also less grave than Yoda probably would be under the circumstances.
Yet once again (and perhaps ironically, this time), the biggest issue this story faces is a lack of focus. An efficient script skirts round the slightly procedural story structure. The trail to the missing weapon brings up the small-time thieves Ione Marcy and Cassie Cryar, the latter of whom becomes embroiled in a acrobatic chase across the rooftops of downtown Coruscant. This is well executed on a technical level, but feels a lot like watching someone playing a video game.
But Coruscant looks absolutely amazing here, its back streets existing under a layer of urban grime that the live-action Attack Of The Clones couldn’t manage on the Fox Studios’ sound-stage. Meanwhile, the ochre, dusk-lit spires of the drab residential area look for all the world like Los Angeles in Blade Runner 2049. A faded glamour of something which was once impressive for the right reasons, now housing people who want to be elsewhere.
Ashley Eckstein brings her A-game as Ahsoka actually having something to do for a pleasant change, although Jaime King struggles more as Cassie Cryar – not least since the character feels like a retooling of bounty hunter Aurra Sing (who is also voiced by King).
We end with Tano having learned a valuable lesson with greater aptitude than her regular teacher, and a touching point of guidance from Sinbue: “The value of moving slowly is that one can always see the way ahead…”. This should, in all honesty, be the fortune-cookie for the top of the episode instead of the one used. It’s certainly something most of us could do with being reminded of now and again.
When the dust has settled, either on verdant farmland or the permacrete sidewalk, this was a slightly flat start to 2010 for The Clone Wars, with plenty of deft touches but doing little to advance the war. But join us next week as we venture into Mandalorian territory, where things are sure to be more tribalistic… right?