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.
The Mandalore Plot (2010)
Season 2, Episode 12. Written by Melinda Hsu, Drew Z. Greenberg, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“If you ignore your past, you jeopardize your future.”
Amid the turmoil of galactic war a Council Of Neutral Worlds has emerged, lead by the Duches Satine Kryze of Mandalore. Rumours persist, however, that the now-peaceful homeworld of the traditionally combative warriors is secretly building an army to assist the separatists. Ever the diplomat, Obi-Wan Kenobi is dispatched to investigate the matter, hopefully ruffling as few feathers as is practical…
Like many of Star Wars’ well-used catchphrases and trademarks, the word ‘Mandalorian’ doesn’t appear in the original trilogy scripting (cf. Ewok). But the term first appeared as early as 1980 in The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook, a reference tome of concept art, where it denoted the origin of Boba Fett’s armour (although not the bounty hunter himself, curiously).
The history of the Mandalorians has been something of an enigma ever since, with ret-cons appearing at several junctures throughout the Star Wars Expanded Universe, each tweaking previously stated facts about the group’s past.
It happened yet again in February 2010 in The Clone Wars, with this episode effectively voiding the cultural aspects of material which had been published as recently as the prequel trilogy in 2005. Mandalore is shown to be a peaceful society of some time (on the surface, at least), having sworn out of the galactic war which threatens to engulf their planet.
‘The Mandalore Plot’ comes heavily from a political angle, by no means a bad thing with the Galaxy Far, Far Away, but quite often a tricky one. More importantly, it introduces key characters for the series’ future in the shape of Duchess Satine Kryze, Prime Minister Almec and simmering malcontent Pre Vizsla (voiced by Jon Favreau, who went on to lend his tones to Solo‘s Rio Durant and is currently writing and producing Lucasfilm’s upcoming TV series, The Mandalorian).
Vizsla becomes as much of a curse as a blessing as time goes on; a dynamic character, but one whose single-minded rhetoric homages the Family Guy dig at formulaic Star Wars dialogue. Even by the end of his debut, it seems that the majority of the antagonist’s sneering lines come autotuned to the rhythm of “Something something warrior past, something something Jedi…”, the dramatic equivalent of Uncle Albert’s eye-roll inducing “during the war”.
This arc-opener features some of the ethical notes played during the Jedi’s recent time on Maridun, but less heavy-handedly and with the knowledge that it won’t all be wrapped up in short order as the peace-pushers realise that sitting on the galactic fence isn’t an option.
Duchess Satine promises to be an intriguing character here, ostensibly an idealistic pacifist, but with a troubled look which hints at far more under the surface. She also has something of a shared history with Kenobi, but that will be (un)covered more as these threads unravel…
Voyage Of Tempation (2010)
Season 2, Episode 13. Written by Paul Dini, Henry Gilroy, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.”
With civil war ready to erupt on Mandalore, the terrorist organisation who call themselves the Death Watch have emerged. Now, Duchess Satine is escorted by the Republic to Coruscant to disavow her government from this resurgent group’s actions. But Pre Vizsla’s net of operatives has been cast wide and his movement has the support of a common ally…
We carry on this arc with a slightly uneven mix of up-close combat and interpersonal politics. Over the course of the titular journey, a series of attempts are made on Satine’s life, throwing her closer to Obi-Wan Kenobi than she has been for a long time. It’s this muted relationship which is the most interesting aspect of what we’re shown.
Satine and Obi-Wan, it seems, were very much the narrative’s pre-cursor of Padmé and Anakin; the fledgling politician’s zeal and naive Jedi’s optimistic righteousness brushing against one another on a mission with Qui-Gon Jinn. But whereas Padmé and Anakin found each other impossible to resist, their chronological counterparts chose restraint and abstinence, realising that they were each part of a whole which was more important than a complicated and impractical love affair.
But crucially, neither has forgotten this. ‘Voyage Of Temptation’ resists the urge to go full Empire Strikes Back in its swooning, but the air of regret that drifts throughout is palpable. Especially so on the part of voice actor James Arnold Taylor, who makes this revelatory expansion to Kenobi’s character look (okay, sound) effortless.
All of this is set against the inexorable rise of Pre Vizla with his high-level Separatist backers and the Jedi’s hunt for the spy within Satine’s retinue, all brushing against Agatha Christie levels of intrigue (alas, 22 minutes isn’t long enough for this to be expanded fully).
But it’s not all navel-gazing, as tensions between our leading pair result in some good old Star Wars bickering, exacerbated by Anakin teasing his former master about his ‘girlfriend’. The downside to this of course is that The Clone Wars as a series is largely framed from Skywalker’s point of view, so Satine and Obi-Wan’s more playful moments feel a little like watching your parents flirting. Well, quite.
A surprising amount of action complete with genuinely creepy spider droids, ‘Voyage Of Temptation’ is primarily a character-building episode, and is better than you remember.
Duchess Of Mandalore (2010)
Season 2, Episode 14. Written by Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
Satine Kryze addresses the senate, to reaffirm Mandalorian neutrality. Declining Republic assistance in halting Death Watch, Mandalore quietly knows that help would lead to full scale occupation and therefore alignment. But a holo-recording from Satine’s deputy minister arises suggesting that not everyone in the government is happy to be politically independent…
Back in more familiar territory now, as impassioned pleas in the senate rotunda are met with the overly sincere frowns of Chancellor Palpatine, and before long a politician is on the run through the streets from a horde of assassins. Padmé sits at the back, a look of weary recognition on her face.
The arc’s sense of mystery is somewhat dampened by this point, as each of the major players have revealed their colours – to the audience, at least. This is one of the drawbacks of needing to structure individual episodes rather than a continuous screenplay, and instead we get a brief foray into misinformation and populist politics. It’s a study which is simultaneously simplistic, yet nowhere near as glaring as it would have been if ‘Duchess of Mandalore’ was made a decade later.
Meanwhile Coruscant brings its own visual density, from the senate rotunda and all the animation elements contained within to the alleyways and landing platforms outside. The fast-paced nature of the latter almost disguises that this rendering isn’t quite as immersively grimy as we know it can be by the middle of the second season.
‘Duchess of Mandalore’ is on slightly sticky philosophical ground however. It’s difficult to address ideas of nuance and partisanship when the Republic are framed as the good guys in all of this, and the Death Watch are presented as pantomime villains with Count Dooku on speed dial (in addition to being called ‘Death Watch’, which kind of gives the game away).
But the whole thing underpins the moral unsuitability of the Jedi peacekeepers taking (or being given) the position of generals in a galactic war. Which, on the next level down, is precisely the point of Palpatine’s engineered conflict, of course. As noted above, the issue is nowhere near wrapped up in these three episodes, and we’ll return to Satine’s troubled planet at several points in the future…