TV Discussion

Star Wars: The Clone Wars #17 – ‘The Problem With Preaching’ – TV Rewind

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.

Corruption (2010)

Season 3, Episode 5. Written by Cameron Litvack, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“The challenge of hope is to overcome corruption.”

Duchess Satine Kryze’s senate bid for Mandalorian neutrality in the war has proved successful, but this independence has come at the price of her planet being made a pariah of galactic trade. Eager to boost goodwill, Satine calls on her friend Padmé Amidala of Naboo to make a diplomatic visit to the planet’s capital city of Sundari, hopefully paving the way to securing off-world supplies for the people. But some members of her administration have other ideas on how to resolve the situation…

Be careful what you wish for, dear reader. Or perhaps more pertinently, be careful what you complain about. It was a very mainstream gripe about The Phantom Menace that All Of The Politics was considered a bad thing (even when it’s laying a foundation for the root causes of a manufactured war on a pan-galactic scale).

On a more lore-specific level, Episode II came in for no small amount of flack for its re-imagining of Mandalorian history (among many other things of course). So how great it must have been in that Lucasfilm office on the Friday afternoon when the script for ‘Corruption’ floated across the table.

“Political machinations? Taxations? We’ve got those. Mandalorian government? They’re signed up, too. Hmm? War? Dear me, no. We’ve got a bunch of Ancient Egyptian-inspired dudes, we’ve called them The Moogan, and what they’re doing is illegally importing a chemical which dilutes pre-produced tea, later sold in bottles. Yes, tea. That way, the manufacturers can make twice as much for a little extra outlay, and there’s enough profit for everyone to skim a bit off the top! Oh, and if this chemical is even used in slightly the wrong concentration it makes the whole thing toxic. Kids get poisoned, that’s the plot.”

Well, we can see why that was green-stamped before the cake trolley even came around.

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On the positive side, it’s entirely commendable that writer Cameron Litvack has endeavoured to paint some subtle strokes onto the canvas of war. But part of the problem could be that Mandalore was a relatively new planet for The Clone Wars at this point, and not a particularly interesting one (less so after this, in fact). The other part of the problem could be that ‘Corruption’ is an episode about innocent kids being poisoned while politicians squabble about black-marketeering.

All of this is bookended by two rather bizarre plot-points. Firstly, that Padmé (from a planet very much aligned with the Republic, remember) should make a low-key visit to neutral Mandalore to talk about trade deals, which other worlds would barely be aware of. A rousing speech of compassion in the rotunda might have been more politically visible.

Secondly, after Satine has discovered the warehouse where the underhand scientists are making the poisonous pop, she orders it to be burned to the ground. Not just the illicit goods, and not the machinery used to manufacture it, but the entire warehouse. We close shortly after a shot of a docking platform with a raging inferno belching who-knows-what into the atmosphere and telegraphing to anyone within a ten-mile radius that something suspicious has gone down. That’s how we govern on Mandalore.

Ultimately it’s not clear who ‘Corruption’ was ever aimed at. Anyone who struggled with the grandstanding politics of the prequels isn’t suddenly going to feel better about having it approached on a packed-lunch basis. But similarly, viewers who appreciated the peek behind the curtain in Episodes I-III will likely feel put out at a socio-economic lecture with children dying at the periphery.

Maybe the kids should have been involved more? Oh, wait…

The Academy (2010)

Season 3, Episode 6. Written by Cameron Litvack, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“Those who enforce the law must obey the law.”

In a bid to expose the roots of corruption within the Mandalorian government, Duchess Satine requests the insight of a Jedi. Preoccupied with the demands of an ongoing war, the temple assigns Anakin Skywalker’s padawan Ahsoka Tano to lend assistance. But it’s the inquisitiveness of a group of students in the capital which uncovers an insidious plot that threatens the very citizens it claims to help…

We begin with another eyebrow-raising moment as, having just declared themselves neutral and independent, Mandalore then requests the presence and advice of a Jedi – the peacekeepers of the Republic.

It hasn’t always been easy loving The Clone Wars, but like any relationship you take the rough with the smooth. It’s all about compromise. Unless the subject is noble taxation vs underhand corruption of course, in which case the whole thing becomes very black and white (as it should, to be fair. It’s not the message that’s the problem here, more the patronising messenger).

So welcome to The Academy, an educational institution in Mandalore’s capital attended by the next generation of influencers and policy-makers. The best of the best. Satine’s own nephew, Korkie, goes there. As do his friends Amis, Lagos and Soniee. Some kids form a band at school, this bunch have decided to be collectively annoying.

After a lecture from Ahsoka Tano on the moral highground of sound taxation and a citizen’s duty to challenge leadership for transparency (this takes place in a classroom but really is A Lecture in every sense, she almost looks into the camera at one point), our intrepid heroes suspect that the ultimate source of the current wave of corruption must be high-up in the governmental structure. And so it proves.

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In the best tradition of The Children’s Film Foundation, they report their concerns to Duchess (‘Auntie’) Satine. She takes this onboard and promises to investigate. So in the best tradition of The Red Hand Gang, they decide to follow a hunch and break into a dodgy downtown warehouse at night, while a suspicious deal is being brokered by a hooded figure (we won’t tell you who that is, you’ll have to watch the episode yourself).

It’s almost fitting to have clunky dialogue throughout this, but it’s also often spread out over the four protagonists, so that it appears they’re waiting to take turns in describing the plot with small words. And this is all fine of course, but it would perhaps have been more fitting if the kids had arrived in a brightly coloured transit van, in the company of a Great Dane with an eating disorder. The kids meddle, and [REDACTED] doesn’t get away with it.

At its best, this is a tale which is reliably solid but feels out of place in The Clone Wars. At its worst, the politics on display make an afternoon in the Coruscant Senate feel like a lightsaber duel in an underground power-reactor complex.

In attempt to claw one positive from ‘The Academy’, it should be pointed out that the heroes we meet here aren’t young Jedi and they aren’t young Clonetroopers, they’re just ordinary kids. Privileged, interfering and irritating kids too, but still. The ‘youthful-adventure’ isn’t a format we’ve seen the last of during this show, but it won’t come back in force for a couple of seasons yet…

Assassin (2010)

Season 3, Episode 7. Written by Katie Lucas, Drew Z. Greenberg, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“The future has many paths – choose wisely.”

With Anakin Skywalker called away on an emergency mission, his padawan learner Ahsoka Tano is left on Coruscant. But the student’s connection with The Force grows ever stronger, and Ahsoka begins having premonitions of attempts on Padmé Amidala’s life. What’s more, these attacks seem to be perpetrated by a bounty hunter who is thought to be already dead…

Who’d have thought it would be a nice relief to get back to the realm of political contract-killings? But here we are.

Written by Katie Lucas (daughter of George Himself) and Drew Z. Greenberg (a pen behind many of Season Two’s best moments), ‘Assassin’ is a fantastic character-building episode for Ahsoka. The teenager’s abilities may be burgeoning, but her confidence is struggling to keep up.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that Tano doubts herself throughout. We get a confessional scene with Yoda which mirrors the conversation Anakin goes on to have with the Jedi master in Revenge Of The Sith (complete with an arrangement of ‘Yoda’s Theme’ from series composer Kevin Kiner). After this, Ahsoka tries to convince Padmé that the senator is in serious danger while also conveying her uncertainty. And it’s all credit to voice artists Ashley Eckstein (Tano) and Catherine Taber (Amidala) that these exchanges come off so believably.

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The group’s arrival on Alderaan for a refugee summit prompts an excerpt of ‘Princess Leia’s Theme’ to match the lush, peaceful visuals, then the build-up for the finale begins. It’s at this point that the excellent pacing and direction come into play – we see Padmé in Episode III so we know she’ll ultimately survive the episode, yet it’s still fantastically tense.

Which brings us to the third ace in this hand – Jamie King’s portrayal of Aurra Sing. The animation for the bounty hunter is markedly smoother than the more stylised cycles used for the Clonetroopers, then the vocal performance sells the character completely. Intensely dedicated, but not quite obsessed. Ruthlessly amoral, but not necessarily evil. Methodically ordered, yet still an absolute wildcard.

The natural end-point of all this is that much like Willow, we’re treated to a climactic standoff between three female characters in a room, all intent and little bravado. Excellent stuff.

Join us next time as we meet some old friends from the barracks, and Uncle George shows his animated face in the Galaxy Far, Far Away…

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