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.
Arc Troopers (2010)
Season 3, Episode 2. Written by Cameron Litvack, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“Fighting a war tests a soldier’s skills, defending his home tests a soldier’s heart.”
Our first group of ‘odds and ends’ episodes has arrived, sitting together on the timeline but not firmly parts of any other story arc. Although far from being isolated, all three reach back and forward to other tales within The Clone Wars.
We open with ‘Arc Troopers’. Separatist forces coordinate an attack on the cloning facilities at Kamino, hoping to wipe out the future of the Grand Army of the Republic at its source. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi intercept a transmission alerting them to the plan, and assign Captain Rex and the 501st Legion to help lead the defence on their homeworld…
First things first, it’s great to be back on Kamino and looking around Tipoca City. As a location it feels severely underused in the series, given its pivotal role in the war effort, even though the planet is deliberately isolated out of tactical (and narrative) necessity. The interiors and Kaminoans themselves are arguably rendered with more detail and clarity here than they were in 2002’s Attack Of The Clones.
As always with clone-centric episodes, ‘Arc Troopers’ is another great showcase for the talents of Dee Bradley Baker, who voices all the adult soldiers. And because of this story’s positioning in the production schedules, we also get the return of Daniel Logan (young Boba Fett in Episode II), performing as the younger troops caught in the crossfire.
In terms of the combat itself, the battle for Tipoca City sees Anakin and Asajj Ventress going at each other once more. These fights are good fun since they involve far less flirting than each time she finds herself up against Obi-Wan, and because back in 2010 (before the Story Group/Legends soft reboot of the Star Wars Expanded Universe) Anakin’s facial scar was still canonically the result of a previous duel with Ventress. And who doesn’t love a good grudge match?
Unfortunately this leaves General Grievous in the hands of General Kenobi, because the former can’t meet Skywalker until the opening of Revenge Of The Sith, thanks to a bit of very specific scripting. As the series goes on, it appears that Grievous and Kenobi cross sabers on an almost fortnightly basis, with each confrontation lessening the spectacle of the physical and verbal sparring on Utapau that viewers have already seen.
Ultimately, ‘Arc Troopers’ spends slightly too much time hanging out with the Jedi and not enough with the eponymous special forces unit headed by Captain Rex. But it acts as a fine coda to ‘Clone Cadets’, and it’s good to see ‘bad batcher’ clone 99 again…
Sphere Of Influence (2010)
Season 3, Episode 4. Written by Katie Lucas, Drew Z. Greenberg, Steve Melching, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“A child stolen is a hope lost.”
Maintaining their insistence of neutrality in the war, the Trade Federation have blockaded the planet of Pantora, cutting off all supplies and commerce. With the galactic senate reluctant to prosecute such a large organisation at this sensitive time, Count Dooku offers aid to the newly appointed Chairman Baron Papanoida on behalf of the Confederacy Of Independent Systems. To push matters further into crisis, the baron’s daughters have been kidnapped. Ahsoka Tano offers to investigate, but ‘off the books’ of the Jedi Council…
Casting our minds back to Revenge Of The Sith, Baron Papanoida was the bearded, blue-skinned fellow standing around at the top of the steps just before the opera-scene. He was only briefly on screen and had no speaking lines. In fact, the character is only really notable since he was played by the barely-disguised George Lucas himself.
And as this was (at the time) to be the last cinematic hurrah for Star Wars, George’s three children cameo in the film, too. Fellow Pantoran Chi Eekway was portrayed by Katie Lucas, so it’s perhaps fitting (because let’s face it, it’s by no means a coincidence) that ‘Sphere Of Influence’ should be co-written by none other than Katie Lucas. Although Baron Papanoida’s other two children, Ion and Che Amanwe, are based here on Jett and Amanda Lucas respectively, those aren’t the roles originally taken by the pair in Episode III. But rest assured, we’re very much At Home With The Lucases, in spirit at least.
With family ties such as these, one would expect this episode of The Clone Wars to be Very Star Wars Indeed. And this is exactly what’s delivered, although the 22-minute format arguably does more harm than good to the story’s pacing.
In addition to the heavy influence of the prequel trilogy (to be expected), we also get a return to Tatooine as the good baron makes his own investigations. This takes us to Jabba’s palace, last seen at the beginning of this series, then includes notorious bounty hunter Greedo and the infamous Chalmun’s Cantina at Mos Eisley. And as nice is it is to be in familiar surroundings, the latter of these feels particularly shoehorned into proceedings.
While all of this is occurring, Ahsoka takes up the other end of the rope with Pantoran senator Riyo Chuchi, aboard a Nemoidian blockade station (from the opening act of The Phantom Menace), engaging in the kind of subterfuge normally reserved for Padmé in this show. The diplomats, it turns out, are every bit as action-prone as the ground troops in this war. Although we suspected as much already
Following the events of ‘Trespass’, it’s now more firmly established that the Pantorans’ default native brogue is similar to that of New Zealanders in our own part of the galaxy (the family voiced by Nika Futterman, Meredith Salenger, Corey Burton and Seth Green). So accent-nerds can exhale quietly in the knowledge that the Kiwi twang does exist in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, but it’s not used by the televisual soldiers cloned from Temuera Morrison, who’s approximately 150% Kiwi even in a fictional continuity.
‘Sphere Of Influence’ is good rollicking fun, but a story this indebted to already-established Star Wars characters and locations really should be more satisfying…
Evil Plans (2010)
Season 3, Episode 8. Written bySteve Mitchell, Craig Van Sickle, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“A failure in planning is a plan for failure.”
While Jabba The Hutt sends bounty hunter Cad Bane on a nefarious mission to Coruscant, Padmé Amidala is planning a crucial state banquet for off-world senate delegates. To get Artoo Deetoo and See-Threepio out of her hair Padmé sends the droids on a very specific errand, certain that this will also keep them out of trouble…
Yes, the droids are going on a shopping trip. No, really. ‘Evil Plans’ is actually a partial setup for the upcoming ‘Hostage Crisis’ and ‘Hunt For Ziro’ episodes, even though it only explains a fairly minor plot-points in those. But what we get in practical terms is probably closer to an homage to the 1985 Star Wars cartoon, Droids.
And while that’s an easy comparison to make with any episode which focuses on the iconic automatons, this one in particular features Threepio and Artoo becoming separated, the latter being treated to an oil-bath and pamper at a droid-spa. Our Astromech has previous animated form for this. The droids are known for their playfulness of course, and as the first heroes we meet in A New Hope are part of our core Star Wars family. Which is why haggling over fruit in a marketplace feels like an oddly domesticated plotline for the series.
But it’s not all head-scratching, ‘isn’t there a war happening right now?’ shenanigans. Cad Bane makes his return, and if anything’s going to turn the audience against this morally bankrupt character, it’s the sight of him attempting to torture information out of everyone’s favourite protocol droid. No, really.
We also get our first glimpse of the leaders of the five Hutt families, a nod to The Godfather which will be picked up further as this particular thread unravels.
Ultimately though, ‘Evil Plans’ is textbook filler-material. Little happens which couldn’t have been explained away later with a line or two of dialogue. It’s also not the last time in the series that we’ll be drawn off into frustrating side-adventures with Artoo and Threepio.
It’s important to remember that Star Wars: The Clone Wars, while being a fun and valuable addition to the overall continuity, wasn’t always easy to be excited with on an episode-by-episode basis. The non-linear broadcast order and narrative plate spinning required to keep old and young audiences engaged resulted in some uneven storytelling.
These three episodes are examples of that. There are great things to be found in all, but the series makes its audience work to find them. Which is perhaps not a bad approach to writing, but still.
But join us next time as things heat up on Coruscant and the campest, purplest Hutt of all becomes the object of everyone’s attention…