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.
Hostage Crisis (2009)
Season 1, Episode 22. Written by Eoghan Mahoney, Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Giancarlo Volpe.
“A secret shared is a trust formed.”
Utilising his recently-stolen plans for the Senate building, Cad Bane and a small band of mercenaries execute an armed break-in. When an urgent bill brings together a group of senators to vote, they find themselves being a central component of Bane’s plan…
And so to a Clone Wars arc which encompasses episodes from across the first three seasons, such was the non-linear nature of the original broadcast order. We begin at the back end of the first, which was actually the series debut for Cad Bane. Because of this, the need to establish the Duros bounty hunter as a credible threat is met from the off, as he snaps the neck of a helmeted Senate Guard out on the landing platform. This ruthlessness is only matched by the return of Aurra Sing, who despatches one of the injured boys in blue at point blank range with a blaster as he begs her for help. This aired on Cartoon Network.
But ‘Hostage Crisis’ isn’t a killing-spree for the sake of it. Bane uses the senators present as bargaining chips to secure the release of Ziro The Hutt (who’s been in custody since the kidnapping of Jabba’s son, Rotta). What this means in practical terms is that a group of terrorists (ostensibly politically motivated but ultimately in it for the money) lock down a massive building, using hostages to demand the release of an incarcerated criminal.
Oh yes, this is Star Wars does Die Hard.
Anakin Skywalker gets to fill the John McClane role. Separated from his weapon due to earlier plot-shenanigans, the Jedi has to thwart the bad guys using skill and ingenuity rather than brute force (although obviously he also gets to use The Force). His reason for being in the Senate to begin with results in a couple of scenes in which our hero makes eyes with Padmé of course, but it’s a small price to pay for this amount of action.
As we’re in the first season, many of the character models still have that deliberately jointed, marionette style movement, but the scale and detail with which the planet Coruscant is rendered is outstanding for an animated TV show.
‘Hostage Crisis’ feels quite the ‘procedural’ entry for the series, but a lot of fun. It was under-appreciated back in 2009, largely because the audience hadn’t seen the lead-in tale and wouldn’t get the full pay-off for a further 18 months. Luckily, we’re not under that limitation now…
Hunt For Ziro (2010)
Season 3, Episode 9. Written by Steve Mitchell, Craig Van Sickle, directed by Steward Lee.
“Love comes in all shapes and sizes.”
With Ziro The Hutt freed from Republic custody by outlaws, the Jedi Council assigns the fastidious Obi-Wan Kenobi to track him down in the company of the more irregular Quinlan Vos. Meanwhile, the purple gangster has been escorted to the planet Nal Hutta for an audience with the heads of the five families, not yet realising that their assistance in breaking him out may not have been entirely altruistic…
From John McClane to Indiana Jones and The Godfather, the homages continue as ‘Hunt For Ziro’ opens with a song and dance number in the Hutt hideaway. The Pa’lowick singer Sy Snootles (from Return Of The Jedi) and a host of Twi’lek dancers perform a short riff on the ‘Anything Goes’ segment from Temple Of Doom, as the corpulent gangsters look on approvingly.
But in addition to Sy’s starring turn (she turns out to be quite the assassin, to boot), we’re also treated to a host of in-universe Star Wars references. As Gamorrean Guards beat each other senseless, Gardulla The Hutt from The Phantom Menace gets a speaking role here, as does Mr. Quinlan Vos.
A prominent character from the Dark Horse comic run of the prequel era, Vos was developed by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema from an extra who sat in the back of a shot in the Mos Espa marketplace. His inclusion in this televisual format meant he was finally canon (although he’d been referred to by name in Revenge Of The Sith), even if instead of being a grim and slightly unhinged Jedi, Vos is now immortalised as a cross between Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken and Jeff Bridges’ The Dude.
Also welcome is a peek behind the curtain of the Hutt hierarchy, although time constraints mean this setup isn’t really expanded here so much as pointed at. If anything, the episode spends more time in the company of Ziro’s forebear Mama the Hutt, who’s a great and slightly terrifying character but feels slightly out of kilter with Star Wars as a whole. It may also be worth pointing out that references to Ziro’s father could mean that Hutts don’t hermaphroditically self-reproduce in the Galaxy Far, Far Away after all.
With all of this culminating in a three-way melee between the two Jedi and Cad Bane, ‘Hunt For Ziro’ manages to pack in far more content than should be good for a 22-minute show, and it’s a testament to writers Steve Mitchell , Craig Van Sickle and director Steward Lee that the pace remains clear and steady throughout.
But if we never see a Pa’lowick smooching a Hutt again, that will be just fine…
Heroes On Both Sides (2010)
Season 3, Episode 10. Written by Daniel Arkin, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“Fear is a great motivator.”
On Coruscant, the senate convenes to discuss the progress and direction of the war, with a bill being raised to deregulate the banks so that more credit lines can be opened to keep Republic weapons and troops flowing…
That’s right, it’s back once again to All The Politics. Because while the clones and the clankers are keeping things fresh on the front lines, they aren’t the ones making the decisions to prolong that state of affairs.
The title refers to a line from Episode III’s opening crawl, a reminder that the war is a manufactured conceit. That while it’s being fought with vigour and conviction, innocents have been inevitably drawn in to both Republic and Separatist factions. That the whole thing isn’t as simple as ‘goodies vs baddies’.
This is a laudable idea in theory of course, although midway through the third season seems like an odd time to begin raising it. It also doesn’t help that there are few enough really likeable characters in the political episodes as it is, and the attempt to broaden that palette is left wanting.
Cue the introduction of Mina Bonteri, an old friend of Padmé’s from way before the war. Mina is a politician on the Separatist-aligned world of Raxus, now widowed due to the ongoing conflict. While Padmé and Mina enjoy a bittersweet camaraderie to try and end the war at the negotiating table rather than the battlefield, we’re also treated to the debut of her teenage son, Lux Bonteri – quite possibly The Clone Wars‘ most irritating character next to Rush Clovis. He and Ahsoka Tano then spend the rest of the episode pouting in one other’s direction.
But this isn’t all about half-heartedly giving a human face to the Confederacy of Independent Systems, there’s also a significant amount of time devoted to the discussion of banking deregulation (no, really), and some behind-the-scenes moustache twirling between representatives of the Trade Federation, the Banking Clan and the corrupt senator for Kamino (the latter of whom has their corporate-slant telegraphed by being named Halle Burtoni – no, really).
What’s missing from this satirical hot-take of course, is the Original Trilogy-era trope that characters with British accents are more than likely evil. To this end, we take leave of the Galactic Senate rotunda and pay a brief visit to the Separatist Parliament, a debating chamber which bears more than a passing likeness to the UK’s House of Commons. No, really.
‘Heroes On Both Sides’ nobly aims to expand on its title, but writer Daniel Arkin’s heart is never really in this endeavour. Worse still, this is a balance problem entirely of the series’ own making…
Pursuit Of Peace (2010)
Season 3, Episode 11. Written by Daniel Arkin, directed by Duwayne Dunham.
“Truth can strike down the spectre of fear.”
After a Separatist-claimed attack on a Coruscant power station, peace talks have broken down, the governmental banking system has been deregulated and the democratic heart of the Republic has devolved into squabbling about the ongoing cost of security. And as a longtime vocal opponent of the war, Padmé Amidala risks making herself a target of those who profit from seeing the fighting continue…
More heavy-handed shenanigans now, and any attempt at nuance built up by ‘Heroes On Both Sides’ is effectively binned. All financial and corporation-sized organisations are inherently bad here, and politicians are only to be trusted if they stare forlornly out over the rotunda and are unable spar verbally in an environment designed for verbal sparring. It’s an ongoing problem that the political backstory to the war is being played out by some of the series’ least interesting characters, but even that makes less sense than it should.
On a public level, the Trade Federation has long claimed neutrality in the conflict, as has the Banking Clan. But since Obi-Wan Kenobi eavesdropped on a meeting in Attack Of The Clones featuring the heads of both bodies, it seems inconceivable that their involvement hasn’t been officially logged. Padmé would certainly know, as she was there on Geonosis, too. Yet here she stands in the Senate, unable to counter-argue their claims of fiscally-sound independence.
But eager to break the stalemate in the senate, our heroine ventures to Coruscant’s lower levels to visit senators she hopes to get on-side for another vote. Tracked in her mission by a pair of bounty hunters this quickly turns into a night-time speeder chase, channelling the early action sequence in Episode II.
The shakedown is introduced as a much-needed gear change, but still can’t shake the air of financial exposition that preceded it. Credit where it’s due, at least Padmé doesn’t need to be rescued by Anakin this time.
While the reasoning behind these episodes is sound, ‘Pursuit Of Peace’ shows the series straying down a path that’s necessary for long term plot development, but risks alienating younger and older viewers alike. Because what’s The Clone Wars without clones?
Senate Murders (2010)
Season 2, Episode 15. Written by Drew Z. Greenberg, Brian Larsen, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Searching for the truth is easy. Accepting the truth is hard.”
The political impasse continues as the senator for Kamino pushes for the creation of more Clonetroopers, while Padmé Amidala of Naboo raises her counter-bill to cut military spending. And while a growing number of worlds are tentatively willing to stand on the side of peace, a series of assassinations at the highest levels of government is sure to shake their confidence…
Yes, tempers flare in the rotunda once again, with a certain party deciding to reduce the opposition the hard way. Rodian Senator Onaconda Farr buys the farm early in the proceedings, leading to the formal introduction of Lt. Tav Divo. A semi-regularly appearing Coruscant police inspector – nasal, cynical and thoroughly facetious, Divo has the looks of a 1940s Warner Bros cartoon character and is positively begging for his own spin-off series.
As a result of the political posturing we get the first visible signs of rebellion here, as Amidala meets with Farr, Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, in what will go on to become the Delegation of 2000. That said, events soon slot back into their regular groove as Padmé and Bail investigate a lead in a downtown shipping container terminal at night, only to find out it was a trap (well, quite).
The central thread of political discord escalating to murder – and the whole thing being resolved without the Jedi Council’s involvement no less – is a solid turn of events and it’s handled relatively well. But the downside to this is the high-profile nature of many figures involved, making them narratively ‘bulletproof’, and the consequent tendency to red-shirt characters appearing for the first time.
Overall there’s the feeling that ‘Senate Murders’ would have been a stronger episode had it been told entirely from Tan Divo’s point of view, rather than having him turn up every five minutes to describe plot developments.
This selection has been a real mixed bag (no bad thing in itself), underlining the weakness in development of certain characters, and the problems resulting in trying to hang a story from their shoulders at a later date. But at least it all ends with Padmé punching someone squarely in the face. Not that this helps slow down the war, of course…
Join us next time as we leave the bright lights of political discourse, and a dark magic makes its comeback to The Clone Wars…