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.
Season 3, Episode 15. Written by Christian Taylor, directed by Steward Lee.
“Balance is found in the one who faces his guilt.”
The temple on Coruscant intercepts a signal from beyond the Outer Rim, containing a Jedi distress code which has not been used for over 2,000 years. Arranging to meet a Republic cruiser to guard against a possible Separatist trap, Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano and Obi-Wan Kenobi investigate. When they arrive at the source co-ordinates their clone escort is nowhere to be seen. What’s more, they find themselves drawn toward a massive unknown and uncharted object…
We arrive now at a trilogy of episodes which acts a pivotal point, not in the progress of the war but in the audience’s understanding of The Force. After blacking out, our central trio find themselves on a planet which looks like a Yes album cover filtered through the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Mountain-sized rocks hang in the air and the seasons change with the time of day. The navigation system on the Jedi’s shuttle cannot pinpoint their location. The planet is everywhere, and nowhere.
In the words of one suddenly-returning character, the planet is “a conduit through which The Force of the entire universe flows. […] An amplifier and a magnet”. This place, Mortis, with its balmy verdant days and harsh freezing nights is a geological translation of The Force itself.
This applies even moreso to the only other inhabitants of the planet. An old man, known as The Father, oversees his children (named The Daughter and The Son, accordingly) as literal embodiments of The Force. While The Daughter is as patient, nurturing but inquisitive as the Light Side, The Son is demanding, mean-spirited and almost entirely self-centred, just like the Dark.
The Father meanwhile is neither, yet both. His job is to keep his children in balance. In a scene of much-needed exposition, The Father tells Anakin that the family “withdrew from the temporal world to live here as anchorites” an age ago. When word reached them that The Chosen One had been found in Anakin Skywalker, he decided to summon that one here to find out if this was true.
So far, so metaphysical. ‘Overlords’ is very heavy on the lore of The Force, if not the Jedi or the Sith. And it’s a bold move of The Clone Wars (and writer Christian Taylor, particularly) to take this leap from politicians and blaster-fire, exploring something that even the movies have cautiously avoided inking-in too heavily. Although as the story-arc goes on, it becomes clear that not everything here should be taken at face value.
This episode is the series debut for Sam Witwer (Battlestar Galactica and the US version of Being Human) as The Son, having already stepped into the GFFA for The Force Unleashed in 2008. Sam goes on to voice several characters throughout this series and beyond, the majority of whom have a connection with the Dark Side. He is magnificent.
‘Overlords’ also sees the brief return of Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, appearing to Obi-Wan in a Force-enhanced vision. Kenobi is initially unsure what to make of this of course, but the audience may well be aware than Qui-Gon has been slowly rebuilding his presence in The Force, after being turned into a Sith-kebab several years earlier.
And just to keep the nods to The Phantom Menace going, we also hear the voice of Pernilla August, reprising her role as Anakin’s mother Shmi (albeit not quite as altruistically-inclined as Qui-Gon’s appearance).
We close with Anakin politely declining The Father’s offer to stick around and help with the admin, but since when have beings so powerful been inclined to take the first ‘no’ as an answer..?
Altar of Mortis (2011)
Season 3, Episode 16. Written by Christian Taylor, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“He who surrenders hope, surrenders life.”
Not quite finished with their attempted persuasion, the Force-wielding trio draw the Jedi back planet-side as The Son abducts Ahsoka. Left with little choice, Anakin and Obi-Wan return to Mortis to rescue their friend and look for a more permanent solution to this problem. Meanwhile, the power struggle in the heart of The Force rages on…
The visuals in this strand are amazing, with the designers largely freed from ‘real world’ physics and architecture yet still making the planet look believable. Better still, it’s a place which feels tonally familiar, even though this is our first visit.
And the series continues to ask more questions than it answers with the bickering at The Father’s temple. Worried he’s becoming too weak to properly control The Son, the elder begs Anakin to reconsider his return to the war in corporeal reality. While it appears that ‘The Force’ as a concept would still exist without the anchorites (as it did before their arrival), the trio clearly have a symbiotic relationship with it that crosses dimensional time and space – as The Father’s strength wanes and The Son’s wax, so the powers which control the war grow stronger.
Meanwhile, the carefully painted metaphor of the first episode begins to be coloured in with crayon as Ahsoka is bitten and literally infected with the venom of the Dark Side (or as literal as anything can be in this arc). The Harley Quinn-lite act which follows is equally heavy-handed, but it works in terms of the story’s execution and the 22-minute format.
When things finally come to a head, the resulting showdown means that Anakin ends up saving Ahsoka’s life with pure, unbridled Light Side energy. It’s a move which has serious implications for this already-powerful padawan, and its ramifications will be felt all the way down the timeline into Star Wars Rebels…
Ghosts of Mortis (2011)
Season 3, Episode 17. Written by Christian Taylor, directed by Steward Lee.
“He who seeks to control fate shall never find peace.”
With The Daughter apparently killed, the Jedi race back to their crashed shuttle. The mission now is to repair it before The Son can recover and use the vessel to escape, unleashing pure Dark Side on the physical universe. Meanhile, Anakin returns to speak with The Father, to find out if there’s anything he can do as the prophesied Chosen One…
Welcome to the Hotel Mortis. You can check out, etc. Symbolism comes to a crashing climax as metaphysical events become indistinguishable from their real-world counterparts. The Son offers young Skywalker a glimpse of future events, which naturally he’s too curious or weak-willed to refuse.
Seeing visions of what he’ll become after Order 66, of the battle with Obi-Wan, the death of Padmé and eventual destruction of Alderaan, Anakin decides that the only way to derail this chain of events is by joining The Son and turning to the Dark Side. Which, as any time-altering fule kno, means he effectively becomes precisely what he’s trying to avoid – only sooner.
There was a very similar sequence toward the end of Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2D animated Clone Wars series in 2005, where Anakin saw his hallucinogenic-fuelled future through a series of cave paintings. And much like that earlier iteration, the hero cannot be allowed to possess such knowledge. The Son had broken the rules (even by his standards) in revealing this, and The Father undoes the damage with a tap of his finger to Anakin’s forehead. Although crucially, he does tell Skywalker what he’s done, if not what he’s actually removed.
By the time of the closing credits, The Father, The Son and The Daughter are no more, with Mortis crumbling as a result. And while they weren’t strictly controlling things as such, The Force is in freefall as evidenced by the upcoming events of The Clone Wars and Revenge Of The Sith. Anakin is confirmed as The Chosen One, but who knows what that really means, other than the Jedi he has with him?
A holo-communication with Captain Rex indicates that these events did not appear to happen in real-time or space. Yet to the Jedi, it remains a shared experience. Can this disparity be reconciled? We’ll have to wait until Season 6 to find out.
Join us next time as the Jedi go on a prison-break, the canonical TV universe takes a swing away from previously published in-continuity novels, and we meet an old friend with a cut-glass accent and sublime cheekbone structure…