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 Citadel (2011)
Season 3, Episode 18. Written by Matt Michnovetz, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“Adaptation is the key to survival.”
Captured by Separatist forces in the Outer Rim, Jedi Master Even Piell and his crew are taken to Lola Sayu. The planet is the location of The Citadel, a stronghold built 500 years earlier to detain fallen Jedi. Now under CIS control, Commander Osi Sobeck plans to interrogate Piell and extract the secret hyperspace route coordinates which he guards. As the Jedi Council despatches Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the 501st Arc Troopers to rescue surviving members of the crew, the plan to evade the Separatist life-form detectors takes a chilling turn. But there are still surprises in store for everyone…
An incredibly solid trilogy of episodes now, playing as a continuous story. And it’s a story featuring a somewhat fractious relationship with the Star Wars Expanded Universe (as it was at the time). The opening sees our heroes smuggling themselves past a security blockade by getting R2-D2 to pilot their ship along with reprogrammed Battle Droids, while the Jedi and clones freeze themselves in carbonite – a measure designed to lower their vital signs to the point of non-detection by enemy scanners.
It’s a cool move (no pun intended), and it’s also one which Clone Wars fans may have already witnessed in Dark Horse’s 2008 tie-in comic, Shipyards Of Doom. In fact the motif is ported over wholesale from that title, to the point where Ahsoka sneaks along with them, lying to the carbon freezing crew (Ugnaughts, naturally) about being assigned to the mission at the last moment, then riding along with them in her own grey slab.
This is all well and good of course, certainly not the first time we’ve seen ideas recycled across different media in Star Wars. But since such a blatant stunt could only realistically be pulled once, it raised the thought in 2011 that the series’ accompanying Dark Horse comics were now no longer necessarily canon, since they could be plundered and re-purposed for the screen (certainly Shipyards Of Doom, at any rate). The carbonite-conundrum isn’t the last time The Clone Wars will butt heads with the literary arm of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. In fact, it’s not even the last time it’ll do it in this story-arc.
Continuity-gripes aside, ‘The Citadel’ is a fantastically paced reconnaissance-style episode, feeling for all the world like a video game mission. Objectives and obstacles are outlined in a roundtable briefing, then it’s a case of tagging along with the squad as each brings their own talents to the forefront.
The first new arrival we meet is Even Piell, the diminutive Jedi with the huge ears first showcased in the closing moments of The Phantom Menace. His role was wordless there, but Piell was awarded a brief line of dialogue in Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2D Clone Wars micro-series. In this latest iteration, the Lannik’s speech flows freely, albeit in an odd Sort-Of-Russian accent.
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The story also introduces us to Osi Sobeck, a skeletal, insect-like humanoid, voiced by James Arnold Taylor in the style of Christopher Walken with a sore throat. Conniving and ruthless, the character isn’t quite as cowardly as his CIS contemporaries, but he’s nowhere near smart or bold enough for the warden’s job he’s been awarded.
Considering the dark history of the Citadel complex and what’s at stake in the mission (two clones die on-screen as we go), Matt Michnovetz’s script is surprisingly quippy. Then again, with a torture-droid openly taunting Piell to “say goodbye to your one good eye…”, it’s probably best to keep things as light as possible…
Season 3, Episode 19. Written by Matt Michnovetz, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Anything that can go wrong will.”
The Republic strike force’s mission is at least partially successful and Piell, along with his surviving crew, have been liberated. However, the Separatists are now on high-alert and will stop at nothing to retrieve their prisoners. Our heroes split into two groups in an effort to distract their pursuers, and now they race to separate rendezvous points…
The sense of threat and claustrophobia continues straight off the bat here, linking seamlessly to the previous episode as Jedi and clones alike are chased round echoing hallways. The only ones not assured an instant death are the carriers of the precious co-ordinates, split for security reasons between two people. Even Piell carries one half, his counterpart being the young and dashing… Captain Wilhuff Tarkin.
Yes, a longstanding officer of the Republic and veteran of the Clone Wars it turns out, Tarkin still cuts a lean figure but is nowhere near as weathered as his iconic portrayal by Peter Cushing in A New Hope. And just as we’re getting excited to see the beginning of the relationship between the galaxy’s most feared governor and the man who will go on to become Darth Vader, here we hit another stumbling block.
Tarkin’s voice. He’s performed in this series (and later in Star Wars Rebels) by Stephen Stanton, and on the face of it he does a sterling job. The lilt and intonation of the vocalisations perfectly capturing Cushing’s refined tones. Unfortunately, Stanton is far better at doing Cushing’s voice than he is a clipped British accent, somehow. He brings a slightly casual edge to the performance which undercuts Tarkin’s military standing, and intermittently veers away from sounding like Peter Cushing – often mid-sentence. A smattering of Americanisms sand off another edge (pronouncing the word “due” as “do” – just like the cinematic version of the character never would), and at one point emits an exasperated “there’s a plahn B?”. It’s only infuriating because Stanton is so close the rest of the time. But now we’ve mentioned this here, it need never raise its head again (place your bets in the comments section). It’s also still far, far better than Guy Henry’s Tarkin-voice in Rogue One.
The episode itself is another treat, with thrills, spills and three more clone-deaths to lend a sense of finality. The numbers of the Republic task force dwindle and it’s only the later appearances by characters in other stories which guarantees the success of the mission… right?
Citadel Rescue (2011)
Season 3, Episode 20. Written by Matt Michnovetz, directed by Steward Lee.
“Without honor, victory is hollow.”
With their escape route compromised, the Jedi battle against Sobeck’s forces to find an escape from The Citadel. The Separatist high-command, however, are determined to recapture their quarry and mine the crucial hyperspace coordinates. Throwing everything he’s got at the problem, Sobeck takes to the battle himself, the price of failure hanging over his head by Count Dooku’s hand…
The action is at breakneck pace in this conclusion, with Anooba-dogs, crab-droids and STAP patrols all out on the rampage, and even old friends like Clone Trooper Echo buying the farm unplanned. When the refrain of the famous Wilhelm Scream appears in the third act, it’s all we can do to smile in the face of so much carnage.
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Which brings us to Mr Piell. His valiant efforts throughout this arc lead to an untimely demise and a genuinely touching (if brief) warrior’s funeral in the lava-flows of Lola Sayu. He’s mourned by the Jedi on the mission and on Coruscant alike. Which is odd, because those of us who’d read the 2008 novel Jedi Twilight, by Michael Reaves, could have sworn Piell has a small but central role in that story. A story which takes place after Order 66. Which is to say, after The Clone Wars.
Yes, in another divergence from the printed word, Michnovetz’s screenplay quietly decanonises a book which, in all fairness, only a relatively small percentage of the audience will have read. But as with Shipyards of Doom above, this all occurred three years before the Disney buyout and the Legends/Story Group division of fiction. It’s true that the old Expanded Universe was frequently tripping over its own feet by 2011, but that’s only to be expected after 30 years of contributions by different writers and artists. But still. Piell’s death at the hands (or rather jaws) of a beast who mistook him for a pull-toy was a siren. An early warning that the Expanded Universe was approaching its limits.
But all of this shouldn’t detract from what is a fantastic trilogy of episodes, Clone Wars action at its slickest and its most tense. It also gives us a neat measure of Tarkin and how he views the Jedi, the Republic and Chancellor Palpatine. We shall watch his career with great interest.
Join us next time as a jungle encounter brings us face to face with everybody’s favourite walking carpet…