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.
Water War (2011)
Season 4, Episode 1. Written by Jose Molina, directed by Duwayne Dunham.
“When destiny calls, the chosen have no choice.”
The ocean planet of Mon Cala. In the midst of a longstanding feud with the Quarren people, the Mon Calamari king has been found murdered. Now his young heir Lee-Char stands to inherit the throne, a succession contested by the Quarren. The Republic assigns Senator Padmé Amidala to mediate the dispute, accompanied by her bodyguard Jedi, Anakin Skywalker…
Season four of The Clone Wars gets off to a rough start with this clutch of episodes. Lucasfilm Animation move ever forward from a technical point of view, with the undersea architecture and physics beautifully rendered, but the story and characters themselves are left wanting.
Visiting the planet for the first time in this show, we’re thrown right in at the deep end (no pun intended) as the two main species bicker in their centre of government, come to blows on both ideological and physical fronts, then declare all out war requiring Republic assistance – all within the first ten minutes. Given that our window into this is through the eyes of Anakin and Padmé, arguably two of the series’ least interesting characters, it’s difficult for the audience to really care about this escalation.
The story is not without its plus points, though. We meet Ackbar when he was a mere Captain, and the animation team have given the character his flute-like staff – the one originally packaged with his 1983 Kenner/Palitoy action figure. Additionally, once the Separatists begin landing in the ocean we’re introduced to the Hydroid Medusas, gigantic eerie Jellyfish-like cyborgs, a very location-specific weapon written in to bring some genuine unease.
But on the subject of writing, ‘Water War’ features some of the clunkiest dialogue the saga has seen to date (yes, including Attack Of The Clones), as we end a short scene with Lee-Char emphatically stating “I do not believe the Quarren will attack”. This immediately cuts to a swarm of invading Quarren with the leader yelling “Attack!”. This immediately cuts to an astonished Captain Ackbar who helpfully exclaims “…It’s an attack!”.
Gungan Attack (2011)
Season 4, Episode 2. Written by Jose Molina, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Only through fire is a strong sword forged.”
The Quarren have formally allied with the Confederacy of Independent Systems and now seek full control of planet Mon Cala to cement their commitment. Count Dooku orders Mon Calamari prisoners to be put to work in internment camps, much to the disapproval of older, more moderate Quarren politicians. Meanwhile, Anakin has requested Republic reinforcements to aid the Mon Calamari. Clones are in short supply, but Yoda knows of an aquatic race who may just be able to help out…
With all of the setup taking place in ‘Water War’, this episode is closer to a twenty-minute action sequence, although it’s no less murky for all that, nor more enjoyable. The main problem is that the Quarren and the Mon Calamari just aren’t inherently interesting as groups, especially since their ancient tribal opposition quickly becomes a cypher for Republic/Separatist opposition – something which is already the backbone of the series anyway.
Thrown into this mix is Riff Tamson, a Karkarodon one-note bad guy who is basically, as The Mighty Boosh‘s Howard Moon once mused, ‘a shark with knees‘. While his character’s intensity matches the primal ferocity of his face, putting a shark’s head on a humanoid body stretches even Star Wars‘ suspension of disbelief.
The more cynical of viewers may have already found this arc’s conceit creaking back when characters began speaking to and hearing one another underwater. And almost certainly when lightsabers were shown to operate normally underwater, despite Obi-Wan’s shorting out in The Phantom Menace after it was submerged on Naboo.
Still, it’s nice to see a horde of Gungan soldiers literally air-dropped in to save the day, that should turn the tide…
Season 4, Episode 3. Written by Jose Molina, directed by Danny Keller.
“Crowns are inherited, kingdoms are earned.”
With the Gungan intervention unsuccessful and the Jedi in Separatist custody, Lee-Char has gone into hiding with Ahsoka to formulate a plan. Count Dooku commands Tamson to step up his attacks on the Mon Calamari, in an attempt to draw out the prince…
The gloom continues now both visually and scriptually, illustrating that this particular storyline really should have been contained in two episodes at most. Even the presence of Ackbar can’t lift these episodes above filler, and the underwater skirmishes are by this point repetitive and without dramatic weight.
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That said, the young prince’s plan turns out to be re-uniting the Mon Calamari and Quarren, using their combined strength to drive the CIS from their shared homeworld. This is a neat turn of events and pairs well with Ahsoka Tano’s advice that “decisions made out of fear are usually wrong”. Certainly points which bear remembering as the years wear on in our own universe.
But unfortunately, this slightly heart-warming sentiment isn’t enough after three instalments. Even at its best, the Mon Cala story-arc is slightly forgettable. Which, given its problems, may be no bad thing. But let’s not get too snarky, we’re not out of the water just yet…
Shadow Warrior (2011)
Season 4, Episode 4. Written by Daniel Arkin, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Who a person truly is cannot be seen with the eye.”
Senator Amidala returns home to Naboo after Republic Intelligence hears rumours that the Gungans are planning to aid the CIS in another attack on Theed. Together, Naboo’s residents manage the impossible in capturing General Grievous, but this is accomplished at the same time as Anakin Skywalker falls into Separatist clutches. With each side having lost a critical player, can Padmé trust Count Dooku to take part in a straight prisoner exchange? There’s only one way to find out…
And so we swap one undersea kingdom for another, as Otoh Gunga plays host to Anakin, Padmé and Jar Jar Binks. Boss Nass has, by this point, been replaced as leader by Boss Lyonie – a taller, slimmer Gungan who is under the hypnosis-like power of his crooked minister, Rish Loo (yes, really). Anakin quickly sees through this and puts an end to the subterfuge, but not before Lyonie has been seriously injured.
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As the statesman is needed to broker the prisoner exchange, this puts the Republic in a bit of a bind. Luckily Jar Jar Binks looks a little bit like Lyonie, and Anakin and Padmé have the idea of convincing Binks to stand in the Boss’s place. In actual fact, Jar Jar looks more than a little bit like the new Boss, a setup which is thoroughly telegraphed by the pair using the same animation model. It’s a little like any adaptation of The Prince & The Pauper where both characters are played by the same actor while even the audience members who don’t know the story think ‘well, I wonder where this is going?’.
But credit where it’s due, as Dooku arrives and kills his Gungan informant, things suddenly take on a very serious turn (especially when another notable and established Gungan is killed shortly afterward). Although the downside of this is that Anakin and The Count go blade-to-blade once more. Each time this confrontation occurs (and remember, Anakin can’t meet General Grievous until Episode III), our minds are cast back to their final encounter aboard the Separatist cruiser at the beginning of Revenge Of The Sith, and Anakin’s taunting line: “My powers have doubled since the last time we met, Count!”.
In 2005, this was a callback to the duel in the Geonosis cave where Anakin lost his hand. But with in-universe hindsight, it’s a wonder that Dooku’s withering response wasn’t “…what, on Tuesday?”.
Join us next time as we go on an adventure with everyone’s favourite astromech and protocol droids. It’ll be like 1985 all over again…