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.
Mercy Mission (2011)
Season 4, Episode 5. Written by Bonnie Mark, directed by Danny Keller.
“Understanding is honouring the truth beneath the surface.”
A Republic fleet is diverted to Aleen to provide humanitarian relief for its population, struggling to survive and rebuild after the planet is hit by a series of catastrophic earthquakes. C-3PO accompanies Commander Wolffe to the surface as a translator, while R2-D2 tags along on technical duties.
Among the ruins, the Aleena show the droids the entrance to an ancient temple, uncovered by the seismic activity. And before you can say “six-million-forms-of-communication”, the pair are whisked away on an underground adventure…
Along with the damp squib that was the Mon Cala arc of The Clone Wars, this duology of droid tales was perhaps not the strongest of starts to the show’s fourth season, particularly when the tail end of its predecessor dealt with jailbreaking and metaphysics.
‘Mercy Mission’ is, at its core, a fun throwaway episode, the likes of which usually land later in a season when more urgent matters have already been dealt with. Paired with its follow-up, below, the strand begins to feel more like the series stalling for time, rather than providing a welcome aside from the warfare.
It’s always great to spend time with Artoo and Threepio of course, the first characters we met in the saga’s release-order. With Anthony Daniels lending his voice to the protocol droid (because who else?), the bickering between the two certainly carries a layer of legitimacy, and Bonnie Mark’s scripting sells this effortlessly.
If anything, ‘Mercy Mission’ feels like it should be at least a two-parter. The droids’ literal journey through the underworld brings them into contact with fairies and talking tree-people, evoking a strong sense of Lucasfilm’s mid-80s work with the Ewoks and Willow.
With the Clonetroopers and Aleena back up on the planet’s surface, our heroes become the lens through which the story pitches science and war against nature and superstition. But this is a whistle stop tour as the 22-minute time slot also has to account for both establishing and wrapping up the events.
The episode’s reach exceeds its grasp somewhat, and other than giving the audience a more solid introduction to the playfully sweet Aleena (The Phantom Menace’s podrace contestant Ratts Tyerell was also one of this species), it feels like not a lot has been achieved. A quick anecdote rather than a sit-down story, or even a chapter in one.
But at its best, ‘Mercy Mission’ evokes the 1985 Nelvana cartoon, Droids. And for viewers of a certain age, that alone could be worth the price of admission.
Nomad Droids (2011)
Season 4, Episode 6. Written by Steve Mitchell & Craig Van Sickle, directed by Steward Lee.
“Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”
Leaving Aleen aboard Jedi Master Adi Gallia’s cruiser to return to Coruscant, the ship is attacked and boarded by General Grievous and his forces. Artoo steals a Y-Wing and abandons ship, with Threepio as his hapless passenger.
The escape leads to the pair crash landing on the planet Patitite Pattuna, kickstarting a series of scrapes which push them ever further from home…
Leading directly on from ‘Mercy Mission’, ‘Nomad Droids’ seems to take all of the aspects which didn’t quite work and dial them up to 10. The opening gambit is strong enough, a very on-brand action sequence with hordes of droids systematically wrecking the Republic cruiser while our heroes manage to avoid every blast and ricochet (as they pretty much have as long as we’ve known them).
But once the dust has settled, the episode splits into what can only be described as three more ‘micro adventures’. The first jaunt clocks in at around six minutes and channels elements of Gulliver’s Travels. Again, with adequate expansion this could probably have worked fairly well as the basis for an entire episode. Instead, C-3PO becomes more C-3PO™ than ever, and his helpful protocol programming results in his educating the somewhat primitive natives on the nature of a democratic society. The white-saviour archetype has never looked so… well, golden.
READ MORE: Star Wars Insider: The Saga Begins – Review
After this, it’s off to the planet Balnab and its similarly tribal occupants for a five-minute crunchdown which plays notes from The Wizard Of Oz. Once more, there’s really very little which can be done in this timeframe. The story is a little like the less-impressive entries in the Star Wars Adventures anthology comic, where small page-counts can restrict both the tone and content of what should be far more dynamic outings.
But it all comes full circle in the final five minutes as the droids are kidnapped by pirates (the previously used Weequay models, obviously), are almost forced into gladiatorial combat and are saved at the last minute when the mercenaries have a run-in with a Republic cruiser. Plo Koon boards the ship, liberates our heroes and pairs them off with an increasingly exasperated Commander Wolffe to be home in time for tea.
Considered alongside R2-D2 and C-3PO’s shopping excursion, it’s difficult not to admire the direction of these episodes on a theoretical level. But the execution feels like a run-through of ideas in the Friday afternoon meeting has been signed off as a complete script while everyone was too embarrassed to point out what had happened.
But enough with the fantastical levity. Cinematic homages continue in our next instalment as things take a much darker turn, literally as well as tonally…