After the somewhat unceremonious wind-down of The Clone Wars, the team at Lucasfilm Animation had unfinished business. First-draft scripts of seasons seven and eight had been penned, with pre-production work already underway.
The following four canonical episodes, taking place after Season Six, were released in ‘Story Reel’ format on the official Star Wars website and later packaged as bonus content with ‘The Lost Missions’ Blu-ray release. Although the vocal performances and music are complete, the animation itself is anything but. This is the format in which work-in-progress content was presented to George Lucas for review.
A Death On Utapau (2014)
Story Reel, Episode 1. Written by Daniel Arkin, directed by Steward Lee.
“One crime has to be concealed by another.”
Anakin and Obi-Wan are called to Utapau after the body of maverick Jedi Master Tu-Anh is discovered there, full circumstances unexplained. As the pair investigate, they find the locals tight-lipped to the point of hostility. But the deeper our heroes dig, the more there is to be uncovered…
It’s one thing to enjoy animatics for a three-minute deleted scene while combing through DVD extras, but an entire 80+ minute story arc? The Story Reel requires some dedication from the viewer to fill the gaps, and underlines the crucial nature of writing and voice-acting in animation.
The arc begins with a solid murder-mystery procedural vibe, a style which The Clone Wars has adopted on several occasions with varying levels of success. It’s evident that the sheer scale of Utapau’s sinkhole cities was going to be a sight to behold. But a good story is not entirely dependent on the medium of its delivery and Daniel Arkin’s work would also have been ideal for a Star Wars tie-in novel.
Even in its roughest form, there’s still plenty here for Star Wars fans to enjoy…
In Search Of The Crystal (2014)
Story Reel, Episode 2. Written by Daniel Arkin, directed by Bosco Ng.
“The journey is often more important than the destination.”
Uncovering the involvement of Sugi arms dealers in the assassination plot, Anakin and Obi-Wan search a nearby Amani settlement for clues. But a restless night leads to the Sugi finding the Jedi first…
At the time of this episode’s release, the full plot of Rogue One was still a closely guarded secret (not to mention nowhere near finished), so it’s interesting to note now that our heroes end up on the trail of a giant Kyber Crystal. Given that General Grievous was in the processing of purchasing this from the arms dealers at the behest of his hooded master, it’s neat to know that all roads still lead to the Death Star.
The script itself contains a brooding scene between the Jedi concerning Ahsoka’s decision to leave the order, and Anakin’s inability to accept what he sees as his own failure. This is balanced out by some strong humour, verbal and visual, as the leads squabble playfully in the tightest of situations.
Once again, this would have been a fantastic episode in its finished form.
Crystal Crisis (2014)
Story Reel, Episode 3. Written by Daniel Arkin, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Aboard the cruiser which holds the giant Kyber Crystal, the Jedi manage to overpower their captors. Now the race is on to get the prize off-world before General Grievous comes to collect…
The pace slows here once Anakin and Obi-Wan are faced with the challenge of transporting a 25ft crystal across Utapau’s plains without powered transport. The practical result of this is that the episode spends a fair bit of time with the Jedi quite literally not going anywhere, and that impatience is put onto the audience in turn.
But of course this adversity brings out the bickering best in our heroes, picking up in pace when it comes to a chase sequence that wouldn’t be out of place in a video game. Bonus points are awarded for this part having General Grievous and Anakin about 100ft apart, the closest they’ve come to meeting in the entire series…
READ MORE: Star Wars Adventures #25 – Review
The BIg Bang (2014)
Story Reel, Episode 4. Written by Daniel Arkin, directed by Danny Keller.
“If at first you don’t succeed, destroy it.”
General Grievous’ forces have managed to wrest the Kyber Crystal from the Jedi and escape into space. After conferring with the Jedi Council, Anakin and Obi-Wan sneak aboard the Separatist cruiser. Now they have to decide how committed they are in preventing the gem from getting into the wrong hands…
It’s at this point that the arc truly wobbles, as once the story swaps Utapau for the grey corridors of a CIS ship it feels like any number of previous episodes – not least since we’re treated to another no-score-draw duel with Grievous and Kenobi. But the Battledroid humour is a callback to the series’ roots, while the Jedi banter keeps things ticking over at a brisk pace. Ultimately, the last-ditch finale implied by the episode’s title and tagline is catastrophically satisfying, so it’s all for the good.
The Story Reel episodes are an intriguing and worthwhile look inside the production process of The Clone Wars, and the fact that they’ve been presented to the public is a strong sign of the love felt for the series within Lucasfilm. A love which is reflected in no small part by the fandom.
Join us next time as another quartet of Story Reel episodes reveals The Bad Batch…