{Pop Culturally Insensitive will now be co-hosting (De)Constructing the Ion Canon, an ongoing blog surveying the entire official Star Wars canon according to its timeline. Check back every week for the next installment.}

Get caught up with the mission statementEpisode IEpisode II, and the Clone Wars movie.

The year was…not really worth mentioning. In trying to figure out the format for writing up television shows, especially since these series were release fairly close to present day, the tone-setting nostalgia trips have fallen to the wayside for now (though for those wondering, the season debuted Oct. 3rd, 2008 and wrapped Mar. 20, 2009).  So with 484 minutes worth of material to cover (as opposed to the usual 120 or so), we might as well just dive right into it.

Obviously, spoilers below for the first season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (and therefor the film, and everything that precedes it) so proceed with caution.

The series kicks off with Ambush, an episode never intended to be the premiere, either before or after Lucas excised some episodes to make the feature film, but it serves as a fine enough introduction to the series and it’s style. After its jarring debut in the feature film, the new theme song feels more natural here, and the quick logo shot into the episode’s moral (reminiscent of the meditations on war often presented before missions in COD: Modern Warfare) set a good tone for what we’re about to see: An anthology series; stories of war and the battlefield, parables and allegories of conflicts and conscience that can get surprisingly profound for a show with such a kiddish atmosphere (an atmosphere mostly set through the rather ill-fitting Tom Kane voice-over, though I’d grown used to it by the series’ end). Where in the timeline this takes place, we’re unsure, as the series has a strange chronology Wookiepedia can clear up for the curious, but somewhere along the line, Yoda and Asajj Ventress have both converged on the moon of Rugosa to try and convince the king of the Toyadrian system to join their side of the conflict (fun fact: Watto the junk dealer from Episode I is a Toyadrian, except he didn’t have the attire or weaponry of those depicted in this episode because even George knew how to pull back on the arab/semitic characters a bit). Ventures lands first, as Separatist forces have attacked Yoda’s ship, forcing him and three troopers to take escape pod to the surface while the ship flees (at one point, one battle droid complains to another about his aim at the pod, and he responds “Oh Well, it’s my programming”. I really shouldn’t enjoy the battledroid schtick as much as I do, but god I love it). Via hologram, Yoda contacts the king to ensure the monarch he is still willing to negotiate an alliance, and Ventress puts forward a deal: Should Yoda prove formidable against her best droids, then Toyadaria joins the Republic, but should they fail, Toyadaria joins the Separatists.

The king accepts the proposal, and Yoda and his team soon face off against a troop battalion, and flee into a cave, outnumbered disheartened. Fitting the moral of the episode (“Great leaders inspire greatness in others”), Yoda explains to the troopers that it’s not their weapons but their minds that make them powerful, and that in the end they are individuals, no matter what their origins, inspiring his troops not only to be better warriors, but to be themselves.

He then proceeds to massacre the ungodly hell out of a whole slew of battledroids, at one point getting inside a tank, from which point on his actions can only be determined by flickers of green glow and the droids which are drawn into the tank who never come out. It’s a truly inspired piece of Star Wars visual, and sets the bar much higher for this series than it’s feature film debut did in just a matter of moments. After some droideka are taken out by newly inspired clone troopers, the king has seen enough and decides to support the Republic. Disappointed, Ventress is ordered by Count Dooku to kill the king, but Yoda arrives on the scene just in time to halt Asajj with the power of the force, taking away her lightsabers. Yet, rather than execute her, or even command the troops to arrest her, he hands her back her blades, at which point she triggers and explosion and flees as gunships arrive to retrieve the group.

Overall, it’s a charming little episode, light but entertaining, and far better than the film which preceded it, though it took me some time to come around on the finally. Initially I was a bit frustrated with the “Yoda giving her back her weapons with enough time for her to flee” sequence, finding it contrived, until it struck me that this wasn’t just some beat put into the script to buy time. If Anakin were there, or Dooku or Grievous, they would have executed their enemy on the spot. Even Obi-Wan or Windu would have immediately called for her arrest. But Yoda wouldn’t. He would give her her blades back. He would want her to see that she’d been bested, to recognize her defeat with honor and humility, and surrender. He wanted to give her a chance to hand herself over, to perhaps seek penance and redemption. Because that’s what Yoda does, and this series gets Yoda, even better than the prequel trilogy did. And that’s the point where I became on board for this whole series.

Next up was a three part series (Rising MalevolenceShadow of Malevolence, and Destroy Malevolence) focused on General Grievous’ new weapon, the eponymous ship. Jedi Master (and all around stoic badass) Plo Koon locates the ship and seeks reinforcements, but i contacting Anakin finds the other Jedi have been instructed otherwise. Before he can seek help elsewhere, General Grievous (in our first proper encounter with him) jams his communications and attacks, forcing Plo and his team to flee into escape pods. Anakin, upon consulting the Jeci council who command him to stay defending the supply lines, is seemingly as resigned to Plo’s fate as Plo himself is, but his padawan Ahsoka refuses to just let Koon drift in space until his ultimate demise. Whether he has a change of heart through Ahsoka’s pleading, or his rebellious streak had kicked in at being commanded to ignore a person in need and this was his plan all along, Anakin and Ahsoka go off after Plo Koon rather than follow orders, and are almost immediately confronted with an image of grim death. And not just a vague shot of, like, a hand and leaving it up to the viewer’s imagination. Nope, a full on wide shot of an escape pod, with windows blown open, and a dead human body draped over one of the frames. And that, that would be the point where you’d say “Huh, that’s a little grim for a show on the Cartoon Network” and move on if you weren’t later treated to a sequence of a battle droid actually cutting open the windows of another pod, causing the vacuum of space to rip the clones from the vessels, suffocating them, and causing their lifeless bodies to drift among the debris. That right there is some heavy s**t. A team of droids find Koon and his pod, and Plo manages to find them off before Anakin and Ahsoka arrive for the rescue, and he tells them of Malevolence and it’s ion cannon, and after attempting to shut down every detectable piece of their ship and blend in with the debris (forgetting the medical droid, whose faint signal tips off the Separatists to their whereabouts), they hyperspace-jump back to base, where Anakin and Ahsoka await admonishment for disobeying the council’s orders, content in the knowledge that they saved a life.

Some time later, Anakin, Ahsoka and Plo lead a charge against Malevolence with a fleet of Y-wings and discover it plans to attack the Kaliida Shoals medical center, a Republic medical station on the outer rim. Anakin wants to go for an all out assault, but Ahsoka and Plo Koon caution him that his plan is too aggressive. After navigating an old smuggler’s route called the Balmorra Run and the loss of a good chunk of Anakin’s squadron (even a clone named Matchstick they get yo attached to just to break your heart), it turns out Anakin was right, his strategy does work, forcing the Malevolence to retreat.

In his retreat, Grievous’ ship (through the machinations of Count Dooku and Darth Sidious) crosses paths with a ship carrying Senator Amidala and C-3PO to a negotiation. Trapping her in a tractor beam, Grievous holds Padme hostage, and though she begs the Republic to continue their attacks on the ship and worry not about her, Anakin demands they stage a rescue. There’s some explosions, some romantic interlude, none of which is of any real consequence until, in their final moments before fleeing the ship, Anakin rigs the nav computer of the Malevolence to crash directly into a moon, and though Grievous manages to escape, the Separatist’s ultimate weapon is destroyed.

Ultimately not much comes from this arc. We get to see a much more cunning and engaging Anakin than we got in the prequels, likely finally conveyed in the manner Lucas failed to in his writing, and there are some flickers of really quality moments, like the menacing General Grievous or the pretty palpable romance between Anakin and Padme (including a cute little exchange of “Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been playing with droids” “I used to put them together, now I take them apart” which is a hell of a lot better than “I don’t like sand”, let me tell you), but overall this feels like a one or maybe two episode storyline stretched out over three episodes, and with the clear set-up for an anthology series where you can jump all over the galaxy and it’s timeline, and a great example of a self-contained episode with Yoda preceding it, this three-parter sets a worrisome tone that the series will be bogged down by over-long arcs to fill the holes where episodes were plucked by Lucas to make his film.
Thankfully, we’re immediately thereafter treated to a delightful one off, Rookies, that introduces us to the heart of the series: not Anakin or Ahsoka, nor anyone we’ve known from the saga so far, but rather the clones themselves. Blending the tones of Platoon and Stripes for a romping “war is hell” affair, any episode focused on the clone troopers themselves is a series highlight, and from the moment we’re faded into troopers listening to the “Republic Radio”, you half expect “Fortunate Son” to be playing while they smoke cigarettes and play cards. Frustrated that their station is so far removed from the action, rookies Fives, Hevy, Echo and Cutup are chastised by Sergeant O’Niner to remember that their job as look outs is crucial to ensure there’s no surprise separatist attack, and as though on cue, shortly thereafter a fleet of battledroids show up for a surprise attack, executing some of the troopers, including O’Niner. Fives, Hevy, Echo and Cutup escape, only for Cutup to be almost immediately swallowed up by a Rishi Eel as soon as they exit the facility. The remaining troopers, after discovering communication through normal channels has been rendered impossible, decide to send up a flare in a last ditch effort.
Commander’s Rex and Cody, visiting the facility for an inspection, are thrown by the strange demeanor of the clones they encounter (saying “Roger Roger” is not a good way to pretend you’re not a battle droid, turns out), and after seeing the signal flare, the two realize what’s happened and take out the nearest disguised droid before being overwhelmed by an onslaught and escaping into the same cater which contains the rookies. Together, they devise a plan to take out the base entirely rather than let it fall once more into separatist hands, as conquering it would allow the Separatists easy access to the cloning facility on Kamino, effectively wiping out the Republic’s main battle resource. After setting the charges, the troops flee, but Hevy is unable to arm them remotely, and charges in to activate them manually, giving his life for the cause. After morning the loss of their friend, who’d been the most adamant about wanting to “see action” before it all went down, Fives and Echo are inducted into the prestigious 501st legion by Commander Rex.
In the two-parter Downfall of a Droid and Duel of the Droids…alright, Anakin loses R2-D2, has to go recover it because he never wiped it’s memory, and therefor R2 contains Republic plans that can’t fall into Separatist hands. Anakin is also weirdly attached to R2. Ashoka accompanies him in tracking down R2, accompanied by a new R3 unit that continually screws things up, and Anakin is routinely verbally abusive to (but don’t feel bad, cause that droid’s a Separatist spy anyway). After contending with a droid dealer who tries and fails to trap them, the team wind up aboard General Grievous’ ship where they rescue R2. That’s about it. Not a whole hell of a lot going on beyond an entertaining fight between R2 and R3, and certainly not enough to warrant a two-parter (the “droid dealer entrapping them” segment feels so blatantly like padding). From Anakin being able to recognize R2 from his “voice” to him just kinda being mildly peeved this R3 betrayed him (You know, the guy that slaughtered countless Tusken Raiders), the episodes feel so generic, and do nothing to flesh out the characters within them, and so just purposefully drift along like a suffocated clone trooper in space (I know, too soon).
Ok, two things to know right off that bat: Yes, as the title implies, the episode Bombad Jedi is about Jar Jar Binks, and no, it’s actually not insufferable. I know, I know. I had my trepidations as well. The minute we see him aboard Amidala’s Rodia-bound ship, my notes just read “Holy s**t, it’s ****ing Jar Jar, and god damn it, he’s already bumbling. This could go south so fast. Also, he has a tie”. And indeed, a tie he does have. But despite a few early bumbles causing Padme to ask Jar Jar to stay behind for the negotiations (why bring him at all, then?) and some more irksomely drastic bumbles afterwards (he smashes the ship, which is probably a moment where those already full of ire towards the gungan just turned it off), Jar Jar actually proves a bit of his worth this episode (and credit needs to be given to Ahmet Best for always giving it his all, no matter what he’s handed).
After Padme’s Rodian relative betrays her due to Nute Gunray’s stranglehold on Rodia’s access to food and other necessities (that’s right, children. Resource manipulation and poverty cause people to do terrible things. Clone Wars: It’s like Captain Phillips for kids!), Jar Jar decides to rescue her by donning a Jedi’s cloak that’s been stashed away in Padme’s ship, which I suppose is Anakin’s answer to leaving a toothbrush at her place. The Separatist forces are so intimidated by the idea of a Jedi that they never question whether he has the abilities the costume denotes (because some writer apparently watched The Three Amigos before this pitch meeting), and tossing in Jar Jar’s ability to commune with sea creatures he apparently has, he’s able to help rescue Padme, who does a pretty good job saving herself employing a Goldfinger-esque tactic to lure the guard droids into her cell to facilitate an escape. They arrest Gunray, Palpatine sends supply ships to Rhoda, and the most loathed character in cinema now becomes the Aquaman of the Star Wars universe (which, in his case, is a step up).
The follow-up episode to Bombad JediCloak of Darkness, has a much more dour tone than its predecessor, as Jedi Master Luminary Unduli and Ahsoka are tasked with bringing Nute Gunray to trial. Greeted upon their landing by a assemblage of masked, faceless Senate Commandos, and one without a helmet (who you call from the beginning is gonna be a traitor because, well, Chekhov’s lightsaber and all), Nute Gunray is taken away to away that the two Jedi might interrogate him. Ashoka employs a “bad cop” routine to counter Luminara’s calm demeanor, which the Jedi master doesn’t approve of, when the base is infiltrated by vulture droids, forcing Luminary to leave Ahsoka alone to guard Gunray while she tries to fend them off. Gurney attempts to throw Ahsoka off her game by pointing out the lack of faith Luminara has in her (Gunray is a lot less iritating in this series than the films, and his accent far less a caricature), when unbeknownst to either of them Asajj Ventress emerges onto the base, determined to rescue or silence the imprisoned Viceroy. After wiping out a slew of clones and making her way to Gunray’s holding cell, she spars with Ahsoka until Luminara returns. Now outnumbered, Ventress sets off an explosion to rock the ship and escapes. Luminara follows, ignoring Ahsoka’s warnings that Asajj is too powerful for one Jedi to take on alone. Of course, she’s right, and Luminara is soon overpowered. Ashoka leaves the Commandos in charge of Gunray and rescues the Jedi master, but in her absence, ol’ one-Commando-whose-face-we-saw betrays the rest and frees Gunray, escaping on a ship with Ventress, only to be stabbed clean through the chest, in full view for all the kids to see, after he tells Ventress he plans to take most of the credit for the rescue. Yep, this show goes hard. And the next portion of this three-parter goes even harder.
You see, I’m not gonna tell you the plot to Lair of Grievous is great. It’s not that memorable, and in terms of overall storytelling, it’s a bit of fluff, since Gunray isn’t even at the lair after all. But the beauty of the episode is it’s tone, it’s atmosphere and the dark places it’s willing to go. Kit Fisto is reunited with his former apprentice Nahdar Vebb, only to find him lacking the kind of calm judgement necessary of a Jedi. Thinking they’ve found Nute Gunray, they stumble instead upon a hologram of Count Dooku, offering them an “alternative prize”. It seems Dooku is displeased with Grievous, and has determined that this set-up will either inspire Grievous to eliminate more Jedi and take more command, or do the Separatists the favor of removing the dead weight. I could break down the plot points, but beyond “they fight a giant monster” and “they fight Grievous”, there’s little point in delving into them, even if it means ignoring Grievous’ sassy Billy Eichner-esque companion droid, A-4D. Suffice it to say, the highlight of this episode is when Vebb goes up against Grievous, attempting as Fisto would later put it, to “match Grievous’ power with his own”, and he gets straight up, in your face murdered by Grievous. Now, mind you, Vebb has been played pretty young in this episode, and is very likely a teenager, at most maybe 20 or so. That right there sets the tone for the show. That, on a much smaller and less significant scale, is their Game of Thrones S1E9. They’re gonna kill people. Not just clones, or robots, but Jedi. Young Jedi. Anyone is fair game, don’t matter that this is on Cartoon Network. If you didn’t see them in Revenge of the Sith or after, there’s no guarantee they’re coming out of this series ok, and that alone would make this pretty worthwhile three-parter worth the watch.

Apparently the Nute Gunray affair, spanning three episodes and still unresolved, has been abandoned at this point (or this two-parter happens before or far after in the chronology) in favor of an attempt to capture Count Dooku in Dooku Captured. We’re told through the voice-over that Anakin made an attempt to capture the Count that apparently didn’t warrant being seen by us at home (apparently there was an online comic depicting it that tied into the episode, yet it’s no longer canon because reasons), and that he’s subsequently gone missing. Obi-Wan goes to rescue him, and through turn of events both the ship carrying Dooku and the vessel with Obi-Wan and the newly recovered Anakin crash land on the planet Vanqor. After a brief skirmish with the Count that leaves the two Jedi stranded in a cave (where they use lightsabers for illumination, a pretty novel idea we haven’t seen put to use thus far in the canon, obvious as it seems), Dooku is captured by a band of pirates (who listen to straight up Indo-African almost Bollywood-esque music, and they’re impoverished drunken pirates, but I’ve already made one Captain Phillips reference this post, so I won’t bring it up again. S**t I love that movie. Anyway…). The main pirate, voiced by terror who flaps in the night Jim Cummings, offers to sell Dooku to the Republic, who at the urging of Senator Amidala send Obi-Wan and Anakin to ensure the Count is truly captured. Agreeing to go unarmed because it’s not like these are ****ing pirates or anything, they find Dooku alive and well (suspended the exact same way he’d once suspended Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones), but he urges them to have caution and not underestimate the pirates which is both common sense and a weird thing to warn the people you’d very much like to see dead. After informing the council that Dooku is there, Palpatine dispatches a Senator along with the ever-bumbling Representative Binks (at least this makes sense, as Palpatine wants this to go awry) to the planet, while Anakin and Obi-Wan are invited to….alright let’s just do this. The pirates tell Obi-Wan and Anakin to come to a celebratory banquet that they can’t refuse and are served drugged drinks which they switch with the guys next to them because that just has to happen in every adventure story at some point. No matter how long, long ago Star Wars takes place, this was cliched even then.

The Gungan General, of course, renders the final scene of the last episode pointless, since Obi-Wan and Anakin apparently were drugged anyway, in some fashion we never saw, because…this is about the point the episode loses me, honestly. You guys know where this is going. The two Jedi and Dooku have to work together to escape, you know, The Defiant Ones, while Jar Jar (who is not voiced by Ahmet Best, which is more distressing than it should be) bumbles his way into being a general. Quite frankly, aside from a totally badass sequence of Count Dooku force-strangling a pirate while making him shoot another pirate with a blaster, and the fact that I will watch anything that involves Jim Cummings (and yes, I mean anything), the only thing of significance about this trite filler of an episode is that it is the inaugural entry into a long sequence of trite filler episodes (save one bright spot) before we get to the finale, so let’s just charge through this and not linger.

So, first up at bat is a two-parter that has no business being a two parter, Jedi Crash and Defenders of Peace. Here, we’re introduced to a planet of pacifist space lemurs with Scottish accents. The young want to pick a side, while the wise old leader of the tribe advises them to keep to their neutral, peaceful posture or risk wiping out everything they’ve created. They want to survive, but he’d rather the civilization be wiped out having stood for something substantial than rob themselves of their values just to stay alive, and believes that at the end of the day, refusing to fight back is its own form of resistance. What an ***hole, right? I mean, pacifists are such p***ies, right? I mean, at least that’s the takeaway from this episode. Hell, the moral at the beginning of Defenders of Peace is “When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose a side”, which is kind of an insane message when you think about it. I mean, that would make sense if they were too scared to fight, sure. Like, if these were rebels trying to recruit people to fight the Empire, and these guys were the type who’d rather keep their head down and survive than fight for freedom, sure, that’d make sense. That’d be in line with the ideal of Star Wars, the heroism of standing for something other than yourself. But here, we’re meant to chastise the old man for being willing to die for an ideal instead of just doing whatever’s necessary to survive? In the end, the Scotsmonkeys do defend themselves, and the wise old man of the tribe even suggests it was the right course of action, but seeing the Republic ships flying over head, wonders at what cost.

The next episode, Trespass…I’m gonna be 100% honest with you, I had to hit Wookiepedia to even remember anything about this episode beyond the fact that the episode contained “a blue alien dude who reminded me of that one Daft Punk video” (my one note about the episode). Clearly forgettable, this far-more-Trek-than-Wars episode where the sentient but animalistic creatures of a planet are at constant conflict with blue humanoid moon creatures. The old guard refuse to let the conflict end, where the younger people, particularly Senator Riyu Chuchi, want to see the conflict end. Eventually, Riyu’s superior, Chairman Chi Cho (the names in this episode, all these names, they’re a thing now) takes a spear to the back, dying due to his own warmongering, and peace is brokered. Also, Anakin and Obi-Wan are there, because **** it, why not, right?

Good, that’s done. I’m not gonna say this is the last time the season fumbles. Trust me, save a couple of bright spots from here on out, it feels all fumbles. But when it does pull it off, this isn’t just some run of the mill touchdown. When the show’s good, it’s David Tyree helmet catch amazing. So let’s get there.

Look at Ventress up there. She looks like a Reboot villain, and I mean that in the best way. Everything is just on point in The Hidden Enemy, from it’s lighting to it’s dialogue to it’s John Carpenter’s The Thing-esque paranoia. I had my concerns when this was revealed to be a prequel to the film, which brought us back to the dreadfully named Christophsis, but the level of intrigue and sense of claustrophobia elevated this episode to a whole different plane from the film (or indeed, any of the prequel films, I’ll go so far as to say). When the Republic’s battle strategy collapses after a droid battalion shifts tactics, as though anticipating what the Republic had had planned, they steal the head of a command tactical droid and analyze it. It only reveals that the Separatists knew of their plans in advance before malfunctioning, and Obi-Wan decides to confide in Cody and Rex that they intend to sneak behind emery lines to determine how they’re receiving the intel, but advise Rex and Cody to keep their departure a secret, in case there’s a mole. They concur, but after the Jedi leave, Cody finds a comlink left open in the room, meaning someone was eavesdropping on the conversation. They find an unidentifiable figure outside the room and give chase, but lose him within the mess hall. Realizing the room is only full of clones, they know that there is indeed a mole, and it’s one of their own. They search the communications records and find a low unusual frequency coming from the barracks of Sergeant Slick and his men, and from here the episode plays out like if The Thing was an espionage thriller set during Vietnam, and then remade to be in space, and it’s exactly as awesome as that sounds.

Rex and Cody proceed to interrogate all of Slick’s men, and while Jester, Punch, Sketch and Gus all have solid alibis, Chopper is being noticeably cagey, and is soon the focus of great suspicion, until he reveals that he’s been collecting trophies of his kills, namely droid fingers he’d made into a necklace (and if you’re wondering the origin of such a colorful bit of character trait comes from, google Sam Ybarra. In fact, I’ll do it for you. Yep, this was on Cartoon Network). Slick still feels suspicious of Chopper and demands a full investigation when the Jedi return, overplaying his hand as Cody quickly realizes no one knows of the Jedi’s departure beyond himself, Rex, and whoever was on the other end of the comlink. Knowing the jig is up, fights off Cody and Chopper, fleeing the scene and using charges he’d set to blow up the weapons depot and several ships. After it’s revealed Slick made his way to the command center, Rex and Cody command the others to guard the perimeter, choosing to take Slick on themselves strategically than risk more loss of resources through a full on assault.

Obi-Wan and Anakin, the subject of much observation from Separatist spy droids, swiftly realize their attempt at espionage has been foiled, but trudge on, encountering Asajj Ventress (but clearly not for the first time, still leaving us unsatisfied canonically as to their original encounter). In one of the most exciting fights of the series thus far, Obi-Wan and Anakin seemingly win the duel, but Ventress cuts through the floor and flees. The Jedi catch up to her and skirmish once more, but upon seeing the vast droid army Ventress has amassed, escape to prepare for the oncoming onslaught.

Observing the empty command center, Rex and Cody surmise that lick is in the air vents, and conduct an pantomime to lure him out, with Rex seemingly leaving the room, and Cody placing his gun on the table. Slick takes the bait, and finds the weapon empty, as Rex places his (far less empty) weapon at Slick’s head. Slick manages to fight them off briefly but is eventually subdued and brought before the returning Jedi, where he unleashes a vitriolic rant to reveal his motivations, and makes one of the most impassioned arguments against the Clone Wars ever presented in the canon, with some of the most thought-provoking writing in the entire series:

“It’s the Jedi who keep my brothers enslaved. We do your bidding, we serve at your whim. I just wanted something more…I love my brothers. You’re too blind to see it, but I was striking a blow for all clones.”

Now, it seems silly to empathize with a cartoon clone, yes. But think about it, cause at it’s core, this is some Ender’s Game, Heinlein-level sci-fi existentialism. This is the first clone to come along thus far who realize how ****ed up it is that they’re literally cloned to kill. It’s like a draft, except they never had a life before the service. They’re literally robbed of a childhood, robbed of their innocence, forced to fight, to serve and die at the command of the Jedi, with no hope of getting free, no alternative. And knowing through hindsight that loyal service to the Republic would mean the eventual slaughter of all  the Jedi, including massacring children, and becoming servants to a tyranical emperor, while eventually being phased out in favor of volunteers, dying either on the battlefield or obsolete, with no real name, nothing, no shred of individual identity to live on after your borrowed body finally gives up the ghost; knowing all that, whose to say he really was so wrong?

Yeah, that’s some good ****ing sci-fi right there. It doesn’t get much better than that, and these next few episodes don’t come close, so let’s just get a move on shall we? Ok, we can linger on The Hidden Enemy just a little longer, to soak in this great featurette (and learn to appreciate Lucas as an idea man just a little bit more).

The one good thing about the two-parter Blue Shadow Virus and Mystery of a Thousand Moons (besides getting more Padme and Ahsoka, which I’m now always on board for) is the aesthetic, a blend of Fleischer and Geiger, which gives moments a sense of if Flash Gordon met Alien (see above image for example). Beyond that, this bottle episode about a deadly virus is weighed down by cliched story beats, an insufferably cartoonish mad scientist and a general lack of stakes. You don’t really care if the clones die (you heartless bastards, what would Slick say?), you know damn well Padme makes it out since she can’t die until she’s had kids (but she can die immediately after), and some folks would be stoked if Jar Jar croaked (and until Ahmed Best is back as the voice, I’m with ya), so really the only one we’re worried about is Ahsoka. Surprise, surprise, by the way: they survive. After Anakin journeys to a far off planet to find a magical root that can cure them, and encountering a typically grating Amblin kid and his village of superstitious people, Anakin returns with the root and saves the day. The only good piece of character development that comes out of this episode is Obi-Wan suggesting they give Jar Jar some weapons training, so that we might finally have some justification was to why he’s brought along on missions at all.

On the subject of character development, Storm of Ryloth seems to be all about that with an incredibly generic story about Ahsoka overreaching and losing some of her men, causing Anakin to try and teach her a lesson. And so he does. And she learns from it. That’s the basic skeleton, and all that’s really worth mentioning (though Wookiepedia has a surprisingly expansive plot synopsis for it all the same). This is one of those episodes it seems clear was thrown in at the last minute to make up for the missing episodes which became components of the film.

The Ryloth storyline carries over into two more episodes Innocents of Ryloth and Liberty on Ryloth, neither of which carry much significance, with the few notable highlights being the introduction of future Rebels character Hera Syndulla’s father Cham and a cool moment of sound mixing when Mace Windu escapes a shut off bridge in Liberty, and a rather heartwarming ending moment in Innocents where some Clone Troopers who’d been looking after a young Twi’lek girl find out that her nickname for them, Nerra, translates to “brother”. Ultimately, Innocents of Rylothis a sweet if unremarkable episode, and Liberty on Ryloth is so pointlessly empty it stands out as perhaps the low point of season one.

But now lets all strap in for the finale, cause trust me, it’s about to all pick and up reach near Hidden Enemy level here.

**** yes, Hostage Crisis.

I say that, because while other episodes have been riffs on cliched ideas and classic cinema, this episode blatantly rips off a revered film, and does so so brilliantly its utterly delightful. Ok, so you all remember Ziro the Hutt from the Clone Wars movie, right? You don’t? Because I barely mentioned him? That’s fair, but in my defense, he’s awful. Just awful. Anyway, the Droopy Dog sounding uncle of Jabba who betrayed him to the Separatists has been arrested by the Republic. Boom, you’re caught up.

Anyway, the gloriously badass looking Cad Bane (whose imposing bounty hunter demeanor calls to mind The Saint of Killers from Garth Ennis’ Preacher, among other iconic characters) arrives at the senate building and is promptly the subject of an arrest attempt from senate commandos before Aurra Sing (remember her from the pod race scene in Episode I?) snipes them, and joins Bane and his bounty hunter crew on the senate’s doorstep.

Meanwhile, up in Padme’s office, Anakin tries to convince her to go away with him, to reconnect, but she’s too focused on work, and worries he’s going to slip up and reveal their secret marriage. Their relationship feels honest here, believable, sincere, more so than we’ve ever seen thus far. Anakin say some sweet sentiment about giving his lightsaber (his life, as he puts it) to her, when they’re intruded upon by Senator Organa, who calls Padme down to discuss the Enhanced Privacy Invasion Bill (because in a galaxy far, far away, they don’t sugar coat their bills with words like “Patriot Act”) while Anakin hides under a desk. However, when all the senators are assembled, Cad Bane and his team capture them and hold them hostage within the building, which they lock down. They demand from Senator Palpatine that Ziro the Hutt, a political prisoner, be set free in exchange for the hostages’ lives. But there’s one thing they don’t count on: Anakin Skywalker. Now, unseen but weaponless, this one man must do whatever he can, employ all of his cunning and training, in order to overtake the hostage takers and their maniacally calculating leader and rescue his estranged wife, and that’s when it hits you.

This is Die Hard.

You guys. You guys. This is ****ing Die Hard.

Cad Bane is Hans Gruber, the Coruscant Senate is the Nakatomi building, Senator Philo is Ellis and Anakin is mother****ing Bruce god damned John McClaine Willis.

Yippee-Kai-May the Force Be With You, Mother****er!

Yeah, this episode is fantastic. And not just because its Die Hard in space (but mostly that. They even set explosive charges in the building). The characters feel real, their emotions feel honest. Anakin shines like he never has before, both his smoldering rage and his focused intensity, showcasing why he is considered “the chosen one”. The action is thrilling, there’s a real sense of suspense, and this new antagonist in Cad Bane not only brings a new sense of menace to the series that Ventress, after so many near defeats, had begun to lose, but finally brings that Western influence into the universe that had been more prominent in the original trilogy (namely Han Solo, sure, but the cowboy genre leaked into the galaxy far, far away in a lot of ways).

In the end, we get a cliffhanger, as Cad Bane escapes with the effeminate Eric Cartman in Hutt form. I’m sure we’re due for a resolution in the early episodes of Season 2, and honestly, I can’t wait to get to them. So is season 1 worth watching? Yeah, I’d say so. Even with the the rough patches that bookended The Hidden Enemy, there’s still a lot of good in it, enough to get one really excited to see if they can hit those same highs, and more frequently, in the second season. Who knows which episodes will be of consequence down the line, which are helpful to the understanding of later events in the series, which makes it difficult to say which episodes to potentially skip (I’m having a hard time believing the science-fiction double feature nefarious scientist of Blue Shadow Virus will really be the crux of any future arcs, though), but I can definitely say what’s worth seeking out if you want a taste of what this show can do right. Some folks would ignore the series because they don’t wanna get “too involved”, others will because its a “cartoon” or a “kids show”, but show them Ambush, or Rookies. Let them see the darkness of Lair of Grievous, or the tension of The Hidden Enemy. Let them see the flickers of romance that crop up in Hostage Crisis and Destroy Malevolence. Folks who got any joy at all out of the prequels will relish in the fun and ferocity of Clone Wars at its finest. To paraphrase a classic character, to pass this show up would be a big mistake-y.

Well, next week I’ll be back with the second season of Clone Wars, which means we’ve got a whole lot of binging to do. See you guys then!

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12 thoughts on “(De)Constructing the Ion Canon: Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 1

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