{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.}

Well, here it is. The final season to air on broadcast television, the last season to have completed production on all its episodes, and some could say the last “real” season, since Season 6 is regarded as “The Lost Missions” whose finished episodes were relegated to Netflix while several unfinished works popped up elsewhere online. Indeed, the finale of Season 5 feels like a series finale, there’s a sense of gravity and finality to it that I question whether additional episodes were even necessary, or whether they might diminish the impact of such a powerful final moment. And it’s that sublime swan song for a certain character, and the shadow it casts in both directions, that encapsulates what makes assessing Season 5 so confounding.

Swan song for a certain character? Does such a succinct sentiment suggest spoilerific subsequent sentences (Forgive the alteration, I’ve been reading a lot of those early Lee/Kirby books as of late, and that stuff sticks in your brain)? Yes, even though its been a while since I’ve tossed up the spoiler tag, this season really does have a huge, game-changing twist that could ruin some of the fun of the series and everything moving forward if you know it, so turn back now, true believers, lest your fun be foiled.

Ever since I undertook this project people have been telling me “Season 5 is the best”. Anyone I knew who watched Clone Wars, anyone I met who wanted to talk about it, they all said the same thing. Season 5 was the peak, the pinnacle, the crowning achievement its all been building towards, and after finishing it, I’m inclined to agree with them. My instant reaction when it finally ended was a series of “wows” and gushing commentary on its cinematic nature, stellar visuals and sharp writing. But unlike those that championed the season to me, I have notes. Real-time notes charting my progression through the season and my opinion of it as such, and they hardly echo my final feelings. While the season never dips as low as the two-parter last season with 3PO and R2, its clear the final two arcs of the fifth season over-shadow an otherwise average collection of episodes, and its clear they knew that as well, transplanting what should have been the first episode of the penultimate arc to the beginning of the season, as though to assure the viewer if they just make it through the rough patches, the best is yet to come (strangely, the DVD release of the season replaces the episode in its initial placement at the start of the penultimate arc).

But lets not waste any more time fretting about episode orders and dive right into the episodes themselves, shall we?

As stated above, Revival is actually the first episode of a much later arc, but its a hell of a way to kick off the series. It makes sense, after all. You finish up last season with the reunited Dathomirian brothers, it would be a bit rough to have to wait the majority of a season to see them again. We start out seeing the Sith duo robbing a space station, like a lightsaber wielding Butch and Sundance. Maul, now refusing to call Savage his brother anything but apprentice as “there can only be two Sith, a master and an apprentice”, recruits a small group of Hondo’s pirates and when Hondo himself refuses to aid them, make plans to attack Hondo’s base on Florrum. Obi-Wan and Adi Gallia make their way to the robbed space station and are directed themselves towards Florrum. The Jedi manage to reach Hondo, and they agree to work together to fight off the Sith. When the sith arrive, Obi-Wan takes on Maul while Gallia challenges Opress. Unfortunately, he proves to be far too powerful for her, running her through with his horns before piercing her body with his blade in an even at this stage shockingly brutal murder. After a brief retreat, Kenobi instructs Hondo to allow the Jedi to pursue the Sith brothers alone, and to blow the section of the tunnel they enter, so that they might be alone.

In a rather epic bout, Obi-Wan takes on Maul and Opress wielding both his and Gallia’s lightsabers, finally managing to sever Savage’s arm. The brother retreat outside, only to face a full on assault from all of Hondo’s men, the initially traitorous of whom have been reaccepted into the group after they realized the Sith have no sense of loyalty. Maul’s leg is damaged in the shoot-out, and though they manage to reach their ship, one of the engines is damaged in flight, and they’re forced into an escape craft as the ship crash lands on the planet. Honda and Obi-Wan search the crash and find no sign of the duo. Honda tries to assure Obi-Wan that they simply disintegrated in the crash, but Obi-Wan leaves the planet with trepidation. In a meeting with Chancellor Palpatine, Yoda and the Chancellor agree that Obi-Wan should forget about Maul, that its a personal matter, and he should instead focus on the larger Separatist threat, with Palpatine assuring Kenobi should the Sith brothers rise again, they can handle it. Of course, when the two Jedi depart, Palpatine bridges his hands and casts an ominous, knowing smile.

Epic is the only way to describe this arc (War on Two Fronts/Front Runners/The Soft War/Tipping Points). Ok, more accurately, epic with a slight hint of discomfort, but the show’s writers can hardly be blamed for that. They were just…awkwardly prescient. How? Well, they called a city Isis. Now, that’s not awkward in itself. Everyone from Archer to Wonder Woman has used that name in some form or another, its just now been co-opted by an evil, vile organization. It’s like seeing a swastika on a Kipling book from 1914. So we begin the arc with Anakin, Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan discussing whether to arm and train rebels to overthrow Isis, or whether doing so would mean they’d be arming terrorists and creating more problems in the region. I’m just gonna, just gonna repeat that last sentence. On September 21st, 2012, we had a show discussing whether to arm and train rebels to overthrow Isis, or whether doing so would mean they’d be arming terrorists and creating more problems in the region, and it was The Clone Wars. So everything that transpires over the next four episodes has an overtone of discomfort, as it hits astoundingly close to home in a modern context. The Jedi council relents, knowing that if they themselves can’t take out the region’s corrupt leader (which could disrupt many political alliances they have), they have to risk the possibilities of creating a terrorist cell by arming and training rebels to rise up against the leader in Liby….I mean, Onderon.

So Anakin, Ahsoka Obi-Wan and Commander Rex head to Onderon, and begin to train the rebels, led by brother and sister Steela and Saw Gerrera and, to Ahsoka’s surprise, Lux Bonteri who to her even greater surprise has romantic tension with Steela. The group train the rebels in both strategy and subterfuge, explaining that a slow-rolled grenade can penetrate a destroyer droid’s shield where projectiles can not, and improving their marksmanship. This comes in handy when a swarm of battledroids falls upon the camp, and the group manages to take out a tank. Realizing they have little time to lose, they sneak into the city of Isis disguised as merchants and forage for supplies, prepping for an assault.

The rebels launch a series of attacks on the droid forces in the city, endeavoring to avoid civilian casualties, but their efforts are still met with caution and fear from the public. The planet’s new king, Sanjay Rash, brings forth his deposed predecessor Ramsis and accuses him of creating this rebellion, which Ramsis denies as he’d been imprisoned, and informs Sanjay that it is the people themselves who are rising up. Meanwhile, the Jedi decide the rebels have to earn the public’s trust, and therefor must act on their own. Leaving only Ahsoka behind as an advisor, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Rex depart, but not before Anakin reminds Ahsoka not to get distracted, implying her unspoken feelings for Lux will cloud her judgement (we needn’t harp much on the hypocrisy there, as I’m sure its apparent to all). The rebels utilize a tank to destroy the city’s power generator and begin to stealthily take out every droid they can find. Regrouping, they realize they need a public face to unite the citizenry behind, especially since Count Dooku will seek retribution for the destruction of his army. Much to Saw’s dismay, the group unanimously elects Steela.

Feeling Rash has failed, Dooku sends his droid general Kalani to fight back the rebels. In a move of desperation, Rash and Kalani determine they must promptly and publicly execute Ramsis in order to dissuade the public rage. The rebels get word of the execution, and while Steela makes plans to rescue the king direct from the gallows, as it were, Saw goes rogue and attempts to rescue the king that night, only to be captured and tortured himself. When word gets back to the rebels, the group want to launch a rescue, but Steela and Ahsoka, the latter of whom is wrestling with her duty to her superiors and her compassion for the rebels, advise them to wait, as rescuing the king is the priority. They manage to halt the execution with help from the Onderon army, who seeing their leader upon the chopping block decide to rise up as well, and they manage to escape when the public starts a riot. Realizing they need unanimous public support, expecting a large scale Separatist attack, Ramsis creates a holo-transmission broadcast to the entire planet rallying them to battle. Meanwhile, Ahsoka must report to the Council that her participation in the rebellion is public knowledge.

With a massive assault on the horizon, Ramsis promotes Steela to general of his full forces while Ahsoka pleads with the Jedi for back-up. Though they refuse, Anakin, further disappointed in the Jedi’s inability to enact change, hires Hondo and his band of pirates to deliver rocket launchers to the rebels. With the weapons, the rebels fight back the droid army, but in a stunningly gorgeous sequence,  Steela hangs for her life from a cliff and Lux, running to save her, falls. Ashoka manages to use the force to save Lux, she is wounded by a droid canon before she can save Steela, causing her to fall to her death. In the end, the droid army is defeated, the people take back Onderon, and Lux decides to follow in his mother Mina and represent Onderon in the Senate, bringing it back to the Republic.

Though Revival was a more exciting single episode, this rebellion arc was a hell of a way to kick off the season, drawing influence from everything from Munich to Lawrence of Arabia. Enjoy it, hell, rewatch it. Get your fill. Cause its about to get real slow after this.

This is four painfully long episodes about Padawan finding their lightsaber crystals and tangling with pirates (The Gathering/A Test of Strength/Bound for Rescue/A Necessary Bond), whose one saving grace is David Tennant (everyone’s favorite Doctor on Doctor Who and everyone’s nightmare on Jessica Jones) as a droid who works with the Padawan. Really, though, this is where this season hits perhaps the worst drag of any (save R2 and 3-PO doing Gulliver’s Travels). If anyone wants a synopsis, much as I hate to sacrifice my sense of duty and professionalism, they’d be best off heading here, as I’ve honestly forgotten everything short of the first Scottish Doctor, and I have even less to say about it.

Oh boy. So, in a quadrilogy of episodes (Secret Weapons/A Sunny Day in the Void/Missing in Action/Point of No Return), there’s only one that’s worthwhile in the batch. Now, these episodes aren’t as forgettable as the previous arc, but they’re pretty unremarkable. A team of droids are put together by the Republic, almost all of whom are astromech, but they throw in a bumbling, sassy pit droid and a tiny alien general because who would watch a whole story about robots who can’t talk, right? In Secret Weapons, the droids infiltrate a ship and steal an encryption device. It’s a cute little story that could have ended there, but they drag it out for three more somewhat grueling episodes where they get stranded on an empty planet, stumble upon an amnesiac Clone Trooper named Gregor (in the one good episode, that packs an emotional punch as Gregor, finally understanding his purpose, sacrifices himself so that the droids and their general may flee) and finally prevent a Jedi cruiser loaded with explosives from crashing into a Republic meeting. There’s a lot of potential in each one of these stories, but other than Missing in Action its squandered by a disinteresting cast, sub-par writing and a lack of purpose.

Well, after two underwhelming arcs, we return to what kicked things off (Eminence/Shades of Reason/The Lawless). Maul and Opress’ escape pod is intercepted by the Death Watch, who take the brothers aboard their ship in order to interrogate them. After providing the two Sith with new limbs, Maul regains consciousness and explains that it was Obi-Wan Kenobi who put them in their current position, peaking Death Watch leader Pre Vizsla’s interest. Vizsla explains to Maul the current situation on Mandalore, and how its also the fault of Kenobi, and the two agree to form an alliance, each with the intent to betray the other when the opportunity is right. Maul advises Vizsla that they will need reinforcements, and they seek out the Black Sun crime syndicate. Though Ziton Moj is willing to join, the Black Sun council refuses, resulting in Savage throwing his lightsaber down the long table, beheading them all in one fell swoop (perhaps the coolest moment in the entire series thus far), leaving Moj the sole leader, and he naturally offers the Black Sun’s resources to the group. After also recruiting the Pyke Syndicate, the army makes their way to the Hutt council and attempt to recruit them. Instead, Jabba sets his bounty hunters on them, leading to a long and exhilarating firefight, ultimately resulting (after some Hutt murder and a trip to Tatooine) in the Hutts offering their allegiance to the Shadow Collective as well.

Maul initiates a plan to have their army commit criminal acts throughout the city, making the current administration look weak and allowing the Death Watch to swoop in as “heroes” to stop it. They do, and quickly depose Duchess Satine, with public support. When Maul suggests they spread their conquering to the Council of Neutral Systems, Vizsla refuses, saying Mandalore is enough. Enraged, Maul and Opress seek someone to act as a figurehead, and find former Prime Minister Almec imprisoned next to Satine. Freeing him, Maul finds Vizsla and challenges him to a duel, and the bout between dark saber and lightsaber is thriving piece of combat, resulting in Maul’s victory, and Vizsla’s submission to his own execution (by his own blade, no less). As Maul claims control over Mandalore, Bo Katan (the fantastic Katee Sackhoff again) and several other Death Watch members refuse to kneel before him and instead flee. Maul instates Almec as leader of Mandalore, and Almec presents himself before the people and declares that Satine killed Vizsla, turning the public even more against her.

Satine is broken out of her cell by her nephew Korkie and members of the Death Watch, including Bo Katan (who, in a genuinely surprising twist, is Satine’s sister). They flee, pursued by Mandalorian soldiers, and Satine manages to send a message to the Jedi temple before being recaptured. Yoda refuses to help without the Senate’s permission, but Obi-Wan disregards this, donning Rako Hardeen’s armor and taking Anakin’s ship to Mandalore, where he steals a commando’s armor and heads to Satine’s holding cell, escorting her out and onto an elevator, when another Mandalorian enters. There’s an incredible moment of tension before the other soldier inquires about Obi-Wan’s authorization code. Their cover blown, Obi-Wan knocks the soldier out, and they two flee, pursued by several Mandalorians and eventually Maul, so destroy Anakin’s ship before they can get away. In his chambers, Maul proceeds to force-choke Satine in front of Obi-Wan to torment him, chiding him to give in to his hatred. When Obi-Wan refuses, Maul pulls Satine forward onto Vizsla’s darksaber, killing her. Here, in a beautifully brutal moment, the pain in Obi-Wan’s face is enough to elicit tears, and in a wide shot, we see him cradle her in his arms, as she tells him “Remember my dear, I loved you always. I always will” it’s so operatic, one can almost hear the finale of La Boheme play beneath it. As Maul’s soldiers bring Obi-Wan to the prison below, he’s rescued by Bo Katan and her men, who get him safely to a ship and implore him to alert the Republic to the situation on Mandalore, risking a Republic invasion that Maul may die, certain that Mandalore will survive. Meanwhile, Palpatine himself arrives on Mandalore in the guise of Darth Sidious (or Darth Sidious finally removes his disguise of Palpatine, whichever you prefer). Words cannot do justice to the glorious, insane fight that ensues between the two brothers and the Sith master, and thankfully, I don’t have to:

Yeah, that happens. That ****ing happens. And it is glorious. That’s also, how the episode ends, so its a hell of a cliffhanger (one that’s apparently resolved in the Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comics from Dark Horse that appear to still be canon, according to Wookiepedia, and as such I’ll endeavor to cover them within the timeline if possible). This is quite possibly the rewatch arc of the season, for its seemingly endless memorable moments, though the final arc may take the title.

This is a four episode arc (Sabotage/The Jedi Who Knew Too Much/To Catch A Jedi/The Wrong Jedi) that doesn’t pack a whole lot in like the last one does, opting instead for one simple, singular story, but manages to avoid the trap most of the series falls into of being too long, wasting episodes, etc. Someone has bombed the Jedi temple, and Anakin and Ahsoka look into it, though it appears as though a Jedi was behind it. What follows is a brilliant blend of CSI, Homeland, Hitchcock and a very obvious nod to The Fugitive, and stands as perhaps the best piece of straight up storytelling the series has done thus far, as well as being the closest thing to a “game-changer” the show has ever done. Given that Anakin and Ahsoka were off-world at the time of the blast, they’re entrusted with investigating the blast, and find a suspect in Jackar Bowmani, a janitor who died in the explosion. Interrogating his widow, she insists her husband could not have done it, that he was a good man who worked hard to get a job at the Jedi temple (which is weird the Jedi, being a militant and insular organization with many enemies and a strong sense of discipline, would hire outside maintenance help rather than function more like a monastery. With negligent hiring practices like that, they’re practically begging for things like this to happen). Upon examining what remains of Jackar, his hand, they find nano-droids in his bloodstream, indicating that he didn’t plant a bomb so much as he himself was one. The two Jedi search Jackar’s home and find more nano-droids, as well as Jackar’s widow, Letta. They attempt to bring her back to the temple, but she flees. When they track her down, Anakin is in a rage, and his anger frightens her into a confession, at which point she is arrested.

At the funeral for the Jedi killed in the explosion, Ahsoka notices her friend Barriss Offee is grieving, and discovers one of Barriss’ friends was lost in the explosion. Determined to see Letta suffer for her crimes, Ahsoka is frustrated to find out that Admiral Tarkin will be undertaking the trial, wishing Letta had been left in Jedi custody, and expressing her desire to see her punished. Though Ahsoka leaves to comfort Barriss, Tarkin soon calls her back, saying Letta wanted to speak to her, and refused to confess to anyone else. However, one the two are alone in Letta’s cell, she reveals to Ahsoka that she was put up to the bombing by a Jedi who was dissatisfied with the Council’s current role as pawns for the Republic. However, before she can say more, she is force choked to death in the cell, and though Ahsoka raises her hands in panic, to all observers it appears she herself is doing it. Ashoka is promptly placed under arrest and quarantine by Tarkin, who even tauntingly replays the security footage to Tano to try and force a confession from her. Anakin tries to visit his Palawan, but he is refused entry. Several days later, Ahsoka finds a key card near her cell and uses it to escape, reclaiming her weapons and fleeing the temple, while Anakin and the clones pursue her (with Anakin’s instructions “Set weapons to stun. I want her alive!” which is a nice piece of foreshadowing). Finally, Ahsoka reaches the end of a sewer pipe, and Anakin catches up to her. In a moment mirroring that immortal scene between Tommy Lee Jones and Star Wars legend Harrison Ford, Anakin implores her to surrender before she leaps from the edge of the pipe, and makes her escape.

Ashoka must hide within the seedy streets of Coruscant, bribing a homeless man for his cloak and destroying her commlink. In an alley, Ahsoka is set upon by Asajj Ventress, now acting as a bounty hunter seeking the price on Tano’s head, but after Tano explains that they’re both people betrayed by their order and their master, and offering her a full pardon from the Senate should she help Ahsoka prove her innocence, the two flee to Ventress’ underground residence, where Ahsoka uses a public commlink to contact Barriss, who gives her the location of a warehouse where Letta supposedly obtained the nanodroids. When they reach the warehouse, however, they’re set upon by an ambush of clones, and the two must incapacitate them all, without killing them, a request which Ventress complies with, much to Ahsoka’s surprise. Feeling she’s kept up her end of the bargain, Ventress leaves, only to be knocked out by a cloaked Force-wielder who steals her lightsabers and helmet, donning it themselves and attacking Ahsoka, battling with her before eventually knocking her into a crate of nanodroids to be discovered and stunned by Commander Wolf and the clone forces that were pursuing her.

Due to the circumstantial evidence, the Jedi Council vote to expel Ahsoka from the order, despite Obi-Wan demanding they stand by her as one of their own. Anakin convinces Amidala to act as Ahsoka’s representation during the Senate trial, where Tarkin will be the prosecutor, while Anakin tracks down Ventress. He does so, attempting to Force Choke and torture her into confessing, but Ventress tells him the truth, that she was knocked unconscious, that whoever took her blades still likely has them, that she agreed to help Ahsoka when it was clear they’d both been betrayed. Anakin fears the investigation is hopeless until Ventress mentions Ahsoka speaking to Offee to get the lead on the nanodroids. When Anakin confronts Offee, he tells her what Ventress had said, and Offee expresses shock Anakin would believe her story, asking who could have done it if not Ahsoka and Ventress. Anakin then ignites Offee’s own lightsaber and attacks her, at which she defends herself with Ventress’ blades, and the two do battle, falling out into the training grounds, where Tera Sinube helps Anakin, now wielding both his and Offee’s blade, to subdue the young Jedi and bring her to justice. Once she is arrested, Anakin enters Ahsoka’s trial with her, forcing her to confess. Off explains that she caused the explosion because she was disgusted by the state of the Jedi Order as nothing but pawns of the Republic, that the whole order is succumbing to the dark side. The charges against Ahsoka are dropped, and the council offers her a place back in the order, declaring this her greatest test. However, to everyone’s surprise, Ahsoka refuses and leaves the temple. What’s remarkable, though, is the show could have easily made her refusal an angry one, or just indignant. Instead, they make her motives complicated, they make her refusal a clearly difficult one. Anakin chases after her outside the temple and asks her to reconsider, telling her he himself has questioned leaving the Order at times. She responds that she knows he has, but that this is something she must handle on her own. The show hits its final notes perfectly, as Anakin watches, pained, as his Padawan walks away, having just hours earlier shouted at the council “You’ve already made your decision”, seeing now all his passion, all his work, it couldn’t save her, that the council and the Republic had failed her so greatly that this arc more than anything else makes clear why he will later turn his back on it all. Ashoka, shedding a single tear, walks down the steps of the temple, seemingly into the sunset, as silence creates a void where the usual burst of orchestration usually ends an episode, slowly being filled instead with somber music as the credits roll. Its a hell of a way to end a season, and indeed, makes for a brilliant and powerful series finale (possibly explaining why the sixth season is treated as “lost missions” rather than a direct continuation of the show).

Overall, Season 5 is….well, like I said above. It’s a perfect demonstration of the series as a whole: it can be really pointless, kiddish and slow, but when its good, it’s absolutely extraordinary. This season benefits from swapping out single episode stories in favor of 5 four-part arcs, and considering they’re 3/5 in terms of gripping, clever, vivid storytelling, its fair to say this season is well worth the watch. Check back next week as we see the very last of the Clone Wars with Season 6: The Lost Missions.

10 thoughts on “(De)Constructing the Ion Canon: Star Wars The Clone Wars: Season 5

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