Monday, November 17, 2008

Season 1, Episode 2 - Rising Malevolence

Also airing on October 3rd was Rising Malevolence, the second episode of the series, and the first of a three-part story arc. This episode's focus is Jedi Master Plo Koon; the member of the Jedi Council who looks like a cross between Predator and a Samurai. Plo Koon is reportedly the "favorite character" of showrunner Dave Filoni, who also directed this episode.

Rising Malevolence was an immediate tonal departure from Ambush. It features a variety of characters (including Anakin, Obi-Wan, General Grievous and Ashoka); its far more dire; and it furthers the Star Wars mythology by establishing a character Plo Koon, and a bit more backstory for Ahsoka.

The Malevolence is Grievous's flagship, a massive Separatist cruiser, equipped with an ion cannon that dismantles ships without destroying them. Once the Republic ships are dismantled, of course, they're easily wiped out, and Grievous has been ruthlessly leaving no survivors. The Republic doesn't know what it's up against, but it's certainly deadly.

Upon facing the Malevolence in battle, Plo Koon and a small squad of Troopers find themselves adrift in an escape pod, with little chance of being rescued. What's worse, the Separatists send out hunters to crack open all remaining pods and kill all the survivors.

We learn here, too, that Ahsoka and Plo Koon share a bond: he was the Jedi that discovered her and brought her to the Jedi Temple. It goes without saying that despite there being little hope of finding survivors, and against the direct orders of the Jedi Council, Anakin and Ahsoka go after Plo Koon anyway.

The episode works on a variety of levels. First is how quickly the series moves into a rather dire circumstance. Watching the clones picked off and killed in deep space by a glorified can opener, while the Battle Droids gleefully make cracks, is surprisingly dark without being graphic. It also provides a peek into what makes the Separatists so dangerous. It's the first time that the Battle Droids have a little menance, if only because they seem to take pleasure in killing the clones.

The episode also takes advantage of the blank slates that are Plo Koon and Ahsoka. Because these characters have almost no background prior to this episode, it's easy enough to give them an emotional bond. It adds to Ahsoka's character a great deal and makes her a bit easier to bear.

Plo Koon, on his own, is fine. I could wonder (and I do) why they decided to have yet another Prequel-era character speak basic, or why his voice is so uninteresting and generic. But... it's action that defines character, and the rest is window dressing. Plo Koon, in this episode, proves to be a heroic and capable figure, and there's clearly more to see. It's a decent introduction, at the very least, of the sort of character he is. If there's a major flaw, it's the lack of flaws. Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ki-Adi Mundi, and Plo Koon have remarkably similar personalities. I'd love to see this series do more to show what it is that makes them different from one another, and ultimately, unique.

Rising Malevolence also continues a sort of odd theme that plays throughout the prequels and appears here as well: the Jedi are pretty heartless. I'm not sure if this is a conscious decision, or part of the necessity of the plot, but you rarely see Obi-Wan blink an eye when he suggests that Anakin and Ashoka suck it up and accept the death of a comrade. It's an interesting choice: it makes Obi-Wan (who is a beloved character and heroic) into a sort of authoritarian scold. I wonder if it would have been better to be told to leave Plo Koon behind by a pre-Imperial officer than, say, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

One might call this splitting hairs... but at the end of the day, if there is a value to these prequel adventures, beyond a few more excuses for Star Wars adventures, its to illuminate and deepen our understanding of the characters.

At the end of the day, the episode's survival story is effective, dark, and well-played. It does have a complete story within it (the rescue of Plo Koon), but also sets up a larger story. All in all, interesting stuff, even if the characters are a bit stiff.

Rating: (out of five) ***

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