Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Season 1, Episode 4 - Destroy Malevolence

As excited as I will be to see the Clone Wars series cover uncharted territory with the freedom of a weekly series, Destroy Malevolence mines nostalgia with such joyful precision, I couldn't help but love it.

This third part of the Malevolence "trilogy" does something that the prequels failed to do in any serious way: it brings all the main characters together for a single adventure. The episode plays out like a prequel-toned "rescue of Princess Leia and escape from the Death Star" in A New Hope: Padme winds up trapped on-board the fleeing Malevolence, and it's up to Anakin and Obi-Wan to get her off the ship before they can allow the Republic fleet to destroy it. In the midst of this clear nod to the original trilogy, it weaves a quilt of prequel issues and tropes together with real style.

The prequels and original trilogy do different things well. The prequels are deeply ambiguous stories, with an epic sweep and over-the-top visuals. If they lacked anything substantial, it was the friendships and gee-whiz spirit that made the originals fun. The originals, for their part, do an amazing job of creating a huge scale of the technology of the time, but their popularity persists because of the closely held mythology of the stories, and the sense of real adventure that finds its core characters.

With Destroy Malevolence, we see the partnership of Anakin and Obi-Wan in full bloom (Ashoka is thankfully watching this story from a distance); we get a sense of C-3PO and R2-D2 as a comedic duo; we see Padme at her most engaging (Padme the animated characters is far livelier than Natalie Portman, sadly); and we get to see them working together to defeat a common enemy. There are loads of great character moments, not the least of which Anakin and Padme's stolen, playful kiss when they are momentarily out of Obi-Wan's sight.

The episode doesn't skimp on action, though. The centerpiece is a classic chase sequence that plays like the Droid Factory-sequence in Attack of the Clones on overdrive. Obi-Wan faces Grievous and his henchmen in a clever duel that foreshadows their eventual meeting in Revenge of the Sith.

Moreover, Anakin's history gets a careful nod in one of the series's best moment. Padme notes, after watching Anakin dismantle some more disposable Battle Droids, that he's been playing with droids since they met. With an almost regretful tone, he notes that he "used to put them together, and now [he] only takes them apart." It's the perfect line for him: its vaguely funny, but it shows just how his life has changed...and not for the better.

Finally, the final image (shown at the top of this post) is, you may be surprised to know, the first tableau that features the main characters of the prequel trilogy in a heroic frame like this. In the original trilogy, the entire cast poses together at both the end of Star Wars and Return of the Jedi. The closest the prequels come to this moment was at the end of The Phantom Menace, although that tableau is missing C-3PO. Now, the TV series offers us something we don't know we missed.

If there's anything that keeps this episode from perfection, its that much of the material stands firmly on the shoulders of pre-existing plot points and devices. We'll see if the series can claim its own ground in the Star Wars canon. In the meantime, episodes like these will more than suffice.

Rating (out of five): ****1/2

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