Monday, December 22, 2008

Clone Wars Recap - Episodes 1 - 10

So, we've reached a natural point of reflection in the Clone Wars series. There's a Clone Wars marathon going on, the show won't be back until January, and we're ten episodes into the first season. For now, just before the holiday, I'm going to review my ratings, talk about the episodes in rank 1 - 10, and then talk about what these first episodes bode for the future.

1. Lair of Grievous (Episode 1o) - **** 1/2

The most cinematic and thematically solid episode. It also features a mix of fresh characters and dynamics.

2. Duel of the Droids (Episode 7) - **** 1/2

Delivered with golden hues, excellent pacing, and well-directed action. Felt very much like, well, Star Wars.

3. Destroy Malevolence (Episode 4) **** 1/2

Takes the standard prequel-era characters and mixes them into an original trilogy set-up. The result is a wonderfully satisfying homage to everything you missed about the OT, and everything you wanted in the Prequels.

4. Rookies (Episode 5) ****

Exceptional episode that hopefully will be the beginning of a trend towards more episodes just like this one. The only problem I had was that it's the first one: we don't know the clones well enough to feel it when they die. Otherwise, great stuff.

5. Cloak of Darkness (Episode 9) *** 3/4

Many people's favorite episode, and a real winner. All around awesome except for one big caveat: why is Ahsoka always right? Isn't her role to...learn? Hard to ignore that problem in an episode so full of Tano.

6. Ambush (Episode 1) *** 1/2

The perfect introduction to the series, if offering little new. Good to see Yoda being playful, and the action feeling zippy.

7. Rising Malevolence (Episode 2) ***

Introduction of Plo Koon, and a dark episode to lead into the Malevolence arc. A little static, and Plo Koon is a bit generic. The stakes, though, do feel dire.

8. Shadow of Malevolence (Episode 3) ***

Totally fun "bombing run" episode that has "Ahsoka knows best" syndrome. Still...Y-Wings! Love the Y-Wings!

9. Downfall of a Droid (Episode 6) ** 1/2

A lead-in to the far better episode Duel of the Droids. It's biggest problem: does anyone really think Artoo dies? Raise your hands. Also, Anakin comes off like a dick.

10. Bombad Jedi (Episode 8) ** 1/2

Better than its reputation, but sort of all-over-the place and weird. Like Jar Jar himself.


The series has had exactly two stand alone episodes - Rookies and Ambush. Everything else was loosely, or directly, a part of a story arc: The Malevolence "trilogy;" the Downfall/Duel of the Droids two-parter; and the Nute Gunry-arc (Bombad Jedi, Cloak of Darkness and Lair of Grievous). I, personally, love these forays into story-arcs, and hope it emboldens the showrunners to take it further as the series rolls on.

It also strikes me that any of the story-arcs in the first ten episodes of the series would have made better feature releases than the actual feature itself did. The Malevolence Trilogy seems made for a DVD release of its own, maybe with a little editing to hang all three episodes together. You've got a just under 70 minute mini-movie right there.

If there's any major flaw in the series, it's Ahsoka. The series is all over the map with her. I have no idea what lesson the writers are intending to teach when she condescends to more experienced Jedi and is proven right. Is this to show young women that they should be pro-active, or to encourage kids to ask a lot of questions or...what? Because it appears to undercut the entire premise of the Master-Padawan relationship in a way that's not only unrealistic, but cloying.

Also, all the victories of the Republic are hollow in the midst of the larger context. The Clone Wars are a sham after all. In order to be more than a series of fun adventures clouded in a sort of distracting irony; we need to see war stories from a psychological (as opposed to story) perspective. The idea of this as "Star Wars meets Band of Brothers" was thrown about liberally when the series was being promoted. I say "heck yes" to that. These can, and should, be war stories.

It's good to see the villains as dangerous, and these last few episodes delivered that. Asajj Ventress, General Grievous, the Commando Droids, traitorous humans... we're getting a better sense of the enemy and what makes them formidable. The more of this we see, the more we'll care about Ahsoka or Captain Rex when their backs are to the wall.

Ten episodes in, we definitely have been watching a steady increase in both quality of the episodes, and of our own expectations. Let's hope the series continues to evolve and takes more chances. Regardless, the Clone Wars series is proving to be some of the best of the non-film product that has come out of Lucasfilm to date. And we're not even half-way through the first season.

The Force is with us!

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