Saturday, December 13, 2008

Season 1, Episode 10 - Lair of Grievous

Lair of Grievous, directed by Atsushi Takeuchi, is the most mythologically dense episode of the Clone Wars series yet. Grievous is a late addition to the Star Wars story, and his development has been taking place in front of the fan base. His first appearance, in finale of the first series of Clone Wars shorts in 2003, turns out to have been a rough sketch from early concepts. His later iterations have wavered between insect-like, cowardly, bold and cunning. The EU has addressed his origins a bit, but that's about it.

In some ways, that's a very good thing. Star Wars isn't the X-Files or Lost: sometimes the less Star Wars fans know about a character, the more fun that character is (see: Fett, Boba). Lair of Grievous, therefore, strikes the perfect balance. There are hints of his background, tantalizing teases, including the powerfully realized statues in his honor... but they are all part of the moody atmospherics.

As a Star Wars fan, I don't find myself aching for exposition. Star Wars is about story, and in Lair of Grievous, we get plenty. The action of the episode continues that storyline arc that started in Bombad Jedi and carries over my directly from Cloak of Darkness. The Jedi are still chasing Nute Gunray, and a homing beacon leads Jedi Master Kit Fisto to a remote planet in service of that pursuit. There, he reunites with a new character, his "old padawan" Nahdar Vebb, and his clone troopers. Vebb is a young Calamarian, having very recently completed the trials.

Once on the planet, they find themselves in a mysterious structure, and in grave danger. A trap has been set for them - or is it for Grievous?

The unfolding episode plays out as a lesson about the nature of war, and the difficulty the Jedi have maintaining their code and discipline in the face of such dangerous foes. Vebb is hot-headed, eager, and throughout the episode, he uses the Force in ways that seem excessive (to turn a chair around, for example); Kit Fisto's notes this with concern. When, in the end, Vebb turns to face down Grievous and starts kill Battle Droids like he's Starkiller, you know he's running straight for the wrong end of a blaster.

In many ways, I found this episode to be the antidote to the Ahsoka-is-always-right dynamic that pervaded Cloak of Darkness: here, the Jedi Master is treated as such, and his lessons of restraint are proven founded.

But beyond the storytelling, what makes the Lair of Grievous one of the best of the series thus far, is the blend of inventive design and a sense of adventure. There's comedy here, but it seems well placed (Grievous's attendant seems suitably preoccupied with housekeeping, so to speak); more than anything, there's a sense of foreboding that permeates to every characters and scene. It also helps that we see the Jedi Council for the first time in the series, and the scene is, though short, appropriately disconcerting.

More than any other episode in the series so far, Lair of Grievous reveals the character of its cast through its action and themes. By the end of it, we know much more about who (and what) Grievous is; and the same can be said for the Jedi. Hard to beat that.

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


David D. said...

Yep. I absolutely loved this episode. I like the idea of Grevious' lair, and the notion that he sort of made himself a monster. And it was nice to see a story in which being the rash, hotheaded novice has consequences, as opposed to that youthful gusto being the thing that saves the day.

My only quibble, to be that guy to quibble for a second, was the swishy droid butler. I tell you, someone at Lucasfilm seems to still think that the 80s idea of the fussy, gay complainer is the height of comedy. If they ever got to a British Panto, I think they would piss themselves laughing. But, of well, at least they didn't put makeup on the droid, so I suppose it is elevated slightly about Ziro-the-Hutt shtick. The rest of the episode, though, was solid. Looking forward to the show returning in January

Dave Williams said...

Looks like I'm swimming against the tide as I really didn't like this episode at all. I thought it made all of the characters, both Jedi and Separatist appear weak.

For me this was the episode I least liked of all of them so far. I thought adding the inexperienced character to then just kill felt very cheap and ham-fisted.

CloneWarsFan said...

DW -

I'll say that I see your point about introducing a character just to kill him off. They did the same thing with "Cut-Up" in Rookies, and I wasn't that big about his death. I guess I felt like Vebb was particularly well-realized, so I got a sense of him before he died.

I'm surprised you liked this one LEAST, though. Hm.

I did, though, revist my "Rookies" review. On your advice. ;)

Dave Williams said...

I think in part it may be because I don't think they've got a handle on Grievous yet. Is he a noble warrior, a nutjob, a misguided fool...he seems to waiver between all of these.

Also it's about expectation. When I knew the Jarjar episode was coming up I lowered my expectations but after the strong Ventress episode I raised the bar for the Grievous one.