Monday, December 7, 2009

Season 2, Episode 8 - Brain Invaders

As the picture above might imply, these are some nasty tapeworms. At least they don't make you buy lots and lots of cats. Brain Invaders, which appears to be the last episode in the Geonosis story arc, doesn't take surprising narrative turns. But it does have character flourishes that elevate it in ways I wasn't expecting. While the basic plot (mind controlling parasites!) is extremely B-movie, the writers deepen what is clearly the uber-narrative of the Clone Wars series: who is (was?) Anakin Skywalker?

In this episode, Ahsoka and Barriss are aboard a starship that's overrun by Geonosian mind-controlling worms. Not only are they desperately attempting to save their own lives, but there's a crisis of timing as well. If the ship docks at a medical bay, the worms will hit a central hub and spread throughout the Republic's army.

Anakin, for his part, is trying to get answers from Poggle the Lesser. In an exceptional sequence, in an effort to extract information about his Padawan's whereabouts and how to stop the worms, he gives us the full Vader. His willingness to use force and power to get results is a stark reminder of what's to come. The series can afford this: Anakin's story needs this and heroism in balance in order to make sense and be worthy of watching in a serialized format.

I initially found Ahsoka Tano almost unbearably off-putting, but I've got to admit that the direction her character is taking is starting to become clear and it's improving. Having a confidant of her own in Barriss Offee allows us to hear her own insights on Anakin's behavior, even as she's clearly deeply influenced by him. That made her own final moment with Anakin in this episode (no spoilers to those who haven't seen it) one of my favorites of Season 2. Even in a moment where we feel she's truly done her best, and has triumphed, Anakin's lesson isn't one that serves him, or the Republic, well in the long run.

While the basic premise (Invasion of the Body Snatchers!) didn't blow me away , I found the character moments stellar. Brain Invaders rises above what could have been cliched material by letting the characters breathe, and embracing the elusiveness of Anakin's moral center.

Rating (out of five): ****

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Season 2, Episode 7 - Legacy of Terror

Note: Sorry I'm a bit behind on the episode reviews! Will get caught up posthaste!

Legacy of Terror
seems timely given the release of Star Wars: Death Troopers. This episode features lots of creepy-crawlies. It feels very much like a tribute to Aliens, and a nod to the current craze of zombie-movies. It's also got some of the strongest dialogue the series has thus far featured.

Following Poggle the Lesser to a remote and seemingly abandoned temple, Luminara Unduli goes missing. Obi-Wan and Anakin retrace her steps to locate and possibly rescue her. As they brave the catacombs beneath the temple, they find...undead Geonosians. And far more.

The episode felt fresh to me. Well, fresh enough. The clear allusions to Aliens (note how Queen Karina) lays her eggs aren't so much original as well-chosen. But perhaps that can be said of a whole lot of the influence laden Star Wars universe. Either way, I loved the old fashioned feeling of certain moments, like when two clones get sent back to the surface and are, very clearly, about to go to clone heaven. We haven't seen this in Star Wars very often, though, and I enjoyed seeing the characters in a new setting and under different types of duress. There are only so many ways to show big battles, anyhow.

The Queen, as a new character, was wonderfully established and suitably chilly. More than that, though, I'm enjoying the confidence that the writers now have with Obi-Wan and Anakin. Their banter here was super fun ("I was going to study that!" "Study the bottom of my boot!"), and Obi-Wans almost unnerving calm, pointed humor, and distanced curiosity in this episode is something I'd love to see played even further.

Weapons Factory (the previous episode) and Legacy of Terror go a long way to re-defining Geonosis as a world of underground catacombs, hive-minded insects, and mysterious forces. It's exactly what the Clone Wars can do that films can't: take time to indulge in exploration that can be only hinted at in even a 2 1/2 hour movie.

So, while this episode wasn't groundbreaking or heartbreaking, it had great character moments, and took Star Wars in places we haven't seen. All in a days work.

Rating: (out of five): *** 3/4

Season 2, Episode 6 - Weapons Factory

Beginning immediately after the events of Landing At Point Rain, this episode contrasts Anakin's relationship with Ahsoka and Luminara Unduli's relationship with her Padawan, Barriss Offee. It's another strong episode, carefully avoiding obvious story points and, in the midst of more well-staged action, feels emotionally grounded.

The action is two-tiered: Anakin and Luminara lead the clone army in a full-frontal assault on Poggle the Lesser's forces on Geonosis, while the Padawan's slip underground into a maze of tunnels. The Padawan's mission is to plant charges and escape. The battle is a diversion, but one that's a lot of fun to watch.

The relationship between Master and Padawan is highlighted again here: Ahsoka, already a willful kid, has learned to be daring, even reckless, from Anakin. But she's also learned to improvise, and never give up. Barriss has learned the importance of selflessness from Luminara, and the importance of being well-prepared. You see in Barriss and Luminara the weight of their actions, a sense that lives are at stake. They'd never play a game about counting Droids as clones die around them.

When the premise was set up this way, I was concerned that we'd see Ahsoka rebel and sulk in the shadow of her straight-laced counterpart and we'd get a series of mini-contests or something comparably dull. Instead, Ahsoka never shows Barriss anything but respect. She's just different, but she never seems competitive with her peer. She seems annoyed by Anakin, but eager to do well and win the day.

I liked how the episode left the viewer with a very ambiguous message. Certainly, we see Anakin's refusal to let Ahsoka go pay off... this time. The lesson would seem to "never give up." But Luminara reminds us that refusal to accept what one cannot change is not the Jedi way. It's this very good impulse in Anakin, this seemingly heroic impulse, that also drives his ultimate turn to the Dark Side.

If I had any mild critique of this episode it's that Anakin and Ahsoka's bickering felt a bit contrived in the beginning of the episode. We've already seen Anakin be extremely gentle with Ahsoka in previous episodes, so this felt a bit like the writers illustrating a point more than following through with the character's relationships. Also, after the groundbreaking action of the last episode, and the not-exactly-new message here, I never felt like I was watching anything truly special. Just another strong adventure.

Nonetheless, this Geonosisan campaign has been fantastic thus far.

Rating (out of five): ****

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Season 2, Episode 5 - Landing at Point Rain

Landing at Point Rain, the fifth episode of season two, is the eye-popping opening to a new story arc. It features the return to Geonosis, the planet that marked the beginning of the Clone Wars themselves in Attack of the Clones, and, suitably, to the type of ground battle that become the high point of Episode II.

After some quick exposition, and a classic Star Wars "pointer scene" ("We'll land here and then rendezvous here..."), the episode hits the accelerator and starts firing lasers and throwing flames. This episode is overflowing with terrific battles that would have fit comfortably, both in spirit and in execution, on the big screen. There are even moments of inventiveness that improve upon the execution of the original Episode II battle, with dogfighting, the aforementioned flamethrowers, and the huge set piece at a fortified wall.

There's more here than just watching the animators flex their computerized muscles. The episode shows our heroes in the midst of real peril, and there are moments of characterization that show just how much the series has matured. Obi-Wan's relationship with Anakin and Ahsoka has become defined. I guess I'm going to have to live with the "How many did you get?" game; but it was nice to hear a major character question it, too. Hopefully, the game of "gotcha" will feel more and more inappropriate as the series flies forward.

Ki-Adi Mundi makes his Clone Wars debut here. I have to say, of all the exaggerated models that the show uses, his looks the most odd to me. Also, I continue to want to see bigger differences of character between Ki-Adi Mundi, Plo Koon and Mace Windu. Basically, all three are wise Jedi, with the same basic build and different heads, all good in a fight. Sure, we've seen that Mace Windu has a slightly different level of swagger, but that is just because of the famous actor that bears his likeness. Even a small specific trait would help each. I like them all...but who are they? It's been ten years since we first saw Ki-Adi Mundi. I still don't know what he's about.

Also...when did they call it Point Rain in the episode? Did I miss that?

That's all relatively minor. There were many standout moments.The tribute shot to The Longest Yard was certainly one. Obi-Wan, forcing himself to his feet and igniting his lightsaber, as if he's about to make a last stand...? Incredible, subtle shot. The fortress wall reminded me of the Battle of Helm's Deep from Lord of the Rings from reverse. Nice to see Waxer and Boil (from Innocents on Ryloth) show up in the episode, along with Commander Jet who appeared in Ambush. We're getting to know clones beyond Rex and Cody, which is a very good direction.

Season 2 has been exceptional so far. Landing on Point Rain is a bursting, cinematic episode that pays tribute to great war films. It's also a sterling example of what The Clone Wars should be: a series about war.

Rating (out of five): **** 3/4

Monday, November 2, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Death Troopers

Even though I post here anonymously, I will reveal this much

1) I personally know the guy who provided the vocals for the audio book version of Death Troopers
2) I think he does a terrific job!
3) you should get the audio book version from audible or iTunes and enjoy!

I'm about half way through listening to it, and it's quite a fun story. Certainly different, even grisly, but a well-told yarn so far. Not for little kids, but I think it's fun. Star Wars has always encompassed all sorts of great genre fiction. Why not horror?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Season 2, Episode 4 - Senate Spy

I would like to applaud the impulse that undoubtedly drove “Senate Spy.” This episode of the Clone Wars was focused solely on character and plot; it was the only episode in the 26 aired episodes that featured exactly zero clone troopers, space battles or lightsaber duels. If the creative team was out to prove that the Clone Wars was about more than fighting, they did that much.

What they didn’t do was give up the best possible version of a character driven episode. The tone of the episode seemed to shift from slapstick, to politics, to jealousy, to life-and-death without much warning. It never felt entirely coherent, even if intermittent promise was shown.

In this episode, we see a rare visit between Anakin and Padme interrupted by Jedi business. They suspect that new character Senator Clovis is a spy for the Banking Clan, and they’d like Anakin to convince Padme to use her influence with Clovis and doing a little spying herself. Anakin tells her he won’t allow her to get into harm’s way, she takes this about as well as can be expected, and, she winds up traveling with Clovis to Cato Neimoida.

There were a few head-scratchers here. First of all, it seemed contrived that Anakin was deemed the only person capable of convincing Padme to spy for the Republic. No one knows they’re married (always a suspect oversight on its own considering the amazing powers of the Jedi), so why couldn’t Yoda or Obi-Wan or anyone else just tell her why they wanted her to spy for them?

Furthermore, the reason that Padme has been deemed the best choice for this mission is her previous "friendship" with Clovis. I have to say, the insistence on using the word friendship (even when Padme and Clovis are alone!) made the whole thing sound a lot more sordid. Is friendship a euphemism for something in Star Wars? Like S&M? Otherwise, I don't get why they couldn't say "our old romance" or "Clovis used to take me to the Opera" or "Clovis tried to court my affections" or something.

Also, why would a Republic Senator travel to Cato Neimoida with so little concern for her safety in the middle of a war? The Separatists never seemed that hidden to me after Attack of the Clones. Would Padme not be aware for Lott Dodd’s affiliation, even after the Battle on Geonosis? Would Cato Neimoida be about as welcoming to the Republic as Naboo would be to the Separatists? Or am I missing something?

It also bothered me that Clovis never seemed entirely dastardly enough. Perhaps we’re intended to sympathize with him a bit. If so, Anakin’s final act towards him comes off as especially callous. Certainly Clovis is a traitor…but he comes off as relatively honorable and even emotionally invested in Padme. I couldn’t tell if my mixed feelings about him were because that was what was intended, or because the creative team missed the mark a bit.

Finally, Padme’s “I made you doubt me” admission at the end seemed to come entirely out of nowhere. If anything, Anakin’s jealousy in the episode is barely touched on, and when it does come out, it’s juvenile and barely an issue. Even in the second he sees Padme and Clovis embrace, it takes less than a moment for him to understand Padme’s worldless explanation.

I don’t love to nitpick this way, but those were distracting issues for me.

What worked?

I think that even if this episode tried to do a little too much, it did show that the animation could support dramatic scenes on its own merit. The dinner scene with Amidala and Clovis felt entirely natural and well-realized. So did Anakin’s argument with Padme in the Senate. The fact, even, that I had mixed feelings about Clovis’s fate is telling: he became a character with some weight after a few scenes. The dialogue was all snappy and solid. It was nice to see Anakin and Padme scenes that felt clear and fun, without clumsy declarations or forced moments. The more those two come together as characters in this series, the more they deepen the overall mythology of Darth Vader.

So…all in all…”Senate Spy” falls more into the “miss” category. But I’m excited by the direction they’re going with the story telling, and hope to see more episodes like this in the future.

Stars (out of five): **

Monday, October 12, 2009

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 1 Episode Reviews

For all of you who would like them in one place, here is a roundup of each review from Season 1 of the Clone Wars.

Clone Wars: The Movie

Episode 1 - Ambush

Episode 2 – Rising Malevolence

Episode 3 – Shadow of Malevolence

Episode 4 – Destroy Malevolence

Episode 5 – Rookies

Episode 6 – Downfall of a Droid

Episode 7 – Duel of the Droids

Episode 8 – Bombad Jedi

Episode 9 – Cloak of Darkness

Episode 10 – Lair of Grievous

Episode 11 – Dooku Captured

Episode 12 – The Gungan General

Episode 13 – Jedi Crash

Episode 14 – Defenders of Peace

Episode 15 – Trespass

Episode 16 – The Hidden Enemy

Episode 17 – Blue Shadow Virus

Episode 18 – Mystery of a Thousand Moons

Episode 19 – Storm over Ryloth

Episode 20 – Innocents of Ryloth

Episode 21 – Liberty on Ryloth

Episode 22 – Hostage Crisis

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Season 2, Episode 3 - Children of the Force

The third episode of the Clone Wars second season closes up the first of what are doubtless mini-arcs to come. In this, the production team is nearly showing off: in less than 30 minutes we visit half of the planets in the Star Wars universe. Or, at least, it felt that way. It was a great way to conclude the first mini-trilogy, if not quite as strong as the prior two episodes.

Cargo of Doom (the previous episode) skipped over exposition and threw us directly into the action mid-stream. Children of the Force begins at the exact moment Cargo of Doom ends and flies full throttle for the rest of the half hour. Bane is tasked with finding four force sensitive children and taking them to Mustafar for… experiments. Creepy. The Jedi use all their resources to hunt him down and try to save the children. Good old fashioned premise, brought to fruition in style.

Definitely lots of “wow” factor all over the episode. The planets looked terrific all around, including some wonderful new looks at Rodia, moody lighting on Coruscant (which seems to have three possible wide shots with various lighting choices available), Cad Bane’s lair certainly seemed fresh and imposing, and the above ground Gungan City was a cool new vision. Children of the Force shows how the animation has evolved to great effect.

Also, the season continues its dive towards the Dark Side. Stealing innocent kids from their parents? Putting them in secret labs to mess with their tiny brains? Yikes. The scene where the Jedi triple mind trick Bane also portends some problems for the Jedi. Their behavior is aggressive here, unethical. Still, they are trying to save children. The question being asked, subtly, is: what is the war doing to the Jedi? Great scene, new concept, intriguing.

A few minor quibbles. The episode felt a bit crowded to me. In an effort to move the heroes all over the galaxy in style, it felt like there was a bit too much story for a half-hour and I kept thinking “Wait…how long did it take them to get from here to there?” At a certain point, it felt like a bit like everyone was using teleporters and not spaceships. Obviously, it’s more a problem of perception than logic: we just don’t see the travel time. But it still tested the limits of how much you can pack into a single episode.

Also, the children of the episode, adorable as they were, had an almost Muppet-babies vibe that didn’t really sit right with the gravity of the situation. They all seemed a little too cartoonishly cute, and it was hard to imagine them as children in actual danger. The scripts insistence of referring to them as “kids” and not “children” also seemed to lighten the proceedings accidentally.

And finally, this episode did quite a bit of quoting. Obviously, this is all over Star Wars stylistically, and it made sense in the films (to tie the story of Anakin to the story of Luke.) In the cartoons, though, the quoting can feel a bit overly clever and cute. I understand the choice, but sometimes it takes me out of the moment.

And yes...Anakin apparently went to Mustafar before Episode III. I don't have a solid opinion on that choice, but it's sure to the subject of some consternation among plenty of fans.

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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Season 2, Episode 2 - Cargo of Doom

I'm not sure if it's my enthusiasm for the new season clouding my vision, but Cargo of Doom, the second part of the season premiere, is the first five-star episode of the series. The characters are vividly drawn, the action sequences are stunningly rendered, the story is thrilling.

Skipping the perfunctory search that was set up in the previous installment, we literally cut to the chase, in Star Wars tradition. From the first moment to the last, Anakin is forced to anticipate and guess as Bane proves a slippery mark. We see Anakin's boldness, of course, but also how it can be used against him. We also see the strains it seems to have put on Anakin's relationship with Yularen, who is finally given an attitude worthy of his position and future in the Empire.

Obviously, the death of Bolla Ropal was calculated to establish Bane's threat: a smartly executed scene, chilling without being grisly. It's also the darkest the Clone Wars series has gone by far. We're unlikely to see many scenes like these in a show that is being billed as family friendly, but it was gratifying to see it here.

The action sequences were all some of the best of the series: the anti-gravity shoot out likely to be a signature of any fans Clone Wars highlight reel. Bane's battle with Ahsoka, the boarding of the ship with walkers... fantastic.

The character work does not get short shrift. Ahsoka's headstrong behavior is put into a far better context now as she is clearly aping Anakin's behavior. Anakin's confrontation with Bane shows just what sort of danger the two of them can get into when faced with a villain more impressive than a Battle Droid. Yularen's anger at the utter failure of their mission is well founded, especially if eagle-eyed viewers catch Bane's escape.

The episode was directed by Rob Coleman, animation director of the prequel trilogy. He directed Downfall of a Droid, Jedi Crash and Liberty of Ryloth...some of the most cinematic and sweeping episodes of the last season. With this episode, he's directed some of the best original Star Wars of the last five years. Someone needs to give the man 120 minutes and a story arc and let him play. His work could easily produce an amazing new Star Wars animated picture.

Rating (out of five:) *****

Friday, October 2, 2009

Season 2, Episode 1 - Holocron Heist

We're back! Holocron Heist signals a strong second season, without a doubt.

As promised, the animation is stronger, with a larger range of models, sets and more confident uses of perspective and light. It looks terrific, even as it maintains the tone of the previous season. The scale that's dealt with in the season premiere is impressive. We flow from Felucia to various locales in Coruscant with the smooth confidence of the films. The uses of wipes and the speed of the storytelling felt very, for lack of a better description, Star Wars. The opening battle isn't long, but it's beautiful and thrilling all the same.

As wonderful as the animation is, the first episode, written by the always impressive Paul Dini (who also penned last season's Cloak of Darkness), offers up some fantastic story choices. We see a bit of the downside of being Anakin Skywalker's apprentice in Ahsoka's behavior in the early battle, which is a welcome change from the mixed up character arc of Ahsoka last season. We also get a Cad Bane that's just as dangerous as promised. As stock as his character is, he is also written as having some impressive proficiency. Certainly his first appearance at the end of last season was fun, but it didn't hold a candle to Bane in this episode (and the next, especially.) He's starting to feel like they're fighting Batman.

You also have to love the fan-friendly moment of watching Ahsoka battle "Jocasta Nu." I mean, c'mon. No one even knew they wanted to see that.

The other good omen is that the story arc that's set up here is not only compelling, but felt original. The MacGuffins (the Holocron, the Kyber Crystal) work very well, and haven't been overused. Sure, the episode doesn't have closure, but really can't do set up better than this.

Extra half star for finally saying Kyber Crystal, by the way.

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boatloads of Clips from the Season 2 premiere of The Clone Wars

On TFN they've posted a ton of great clips from the Season 2 Premiere. Wow. I'm definitely looking forward to this season!

Season 1 was exceptional, but clearly evolved from the first episode to the last. Still, technology is only half the battle. Certainly it seems like the animation has become better and better, and Star Wars is always a visual feast. The storytelling, though, is the centerpiece. The Ryloth Trilogy was better animated than the Malevolence Trilogy...but Malevolence was a lot more satisfying as a story. What I'm happy to hear is a focus on what appear to be engaging character arcs. The kiss with Anakin and Padme in the final clip below, for example, is the sort of moment that elevates the stakes in even the most clumsily edited battle.

I'll be revisiting my ratings for the season when the Season 1 compilation comes out on Blu-Ray.

In the meantime, this site will be up and active again. Make sure to add me to your Google Reader or Bloglines or add me to your blogroll.

Check out the clips below!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Clone Wars Season 2 Preview from Walmart

Click here to see the Walmart preview of Season 2. The code is "bounty hunters."

I keep reading Clone Wars: Rise of the Bounty Hunters. that the title of the first arc of episodes? Or the whole season? Or what?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Official Announcement officially announces the Season One release here.

November 3rd, 2009!

They note that the Blu-Ray will have something called the Jedi Archives.

Also, it's specified that there are 7 episodes that are expanded: Rising Malevolence, Shadow of Malevolence, Lair of Grievous, Rookies, Storm Over Ryloth, Innocents of Ryloth and Liberty on Ryloth.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Clone Wars Season 1 Blu-Ray Details

According to TFN, there's some details out there about the eventually-to-be-released Blu-Ray version of the first season of the Clone Wars. Oh heck yes.

Check out some of these details (found here:)

  • Original aspect ratios - 2.35:1 (Cartoon Network aired episodes cropped at 1.78:1 for 16:9 displays)
  • Digibook Packaging - with book (around 40 pages or so) featuring concept drawings and sketches
  • Director’s Cut Episodes
  • Commentaries
  • 2D and 3D initial renderings (characters?)
Director's Cut Episodes? Wellllll...that'll be fun. New reviews! Tons of stuff coming up! Also excited to watch these with a better aspect ratio. I have a Blu-Ray player (well, a PS3) and a HD TV, but don't have HD feed on my cable, so I haven't seen these in Hi-Def yet.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Leaked Season 2 Trailer for the Clone Wars

Well... I'm not going to embed it as there are some who are spoiler averse. There is, though, a leaked trailer for Season 2 that was filmed on a handheld camera. Not sure exactly where it's from. I'm sure it'll go live relatively soon anyhow. But it looks...COOL.

SPOILERS! (Here you go.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Season 2 is months away - Clone Commandos on the way

Well, this blog is of course quiet as we await some movement on the Clone Wars front. I'm looking forward to the Blu-Ray release of the entire first season, and will post a review then. Also, there is another four episode release upcoming, which I'll likely buy and review... so you don't have to. This release features "Rookies," and "The Ryloth Trilogy." As a combined affair, it offers some really strong episodes of the series for those of us who want DVD copies of them early. (Except for Storm Over Ryloth, which I wanted to take out and shoot.)

It's the definition of the double-dip, which pisses off a lot of the hardcore fans, but...whatever. Welcome to Capitalism. Parents buy DVDs as babysitters these days.

I haven't been watching Clone Wars Decoded because I've never craved pop-up video with my Clone Wars.

If you're out there checking in over here, I'm curious what you hope to see in Season 2. Season 1 was definitely a strong effort. I liked their insistence on short story arcs. I'd be interested to see a longer overall arc to Season 2. Something that allows for more emotional resonance in its payoff.

What do you think? What do you hope to see?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

10 years

Today is the 10 year anniversary of the release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Today we all first saw Battle Droids make jokes, met Destroyer Droids ("They have shield generators!), met Anakin Skywalker before he was a burn victim, and were offered a whole new vision of our favorite galaxy far, far away.

May the Force be with you! I hope you're celebrating in style!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - A Galaxy Divided DVD Review

UPDATE 4 9 2009!!! (see bottom of the post)

I've taken it upon myself to shell out $15 for this bare bones DVD in order to let all you Clone Wars fans out there know the deal. Obviously, Lucas Animation made it absolutely clear in their press release about this DVD that it 1) contains nothing that won't be released later 2) is entirely bare-bones and 3) the full season set will come out later this year with plenty of extras.

If you're like me, though, George Lucas can use you has his personal ATM machine. Just because Lucas Animation says "Don't buy this DVD! It's for parents looking to entertain their kids trapped in a minivan in the summertime!" that's really so they don't have a guilty conscience. Walking into a roomful of alcoholics with Jack Daniels and saying "Drinking is bad for you!" doesn't mean you're no longer holding a friggin' bottle.


So... what can you actually expect from the DVD? If you have to own it because, God Help You, you must own everything that says Lucasfilm on it? Maybe there's a nifty menu screen? Maybe they tacked on a trailer for Season 2?


The DVD menu screen looks very much like it was made hastily with Photoshop. Your options include watch all four episodes in a row or pick an episode. You can also watch these episodes with French, Spanish or Portuguese subtitles. Should you choose to do so. The episodes are presented in the aspect ratio and letterboxing that was used for the Cartoon Network showings. Oddly, the menu screens have a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, and the actual episodes do not.

To be fair, the episodes themselves aren't any less fun than the original viewings. If you, for some reason, didn't record them, don't much care for haphazard reruns, or don't feel like downloading them on iTunes... and/or are terribly impatient like me...these are great little episodes that I've grown to like more with each viewing. For those who want to see my original reviews (some of which may be revised when I do a full recap of the full season release...) here they are:

Ambush *** 1/2

Rising Malevolence ***

Shadow of Malevolence ***

Destroy Malevolence **** 1/2

So... that's not bad at all. And, obviously, on DVD they all look great. The colors are, at least for me, far better looking than they were when I was watching the episodes on cable. It portends a really fantastic looking release for these episodes on Blu-Ray. Shadow of Malevolence looks especially terrific.

If there's anything that belies the laziness of the release, it's that Ambush is included here. Essentially, the Malevolence Trilogy hangs together well on its own, and if they edited them together as one 70 minute feature, it would easily compare favorably to the original "theatrical" release. All three Malevolence episodes, back to back, are a treat. Ambush is a stand-alone episode, and an excellent one. It's simply not next to these other episodes for any reason other than it was televised alongside them in this order.

So... it's $15. You can spend that buying dinner for two at McDonalds. So if you don't have these in any other format, or you're just a weak-willed fanboy like me, the damage won't be too severe. Still, there's nothing here you won't get in a far better format if you can wait. I mean, heck, they didn't even give you a menu screen with animation for this one. And they best stuff in the series is later on. There's no Lair of Grevious or Trespass here.

So... the episodes average *** 1/2 stars or so. The animation (as far as the series has progressed) varies from exceptional to feeling "early." No stars for extras (because there are none) and about one star for effort, because the actual DVD case looks okay and will look nice on your shelf. Even if it fills you with shame.

Should you buy it? Probably not.

But I did.

So you didn't have to!


Well...according to "The Numbers" this double dipper DVD with no extras and four episodes sold 68,722 units in its first week of release. That's not going to win any awards, but I'd bet this DVD release pulls in around $3 million is sales in about a month. That's, let's face it, amazing considering that all of these episodes were shown on free TV, are available to download on iTunes for grand total of $8, and that people can replicate this release entirely by using their DVR.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Season 1, Episode 22 - Hostage Crisis

As a season finale, Hostage Crisis owes something to the original Clone Wars microseries. Instead of tying up loose ends, they're teasing what's next. Grievous made his debut at the end of the first season the original Clone Wars cartoons.

The first season of the new The Clone Wars also comes to a close with a debut. Less a stand alone story than an introduction, Hostage Crisis features Cad Bane, a Bounty Hunter inspired by Spaghetti Westerns. Impressively, he storms the Senate Building with some other well-paid scum (notably fan favorite Aurra Sing) kills a whole lot of Senate Guards, and quickly has the place in lockdown. His demand: release Ziro the Hutt.

Oh God No. Please don't release Ziro the Hutt!

I mean it. Any episode with Ziro the Hutt in it instantly loses a half star from me, at least. Because Ziro the Hutt is just plain ... oh boy. Not good.

What could possibly make up for him? Cad Bane pretty much being as cool as promised. He fits well into the gunslinger feeling one which much of Star Wars lore is built, and he was given the benefit of getting the best of our well-known characters in his first appearance. It's always good to have a character around who plays to win, and is a wild card (see Omar in The Wire). Cad Bane has great potential for the upcoming season.

The episode itself was good, but not one of the best. It was hard not to notice that the Senate Building on the Capital of the entire Republic is guarded incredibly poorly. (Meaning: not credibly.) The way in which Anakin lost his lightsaber was also overly contrived. His scene with Padme was yet another not terribly good love scene between them (you'd think they'd just leave it alone at this point) and it gave new meaning to the phrase "Giving Padme my Lightsaber."

I'm sorry. I had to.


Anakin's own attempts to fight and win without a weapon were certainly entertaining. The direction was solid in these action sequences. The dimly lit hallways, the Senate chambers, all felt a bit eerie with the place locked down. I also enjoyed Anakin's hand to hand combat with the Assassin Droid - energetic, fun to watch, all around cool.

The Anakin and Padme dynamic, too, even if some of the dialouge is clunky, is a key one to the Star Wars story. It is, after all, the reason Anakin becomes Darth Vader. So kudos to the writers for bringing that front and center even as clone troopers and bounty hunters populate their frames. Star Wars isn't about cool killers, in the end. It's a heroes journey. Everything else is decoration.

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

And so, the first season comes to a close. Thanks to everyone who has followed this blog so far. If I find time, I'll do first season recap (some of those star ratings could change in retrospect!) and a little bit of posting here and there. I'll be sure to be back with reviews when Season 2 appears, and a write up of the DVD release when it arrives.

May the Force be with You!

Season 1, Episode 21 - Liberty on Ryloth

The final third of the Ryloth Trilogy, Liberty on Ryloth, features Mace Windu front and center for the first time in the first season. He leads a ground assault against the capital city of Lessu, on Ryloth. When he appears overmatched, he turns to the local rebels, led by Cham Syndulla, to lend him support.

This is the third episode directed by Rob Coleman in the series, and his experience and talent are as apparent here as they were in Duel of the Droids and Jedi Crash. He's got a sense of what's cinematic (he was, after all, the Animation Director for the prequel trilogy) and he's careful not only to fill up the frame with action, but make sure the "camera" swoops and dives. Liberty on Ryloth never looks less than amazing, and the action scenes are pumped up and creative. Windu's escape from the disappearing bridge is definitely one for the series' highlight reel.

Coleman also has a strong feel for how to animate emotion. Cham Syndulla is a soulful new character, an his scenes with Mace Windu had an honesty to them that is hard to pull off within the Thunderbirds design. As with the last episode, Innocents of Ryloth, Libery on Ryloth doesn't shy away from showing us the costs of war, and the citizens and their particular issues. The episode was mostly action (the politics are shallowly played here) but it doesn't forget there is more to war than laser pistols.

That, unfortunately, doesn't help Mace Windu become more interesting. On screen, Mace Windu has always been sort of character-less. He's stalwart, wise, careful, and has a glare. But those are qualities. Who is he? What does he care about? Where is he from? What drives him? Watching Mace Windu is always a thrill - much like Yoda, the showrunners love to leave most impressive displays of Force Power to him - but I've never much cared if the character is happy or sad. That trend continued here.

On the other side (isn't this always the way) the villains have a lot more fun. In a fun subplot, it's clear the Wat Tambor and is Tactical Droid are not seeing eye to eye. I'd love to see some more episodes from the Separatist side for this reason - there's a sense of fun and play with those characters that the writers rarely seem to have with the heroes.

Liberty on Ryloth, as a stand alone episode, is well-executed and well done. As the third part of a trilogy, it shows some flaws. Although there is a tacked on Episode I style parade at the end of the episode, the three individual episodes don't connect particularly well, and don't seem to all add up to this one. Sure, there's a logic to their order (Get on the Planet, Secure the Planet, Take the Planet) but it would have been almost better to simply see three episodes of Mace Windu, or Obi-Wan, or even Ahsoka. The diffuse nature of the episodes, and their differences in quality, didn't help make this episode a stirring triumph. Just another episode with really cool battles.

Rating (out of five): *** 3/4

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Season 1, Episode 20 - Innocents of Ryloth

War stories shouldn't just be about soldiers. If there are costs of war, we need to see and feel them in order to care about the outcome. The Clone Wars series could very easily be a series of well produced video games that you don't get to play. Episodes like Innocents of Ryloth, therefore, become a key to the series' potency as effective storytelling.

In The Phantom Menace, we were often reminded that the people of Naboo were "suffering...dying." Words like "we must do something quickly" were spoken. But the camera never once lingered on a camp of Naboo citizens in dire straits. It was never even clear how they were suffering. Were they not being given food? Were they being shot? It made investment in their salvation (being entirely fictional characters, after all) that much harder.

With Innocents of Ryloth, we not only see Twi'leks, but a Twi'lek child named Numa. We see the Separtists using civilians as living shields. We get a sense of just what it is our heroes are saving the Twi'leks from. Much like the episode Defenders of Peace, this episode puts a face to those caught up in the war, and gives us a sense of what they might lose to it.

Of course, all the best intentions in the world aren't much without execution. Storm over Ryloth was intended to deepen Ahsoka's character, but it didn't acheive its task. Innocents of Ryloth, though, performs its duties with efficiency and heart. We see not only thrilling battles and daring escapes, but linger on the relationship between two clone soldiers, Waxer and Boil, as they interact with the frightened and plucky Numa. We're also given a fun villain in Commander TX-20, a "tactical" droid. As a Separatists droid, it seems that a tactical droid can't help but be a bit on the amusing side...but TX-20 balanced that out with a whiff of threat.

All in all, therefore, this might not have been the most stunningly designed or most fresh episode of the bunch, but it tells an excellent story and does so with vibrant characterizes and a solid script.

Innocents of Ryloth also marks the first "solo" adventure for Obi-Wan Kenobi. I'd be happy to see more of these. Obi-Wan is one of the richest characters in the Star Wars mythology, and here, he shows why. Clever, cunning, funny and caring, he lacks the shruggy teen angst of Anakin and is a fine example of what Luke aspires to be in the original trilogy.

Rating (out of five): ****

Friday, February 27, 2009

Season 1, Episode 19 - Storm over Ryloth

Storm over Ryloth, the first of a "trilogy" of episodes that even have their own trailer, isn't exactly the "grand and operatic" epic promised by the Lucas Animation crew. Instead, it's a fairly pedestrian affair for Star Wars, and a rather large missed opportunity.

Anakin has been tasked with leading a strike force against the Trade Federation blockade of Ryloth, whose citizens are starving due to the brutal and oppressive regime of Wat Tambor. As we open the episode, Ahsoka is leading a squadron of clones against the Trade Federation cruisers. When the intriguing new character Captain Mar Tuk of the Separatists springs a trap, Ahsoka fails to follow orders and loses a bulk of her men. Her confidence shaken, and with few resources, Anakin still must find a way through the blockade, to set the stage for Obi-Wan's ground assault.

Where to begin? This episode has two basic components that need to work in order to be effective. Sadly, neither of them do.

The first is that the action of this story is that of a duel between strategic captains: Mar Tuk and Anakin. Battles like these are like chess between leaders, or they should be. Unfortunately, Mar Tuk's trap (that entirely fools Anakin and winds up getting Ahsoka's squadron decimated) is to call in reinforcements at the last minute. That's not exactly what I'd call advanced tactical strategy. Anakin's rebuttal? Fly a big ship into the other guy's ship.

All of this is underwhelming. There's clearly the desire here to reference Grand Admiral Thrawn from the original Timothy Zahn trilogy (Ahsoka's one "idea" is an homage to Thrawn); but the space combat scenes themselves are shot in a relatively dull way. There are a few moments that look "cool" but in Star Wars, that's par for the course. After episodes like Shadow of Malevolence or Jedi Crash, where we can see just how much fun the series can have with battles such as these, this episode felt uninspired.

The second part, though, is Ahsoka's crisis. This is the first time in the series we are shown Ahsoka not only making a huge mistake, but that mistake costing her men's lives, and risking many more. This could have been a significant deepening of the series and of Ahsoka's character, given the proper handling of the material. Instead, Ahsoka, both in animation and in the voice acting of Ashley Eckstein, seems mostly nonplussed. It appears as if having men die because of your mistake is mostly a... bummer, and its the sort of thing you can get over with a little faith in yourself.

Anakin's response, which is to be momentarily annoyed with her and then quickly encouraging, seems to happen too quickly and seems entirely out of synch with what she's done wrong. To later her put her in charge of the entire mission seems more like an act of incompetence than of mentorship. It seems almost sociopathic that Anakin should risk the success of the mission, and the lives of the citizens of Ryloth, in order to provide Ahsoka with self-confidence.

What works? I did like the idea of Mar Tuk, and was glad to see him live to fight in a better episode. I also enjoyed seeing Admiral Yularen take a more active role than water carryer for the Jedi. His character is a blank slate, and I'd love to see them give him more of an active role in the series. He is, after all, an Admiral in the Clone Wars.

All in all, though, the entirely mismanaged treatment of the emotional core of the episode, combined with the mildly staged space action, makes Storm over Ryloth seem more like Tryouts for the Swim Team Over Ryloth. I'm hopeful that in retrospect, this will seem like a bump in the road towards an exciting next two chapters of this 'trilogy.'

Rating (out of five): * 1/2

Friday, February 13, 2009

Season 1, Episode 18 - Mystery of a Thousand Moons

Following Blue Shadow Virus immediately is Mystery of a Thousand Moons. This installment embraces a larger view of the Force: it's one of those wonderful moments in Star Wars, like with the Cantina or Jabba's Palace, when we're presented with a wealth of new designs and characters. It's also more than just the successor to Blue Shadow Virus chronologically; in both episodes' DNA is The Phantom Menace.

When Padme, Ahsoka, Jar Jar and the Clones find that the virus has been set free in the underground laboratory, they battle to keep the Droids from breaking through the outer shell and releasing the airborne virus into Naboo's atmosphere. In the midst of this, they find themselves exposed to the virus. The only way to save them is to find a cure, and quickly. Obi-Wan and Anakin rush to the planet of Iego, to find the rare root from which an antidote can be fashioned.

Iego (as anyone bothering to read this blog will remember) is name dropped by Anakin Skywalker in Episode I, when, as a 10 year old boy, he tries to put the moves on Padme. "Are you an Angel?" he asks. "I've heard the deep space pirates talk about them. They're the most beautiful creatures in the universe. They live on the moons of Iego, I think." 


The quality of the line not withstanding, here, our patience is once again rewarded. Not only do we find ourselves in Iego, but Iego is richly realized. Abandoned and trapped by what the denizens call Drol (because their terrifying God tells remarkably good jokes at dinner parties), the characters we meet on Iego are eccentric to say the least. And yes, we get a look at an "Angel" (voiced by Padme's voice performer Catherine Taber in a nice touch). We also meet a few new creatures, and an Anakin-esque boy named Jaybo Hood.  

Jaybo, for his part, wasn't a part of the episode I relished. Maybe it was that David Kaufman's voice work lends Jaybo a decided Saturday morning cartoon tone. Or perhaps it's because there seems to be no limit to the remarkably smart children in the Star Wars prequel universe.

There also seemed to be something "off" about the timing. As Padme and Ahsoka are rapidly dying in a small contained area, Obi-Wan and Anakin go to Theed, interrogate a prisoner, fly to a completely foreign planet, find a cure to a disease, escape the inescapable, etc. It felt a little like time was being truncated for the heroes, but stretched out for those in peril. Also, if opening the laboratory at all would cause the virus to kill most of the life on did they get Padme, Rex and Ahsoka out of there?

The episode has its definitive strengths; most prominent among them is how well Anakin and Obi-Wan's differences are played. While we know that Anakin's headstrong nature will lead him astray in the long run; it's also hard not to sympathize. His wife is, in fact, dying. It's also wonderfully obvious that Obi-Wan is no fool. When Anakin refers to the Senator as Padme, it's Obi-Wan who gives him a non-verbal reminder to keep up appearances. 

Also, as with many of the later episodes, the animation has matured. I love the brilliant blue of the virus's haze; which stands out against the yellow uniforms and red safe room. The look of the re-purposed battle droids, and the Angels, are all memorable as well.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this episode, but it didn't have the compact plotting of its predecessor, and a few logistical issues nagged at me as I watched.

Rating (out of five) *** 1 /2 

Season 1, Episode 17 - Blue Shadow Virus

I confess: I have a soft spot for Naboo.

In 1999, I was sitting in a theater, watching someone called Qui-Gon Jinn run away from a weirdly bulbous tank, on a planet, a completely new planet, a planet I'd never heard of... I think there was something so completely satisfying about the experience that I've never really shaken it off. It's that feeling that made me love the prequels; that feeling of getting something you wanted after being about as patient as a, well... a Jedi Master. The planet of Naboo said, "Star Wars is back and it's new." I was anticipatory and nostalgic all at once.

Now, Naboo conjures its own form of nostalgia. That's how terribly old this is all making me feel.

I say all this because Blue Shadow Virus, an action packed episode, and the first of a two-parter, has The Phantom Menace written all over it. As much as the previous episode, Trespass, embraced the imagery of Ralph McQuarrie; Blue Shadow Virus gives the nod to Doug Chiang. Chiang's designs are less angular than his predecessors, more sleek. He embraces the Buck Rogers elements of the saga. Where the original trilogy has a hardscrabble, 'lived in' feel, the prequels show an ornate and peaceful galaxy, built not only for use, but also beauty. Blue Shadow Virus captures, aesthetically, that spirit.

What it also gives us, for the first time in Star Wars, is "The Mad Scientist." Amazing that we haven't come across this particular character type before in the Star Wars saga. Here, we get Dr. Nuvo Vindi (gleefully voiced by Michael York) who is creating a biological weapon for the Separatists. The weapon is based on the Blue Shadow virus, which we're told was wiped out entirely because no life form was immune to it. Not only is Vindi bring the virus back, but has created a strain that is airborne and sticks into into a bunch of bombs. (I expect novels and comic books about the Blue Shadow virus's history any day now.)

The episode is teeming with life. We see Captain Typho for the first time in the series; we see the return of the "rabbit droid;" we meet two new characters; and the entire prequel trilogy cast is present. Even Mace Windu and Yoda stop by for a cup of hologram coffee.

What is a marvel, given all this, is how well everything fits together without ever feeling rushed. The episode feels more like the Escape from Jabba's Palace in Return of the Jedi than anything else: a series of discreet set pieces and objectives all edited together hyper kinetically. Even though this episode aired originally back-to-back with episode 18, it feels entirely complete on its own, in just about 22 minutes of actual airtime. Quite a feat.

If there's anything that pulls the episode back from perfection, it's the silliness that pervades the plot. Vindu, though hilarious and cunning, is also played so broadly that it was hard to take him seriously as a threat. I was also unclear (as I often am) about what the Separatists had to gain by releasing a deadly virus. Aren't they Capitalists? Can't sell anything to the dead, can you?

Balancing that effect out is the note-perfect dynamic between Obi-Wan and Anakin. We shouldn't forget the primary struggle in Anakin and Padme's troubled lives is their secret love. When Padme is in danger, Anakin can barely contain his edge, his desire to protect her above all else. Obi-Wan's slightly raised eye brow, and counselings of caution, are both foreboding and endearing. It's always good to see the writers in this series highlight the complex character dynamics from the prequels. Those complications add a necessary depth to what could be just very well-made Saturday morning cartoons.

Ratings (out of five) ****

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ryloth "Trilogy" Trailer

Is now up at the Official Site.

I have to admit, I'm still a sucker for trailers with the Star Wars music. Especially during a time when we're all nostalgic for the hype surrounding The Phantom Menace, this type of thing really makes me smile.

They should make teaser trailers like this for all the two or three-parters. I would be on those like white on rice.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Season 1, Episode 16 - The Hidden Enemy

The Hidden Enemy is a brief prequel (or at least precursor) to the Clone Wars movie. It, therefore, takes place prior to the introduction of Ahsoka Tano, but after Attack of the Clones. The entire Clone Wars series leads into Revenge of the Sith, which is the last of the trilogy of prequels. To which I say: Star Wars continuity officially needs a spreadsheet. Maybe two. I haven't even mentioned those, you know, original three movies.

I bring this up because The Hidden Enemy has lots of little nods to the Clone Wars movie. It takes place of Christophsis, it mentions "heavy cannons" (which were the focal point of the first battle in the movie), and Asajj Ventress makes a point of getting off-world just in time to be on her mark for the start of the film. Why, exactly, it was deemed necessary to give people the events immediately prior to the Clone Wars movie isn't immediately clear to me. At least now we know.

All these little references make The Hidden Enemy a sort of oddball of an episode. At its core, beyond the obligatory set pieces, is a story that I suspect will have a big impact on fan's understanding of the clones. The idea of a clone traitor, despite the fact that the clones were bred for "obedience" and loyalty (according to the Kaminoans) means that the clones aren't brainwashed, but instead, participating in a culture of service. The line is a thin one between service and servititude where clones are concerned: they're bred (heck, grown) for combat, by the truckloads, but they're also individuals in their way. To see a clone trooper that openly disdains the Jedi opens the door for the story to come.

And so, the main story of Commander Cody and Captain Rex as Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson works very well. Cody and Rex have been well-established as characters now, and watching them feels familiar and fun. The interrogation and subsequent hunting of the traitor are certainly fun and full of fun character notes and smart moments.

The rest of the episode, though, isn't as well thought out. Obi-Wan and Anakin have a secret plan to, apparently, drive directly up to the front door of Separatist central. If that's your plan...why make it secret to begin with? Then, when they fight Asajj Ventress, she announces to them that she has an informant. What good is an informant inside your enemies camp if you announce his existence to them?

Why, I'm forced to ask, are they really fighting her at all? Not that I don't enjoy a good lightsaber duel. I do. It's one of my favorite things. (It's on the list with Brooklyn Lager, Kettle Chips and comfortable shoes.) I just like there to be a reason for the fight. My standards are low on this point. If it was "If you want to leave here, you'll have to get through me" or "I am going to make a very real attempt to kill you" I'd be satisfied. In The Hidden Enemy, it's pretty clear we're watching a lightsaber duel so we know why Obi-Wan and Anakin aren't around while the clones are sorting stuff out.

(Let me go on record, though, of loving the Asajj vs Obi-Wan flirt/fight dynamic. I can't wait until we get an episode in Season 2 that sounds like Who's Afraid of Virigina Woolf? with lightsabers. I pray for it at night.)

With these three disparate elements (the mystery, the movie lead-in, and the lightsaber duel), The Hidden Enemy tries to do too much and feels, as a result, thinner than it should with such rich material. The core story, though, answers a burding question about the clones' psychology, and rolls out in an entertaining way. That makes it an episode that's required viewing for clone wars fans, flaws and all.

Rating (out of five) ***

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Season 1, Episode 15 - Trespass

Trespass (like previous stand alone episodes like Rookies and Lair of Grievous) is a compact story with great impact. By divorcing itself from the main conflict of the Clone Wars, and exploring a local border dispute it finds a little breathing room for an independent, and no less engaging, story.

Anakin and Obi-Wan are sent to the remote Hoth-like world of Orto Plutonia, to investigate the radio silence from a clone outpost. They are accompanied by dignitaries from Pantora, a nearby moon. The Pantoran chairman, Chi Cho, claims that Orto Plutonia is the protectorate of the moon, and that it is essentially uninhabited. When its discovered that Pantora is the homeworld of a tribe of Talz, the Chairman's own bravado, and distaste for negotiation, become roadblocks to peace. His accompaniment includes a young Pantoran Senator, Riyo Chuchi, who he, at first, is able to bully and prod without much resistance.

What happens in the episodes full 22 or so minutes isn't hard to imagine. The Jedi work hard to broker peace, the local "savages" are far from savage, etc. etc. If the episode has any major flaws, its that its plot plays out much as one might expect.

Some plots, though, are often returned to because they work. That's how Trespass feels: more like classic plotting than lazy cliche. Within its classic structure, every thing is in its right place.

The delight is in the details. Orto Plutonia is beautifully realized, and its clear that the artists had a fine time mixing nostalgia for the Empire Strikes Back with prequel era design. The "Freeco" Bikes are a kick-ass blend of speeder bike and snowspeeder. The Clone Trooper Snowsuits are a great blend of old and new. The Pantorans are a strikingly rendered new race, and the Talz (seen in A New Hope and in the Clone Wars microseries) are elevated from cameo status in style.

Those feats of animation don't do much without excellent character work, and Trespass doesn't fail in that respect. I was especially happy to see Obi-Wan, who in the prequels is far to often relegated to officious finger-wagging, shining through as the budding mentor we see in the original trilogy. I also appreciated the truthfully played, (if telegraphed) transformation of Riyo Chuchi from inexperienced teen to peacemaker.

Trespass also manages to give the battles a hint of loss. (Not easy in a series that built its reputation on fun, creative battles.) Each Talz warrior that falls, each Clone killed by a spear, each Pantoran who dies; they all seem to go needlessly. When Captain Rex shows his prowess, it seems a shame to see him gun down so many warriors who aren't, in any real way, his enemies.

By offering up some of the series most memorable visuals, and one of its most complete, emotional, and well-told stories, Trespass is a boon to the series as a whole, and the Clone Wars mythos.

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

Friday, January 23, 2009

Season 1, Episode 14 - Defenders of Peace

I was, when I read the premise of Defenders of Peace, concerned that the showrunners would wind up treating the pacificism of the Lurmen as misguided or somehow cowardly. My lack of faith was unwarranted: more than any other episode thus far, Defenders of Peace allows for ambiguity.

It helps that the Separatists aren't just asking for the Lurmen's lunch money. The Separatists are led by Lok Durd (voiced with smarmy relish by Star Trek veteran George Takei); and he's testing a weapon that wipes out all organic life, leaving droids intact. The Lurmen are done for, and the Jedi feel obligated to protect them. The Lurmen (or at least their leader) seem willing to die before the compromising their values.

This premise not only sets up a dramatically interesting conflict, but just good old fashioned fun action sequences. There's a grand scope to Lok Durd's weapon that makes it worthy of all this bluster. The Jedi and Clones work together to remain hidden, sneak into the Separatists' outpost, and, finally, do battle against tremendous odds.

The action is all tremendously put together; especially the dimly lit sequence when the Jedi steal a Neimoidian shuttle. The final stand, with the energy shield, is reminiscent of the battle between the Gungans and the Battle Droids on Naboo in The Phantom Menance, with a bit of a Seven Samurai twist. The action is well-supported by zippy dialogue and increasingly nuanced animation.

Tee Watt Kaa, the Lurmen elder, closes the episode worrying about the unrealized cost of the events in Defenders of Peace. It would be interesting to see if the show revisits this planet in later episodes and explores the impact that these episodes had on their leadership and traditions.

The episode's "fortune cookie" is "When surrounded by war, one must eventually chose a side." Instead of wagging its finger at pacifism, Defenders of Peace sees that war itself forces those with good intentions into choices they'd rather not make. Why else would else would the war be an end unto itself for the Sith?

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

By the way

John Williams provides music for the Inauguration.

TD Jakes says "May the force be with you" to Barack Obama on the day of the inauguration.

George Lucas attended the inauguration.

We were well represented on the big day it appears, oh Star Wars fans.

It occurs to me, re-watching Episode III, that the prequels were very much commentary on the Bush era.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Season 1, Episode 13 - Jedi Crash

At the beginning of Jedi Crash, the viewer is thrust into swirling action. Super Battle Droids dive through the atmosphere; gunships roar; war ships lurch to and fro. Jedi Master Aayla Secura desperately needs reinforcements. They come, almost too late, from Anakin Skywalker and his battalion of clone troopers.

It's a rousing start, and it leads quickly into daring escapes, and finally, the titular crash itself, on a grassy planet. (According to the episode guide it's called Maridun.) Anakin has been severely injured in the escape, and its up to Aayla Secura, Ahsoka, and the remaining clones to figure out where they are, and how to get home.

As with Duel of the Droids (also directed by Rob Coleman, Animation Director for the prequels) the color palette and the perspectives are all artfully combined. Where The Gungan General felt rushed; Jedi Crash feels carefully put together.

It may be that a little extra care was put into the episode: it was written by Katie Lucas, daughter of He Need Not Be Named. To her credit, the action here isn't the only thing to recommend the episode. As the episode goes into its second and third acts, the script takes over from the action, and has a few of the series strongest moments. (It also features at least one line that's a remarkable groaner, but heck, that's a pretty good batting average.)

The major theme here is, once again, attachment. Ahsoka doesn't want to leave Anakin's side, but Aayla rightly gets her to think about more than her own immediate needs and attachments. They leave Rex behind with Anakin and head out to find help.

(Here's the groaner: they find a piece of wood that shows, plainly, GIANT TREES and people living near them. Ahsoka looks at it and, like Encylopedia Brown, says "I think the people around here live near GIANT TREES." "Very perceptive," says Aayla. Ouch. Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.)

What they do find, though, are the Lurmans. They look a whole lot, frankly, like Nelvaanian women and children from the original Clone Wars microseries. But they're more adorable, and they're pacificsts. And they live in giant seed pods. And they can roll like Droidekas.

The Lurman leader, Tee Wat Kaa, espouses his values to the Jedi, before agreeing to provide Anakin with medical supplies. There's a bit more non-descript action before the episode closes on a cliffhanger as well, and pacifism seems to rule the day. I don't have to tell you (I hope) that Anakin lives.

Jedi Crash is a largely exceptional episode. The action (as I stated) is fantastic. More than that, there are moments where the Jedi's role in the war is questioned, and there needs to be more of this in the series.

Think about telling a story about the war in Iraq without ever mentioning how the war was started. It doesn't make any sense. The Clone Wars are the reason for the fall of the Republic. They were started under false pretenses, built around trade routes and an arms race. In short: the war is a trick. The Jedi claim to fight for freedom, but have the Separatists claimed to fight for fascism? There is a very real difference between the World War II inspired battles of the original trilogy and the morally ambiguous Clone Wars. The Clone Wars are Vietnam or Iraq; the Galactic Civil War is a war against a clear evil.

So, I was incredibly happy to hear even a hint of that in the voice of the Lurmens. The series will only be more rich if the sourness of the war and its irony is allowed to breathe a bit in the emotional life of the characters.

It was also nice to hear Ahsoka learn something. I mean, seriously. Aalya Secura turns out to be yet another strong female Jedi character, this time with a french accent, and a tougher edge. (There must be some theory of the Lucasverse that we can better remember characters with simple traits like accents.)

For all that good stuff, then... why is there something I feel was missing from this episode? Maybe it's that I find it almost impossible to invest emotionally in Ahsoka Tano. At this point, I've watched a film where she was all but the star, and maybe 5 of the 12 episodes aired before this one featured her prominently. That's plenty of time to get to know the character, and still, she comes off as entirely unlikeable to me. I also don't find myself concerned with her "fate" and how it affects Anakin's fall to the dark side.

Here's why: we don't need it. Anakin's mother dies, he kills out of anger, he fears for the death of his secret wife. His mentor is, unbeknownst to him, the biggest bad guy of all bad guys. That's the mythology that matters. Ahsoka's fate isn't really a blip of that kind of drama's radar.

So, I fully admit that bias. If Ahsoka's in an episode, it has to work three times as hard to impress me. She's a product of someone's idea of how to appeal to a certain demographic, and I don't care of "she" learns about the Jedi Code.

Also, unfortunately, is the problem with the Duel of the Droids two-parters: Anakin lives. Putting Anakin or R2-D2 in danger are dramatically inert choices. If you know the outcome you can still mine dramatic tension (the prequels figured out how to do this because the questions were "how" and "when," not "if"); but if the question is who survives...the question is asked and answered.

Add Ahsoka's anti-charisma and Anakin's dilemma being sort of dramatically uninvolving, and I'm left with an episode I found impressive and satisfying intellectually; but that never really hooked me.

Rating (out of five): ***