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): ***


Dave said...

Good review. I particularly enjoyed reading your thoughts on Ahsoka, which to an extent I can agree with.

I agree entirely on the accents, I think it's a simple way of associating certain characteristic with a cultural stereotype. If you have a german accent for a character then a lot of people (especially Europeans) will think the character is very methodical, detailed and serious. It's like the "trick" they've used in recent Dr Who by having animal aliens, without explaining what a cat-headed alien is like the viewer endows them with feline traits.

The politics of the whole things is fascinating and I really hope that gets more airtime. I know people who have seen Eps 1-3 multiple times and have no idea what the war is about.

A pretty strong episode. Freefall SBDs was a nice touch, I'd like them to keep pushing the fact that the droids aren't human and having them do that sort of thing helps.

RJ said...

I thought that this episode was very bold in its manner. However, when the clones were ambushed by the beasts, I was rather unamused. Those three clones could have made good characters, but perhaps they were to be killed to exemplify how dangerous the creatures were, or to prevent a very diluted story. However, your review were some of my thoughts made in exact detail.