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