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