Monday, November 22, 2010

Season 3, Episode 10 - Heroes on Both Sides

I find myself conflicted as I write this review of Heroes On Both Sides, a landmark episode of the Clone Wars series, that highlights the inherent Catch-22 of the prequel-era storytelling. The episode moves the scattered chronology of the series forward significantly, aging Ahsoka and moving Anakin's attitude and wardrobe closer to that of his ultimate fate in Revenge of the Sith. It also fully embraces the muddled political story that Lucas is telling in the prequel-era.

In many ways, the prequel-era politics are a large dramatic setback for the stories. Our heroes are never clearly fighting for anything except the idea of the status quo and "Democracy" even as we see that the very ideals they fight for are subverted by leadership. The Separatists interests in leaving the Republic are entirely confusing: are they leaving because they believe in the idea that the Republic is corrupt? If so, why do they have their own Parliament? What policies have driven the Separatists away? And if they are so against, for example, corporate influence, why are the stand-ins for the Separatists always members of the Corporate Alliance or the Banking Clan?

Making things worse is that, essentially, the war itself and the issues involved are entirely an invention of the Sith. Both leaders are in cahoots, escalating an invented conflict in order to push the galaxy towards Imperialism. Why? Because the Sith are bad, basically, and they want to rule the galaxy. Power, in a sense, for its own sake.

In short, it's hard to keep track of why our heroes are at war, and with whom. It makes for stories that are harder to tell, and have a bigger barrier for mainstream consumption.

What's both wonderful and terrible about what I've written above is that it is, in fact, no more or less complicated than real war, especially the wars of today. Like it or not, the prequel-era stories are a mirror to their time.

The wars of the United States do not have popular support. They were started on evidence that is discredited, and the countries we invaded were states not directly related to the loose affiliation of terrorists that attacked us. These wars have abstract goals, have complicated players, have costs and benefits that are hard to pin down. We've done unethical, even criminal, things (torture, for example). We're not at war with the Nazis in the US; we're at war with ourselves and our values. It's unsatisfying and unresolved, and perhaps that's one of the things that the prequel-era stories get exactly right. Whether or not you're on the left or the right in the US, it's impossible to feel as if our reason for fighting is clear cut and fixed.

My attitude towards this episode, in that context, is also unresolved. In a lot of ways, it's tough to sit through and be entertained by a plot driven by deregulation of the banks (which shoehorns an unrelated contemporary hot button issue in an uncomfortable way) and a lot of chat in sitting rooms. Some of Ahsoka's lines are inelegantly shoved into scenes for the utility of speaking for the younger members of the audience ("I don't understand!" "All I know is the Separatists are bad!" "Politics sure aren't black and white!"). I can't say I don't see the reasoning, but I did wince a few times.

Also, the moment where a young man "checks out" our newly early teen Ahsoka struck me as, shall we say, in poor taste.

All that being said, though, I can't help but admire the goals of and existence of this episode's major themes. The Republic has killed good people. That the Separatists may simply have different political ideas. That sometimes what drives people to fight is fear, not reason. That there are those that profit from war financially. The message is anti-establishment, deeply subversive. This is a story about questioning the reasons for fighting, questioning unthinking loyalty, and about not judging the "enemy." Considering the demographic of this audience likely skews below 15, I have tremendous respect for the audacity of presenting those messages in this way. Even as we know the outcome, to watch politicians manipulated away from peace, even as its offered to them, is painfully resonant.

Imperfect and clumsy as moments in this episode may be, Heroes On Both Sides reflects reality back to us, and asks us what we see. Our political landscape is foggy, dramatically slippery. The stakes, though, remain life and death, freedom or tyranny. The story of finding, or losing, ones moral compass in a confusing world may not always be as fun as the story of dogfighting with the bad guys. That doesn't make it a story that shouldn't be told.

Ratings (out of five): ****


Jen said...

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I have a Star Wars Fansite: and was wondering if you'd be interested in being affiliates? Let me know and I'll add your link.

Alex Johnson said...

I actually really enjoyed this episode. As a Star Wars fan who grew up with the PT, this was one of those episodes that seemed to parallel the prequels to the greatest extent.

Absolutely awesome!

Nemonus said...

I also just found your site via Club Jade, and am glad to find someone else who's doing Clone Wars reviews. Yours are very fun to read. ^_^ MTFBWY!

CloneWarsFan said...

Hey Jen!

Thanks for the good word. I've added AAHA to my blogroll.

David D. said...

That's a good point that, as frustrating as I often find the murkiness of the Clone War to be, the more it may be reflecting the amorphous wars going on right now. I'm not sure if you are giving them too much credit for thinking that is by design, but I definitely agree that it is an audacious thing to present in a cartoon intended mostly for young audiences.

Also, speaking of young, I also thought the "check out Ashoka" shot was icky. Especially as she was only given that treatment, it was not like we got her POV of checking out Prince Handsome Heathcliff, or whatever his name was.

A thing that really confused me in this episode, however-- when Padme's colleague started talking about how her husband died fighting in the way, I couldn't help think, "Is her husband a robot?" as I don't think we've seen a single non-robot, non-whatever-the-hell Grevious-is fighting in the war. On the Republic side you see the occasional Admiral, but it was a hard ask to believe that her husband died fighting on the CIS side. Oh well.

Also- was this supposed to be another one of those past stories? Or is this episode actually moving things forward, timeline-wise?

Anonymous said...

I personally thought the "checking out Ahsoka" scene was also creepy, but in a deliberate way. Ahsoka's comment at the end further highlighted that and I think it breathed a shot of much-needed feminism into Star Wars. It highlights that, yes, no matter where they are, guys will always be pigs and Ahsoka knows that. It was satisfying to see her shut him down.