Friday, September 16, 2011

Season 4

I've been missing in action!

Sorry that the last few episodes of Season 3 escaped my reach last year, although I hope to get back to them later on. Ahsoka still sort of gives me hives, so The Most Dangerous Game episodes just sort of made me yawn on initial impact. Oh well. Say *** for the animation. I loved, loved, loved the Prison Break episodes, though. Absolutely awesome.

Looking forward to Season 4 and coming back strong with some episode reviews for you all.

I'll also say that I have my copy of the Star Wars Complete Saga Blu-Rays and frankly...they're awesome. Even though there are changes to the original trilogy (get with the program or don't, but quit complaining people); there are also some changes to the prequels for the eagle-eyed. Good ones I think.

Anyway, I'm back.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Season 3, Episode 15, 16, 17 - Overlords Trilogy

If Luke Skywalker's journey is the classic hero myth, then what does that make Anakin's. At once the hero and villain of the Star Wars mythology, Anakin's journey spans what are essentially two life-times, two selves. In The Overlords Trilogy ("Overlords," "Altar of Mortis" and "Ghosts of Mortis") the meta-narrative of the Star Wars series is transformed into an allegorical showdown.

Here, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Ahsoka Tano are drawn to a mysterious, uncharted planet that appears populated only by three Force-Wielders: Father, Daughter and Son. These spirits represent the Light Side, the Dark Side and a sort of parent/cop that keeps the two sides in check.

Clearly, the creative team of The Clone Wars threw everything but the kitchen sink at these episodes. For that reason, there are great pleasures for fans to be found in these episodes, such as the voices of Pernilla August and Liam Neeson, as well as images re-rendered from the films. There's an operatic sensibility at play here in the best tradition of Star Wars. I'm sure that this trilogy, for some, will mark the high point of the Clone Wars series. They're gorgeous, intense, and creative.

If I have reservations about these episodes, then, it's simply that the show is speaking it's subtext out loud. In short: to display struggles between the Light Side as a glowing woman and the Dark Side as a Sith-ish angry's all a bit too literal, even for a series that isn't hiding it's influences. For all the beauty and grandeur of the Overlords Trilogy, and all the intriguing additions to the mythology of the series... it really never tells us anything we don't know. In fact, it expressly tells us everything we would pick up simply by watching the films, and thinking about what they mean.

I also am perpetually skeptical of erasing the memories of characters in order to avoid continuity issues. It ranks right up there with "It was all a dream" for storytelling cop-outs. If you can't fit what you're doing into the existing mythology without cheating, maybe a few storytelling tweaks are in order. For example: what if Ahsoka saw Anakin's future, instead of Anakin himself? Wouldn't that fuel the existing series without complicating or challenging the character arcs of the films?

Obviously, the above aren't small problems with the storytelling, but they're not deal breakers either. Any Star Wars fan would be foolish to let those quibble overwhelm the exceptional animation, character moments and drama of the Overlords Trilogy. A terrific and exciting part of Star Wars, built to be controversial for sure, but also with a keen eye on pleasing fans and enriching the mythology.

Rating (out of five): ****

Note: Yes, I realize the season finale has come and gone as of this posting! I'm catching up. My apologies!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bad reviewer!

Okay, I know I've been away from the site for waaaay too long. I'm going to catch up by reviewing Overlords as a trilogy in one post and Citadel as a trilogy in another post. I went on a honeymoon (to Guatemala, which I totally recommend) and have been running around being my usual frantic self. But I have not forgotten you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Season 3, Episode 14 - Witches of the Mist

The third part of the superb Nightsisters trilogy of episodes doesn't reach the emotional heights of the middle episode, Monster, but it's a more-than-satisfying finale. It also announces a more ambitious outlook for the Clone Wars as it's own series.

The rousing introduction of Savage Opress for viewers, is an alarming act in the Clone Wars universe. Obi-Wan and Anakin are sent locate this new warrior and stop him. Of course, they're not aware that they're merely side players in a power struggle between Asajj Ventress and her former master Count Dooku. Like much of the Nightsisters trilogy, we're privy to an expressed philosophy of the Sith and their lionization of power. This is all about what it means to be Sith.

In a scene reminiscent of General Grievous introduction is the original Clone Wars microseries, we see Savage humbled by Dooku. These lessons are not only a way to expose Savage's comparative crudity; but lay a path for the final act of the episode. We see Dooku at his most powerful and in his element, expressing his power, explaining his beliefs, and abusing a servant.

Of course, Opress is designed as a Sith weapon, and a deadly one. This episode sees the death of a character first introduced in the premiere of the series, King Katuunko. I have to admit, I was surprised by the suddenness and ferocity of this character's death, especially because he was always shown to be particularly noble and particularly willing to stand up to the Separatists. A worthy reminder that standing up to the villains is brave because it can, in fact, cost you your life.

Inevitably, this episode leads to and out-and-out lightsaber battle between Dooku and his estranged apprentices, as well as the Jedi. The battle itself is cinematic and played well into the various styles of the combatants. It felt a little bit arbitrary (a lightsaber duel to close things out, as usual) but it was excellent action for action fans. The results of the battle were a tad more inviting: Ventress still on her own, and Opress severing his ties with Dooku.

The final moment seemed more designed to get water cooler chatter than to make much sense. Intriguing? Sure. Logical? Maul was chopped in half. What could possibly be more dead than that?

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

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Season 3, Episode 13 - Monster

Monster, the second part of the "Nightsisters Trilogy", is notable for many reasons. One is that it is the introduction of Star Wars latest villain, the much-anticipated Savage Opress. Second, it's main characters, apart from Count Dooku, are entirely of the Clone Wars continuity. Asajj Ventress, the Nightsisters, The Dathomirian Zabraks, Mother Talzin, Savage himself: none of these characters appear in the films. Still, though, they are richly drawn here, brought to a level of character development and emotion that rivals their more established counterparts. Third, it's one of the darkest tales the Clone Wars has yet attempted, and that daring will undoubtedly pay dividends. Finally, it actually deepens Darth Maul and therefore, The Phantom Menace.

The story picks up where Nightsisters leaves off, as Dooku, attacked by shadowy figures with red and blue lightsabers, believes he has been targeted by the Jedi. He asks Mother Talzin to create a new assassin for him to replace Asajj Ventress, who he believes to be dead. Talzin sends Asajj to a nearby village of males, Zabraks all, much like Darth Maul. Yellow, instead of red, (because of their homeworld? Racial difference?) these Zabraks are forced to fight for their lives, to prove themselves worthy of becoming a servant to the Nightsisters.

The ensuing episode is superb. Savage, voiced by veteran actor Clancy Brown, is a far better character than I'd anticipated, a spirited and even heroic warrior. What fuels him to "win" the competition is a fierce desire to protect his kin, Feral. It's this very heroism that causes his downfall, as he is forced into servitude and essentially has his identity wiped away by the magic of the Nightsisters.

The entire enterprise does more to establish the villainy of the Dark Side than many. Here, we literally see what were good characters destroyed and turned into destroyers. Death is dealt to the innocent. And all the while, there's something surprisingly sad about Savage. Is the good individual buried inside this new Sith Assassin? Or has it been entirely eviscerated? Savage is a "Monster," all the moreso for having been once generous and good.

Of course, it also begs the question, is this the process that created Darth Maul? And, if so, doesn't it mean that his former self could possibly have been just as sympathetic?

The action is excellently choreographed, and the mood is chilly and frightening. The final action sequence, designed to highlight just how dangerous Savage Opress is, is quick and effective. The final moment, though, and Dooku's declaration, brings us back to the very nature of the Sith and their cycle of power struggles for their own sake.

Sensational all around, and one of the best episodes of the series. All the better for resting the weight of the drama on as yet unseen characters.

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Season 3, Episode 12 - Nightsisters

The Clone Wars returns from it's holiday hiatus with the Katie Lucas penned Nightsisters. After a full half-season largely consisting of episodes about interest rates, Nightsister is a welcome return to some of the more exciting elements of the Star Wars universe, namely, the machinations of the Sith and the character of Asajj Ventress.

Ventress takes center stage here. Her original introduction, as a part of the original Clone Wars miniseries of awesome animated shorts in 2003, has been nearly written out of the mythology. Now, in flashbacks, we are privy to a more complex and rich history for her than ever before. In many ways, Asajj has been useful because she can handle the lightsaber dueling, keeping Dooku where he should be: largely behind the scenes. She also has developed a fun flirtation with Obi-Wan. Other than that, though, we've rarely seen her as more than a hired sword, a sort of extra-powerful bounty hunter. With Nightsisters, she's given some long-awaited depth. (I'm aware that much of this mirrors existing EU backstory, but we all know until it hits the screen all bets are off.)

We also confront the inevitable: Asajj is that she is a third Sith in a universe where Sith come in pairs. She is Dooku's apprentice, even as he serves Palpatine. Nightsisters finally pulls the trigger on this loaded fact.

We also meet the Nightsisters themselves. Designs that mirror the "Sith Witches" that have floated around the EU, we see now that they are matriarchal mystics from Dathomir. Spectral and frightening, I loved the introduction of a powerful new force and their bizarre rituals. Truly fun.

In many ways, Asajj is the Sith Ahsoka. We know she won't see Episode III, and we know she's a Clone Wars era character only. I'm heartened to see they're taking new steps with her, and look forward to see how the depict her fate in this series. I hope they'll take the same approach with Ashoka soon.

Clearly, this is set up for the coming of the much hyped Savage Opress, and in that, the episode has a bit of a "only the first act" sense of being incomplete storytelling. Still, a great return to form for the series, and I look forward to the next part of the tale.

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

And....we're back. With big news!

First...Star Wars: The Complete Saga will finally hit Blu-Ray in September 2011. Great news there. I wish I could just hibernate until then. Like all fans, I'm waiting to see just what will be on these discs. All three prequels had extensive DVD releases with deleted scenes and documentaries. Plus, there was an extensive documentary produced about the making of the entire saga with the first DVD release of the original trilogy. Will we see these materials simply reproduced and repackaged with some additional extras? Or will we see newly produced extras for this edition and deleted scenes from the original trilogy too?

It does seem like they're signaling heavily that we'll get some new stuff here and that's exciting.

Also...will there be changes? At this point, I'd be surprised if they were unaltered.

Also... tonight The Clone Wars returns with Nightsisters. The previews of the rest of the season look extremely dark and thrilling. Looking forward to it, as I've felt Season 3 has been a bit lackluster so far.