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.