Thursday, February 7, 2013

Season 4, Episodes 14, 15 and 16 - Maul and Mandalore

The three episode story arc of "Eminence," "Shades of Reason" and "The Lawless" are a spectacular addition to the Star Wars canon and feature much earned, emotional high points that have been hinted at throughout the Clone Wars series. Deaths of major characters, high action, prominence of fan favorites; it's more than a stand-alone adventure. It exists squarely in the expanded, thrilling world created by Filoni and his team, and shows how invested in new characters.

In this arc, Maul and Opress are found by Death Watch floating in space. Near death, the brothers are saved by the Mandalorian terrorists. Immediately, both parties begin to use the other for their respective, temporarily mutual goals. But as with all villainy, betrayal is inevitable. The Sith don't share power. (Not even with Black Sun, a crime syndicate first introduced in the EU in the mid-1990s.)

Woven throughout the story is the resolution of the fantastic Satine story started back in Season 2; which places her pacifism up against the bloody history of her people. It's a compelling story, which expands on our understanding of Obi-Wan, the politics of the war, the fate of pacifism in the face of unrelenting war. We also find Death Watch's story come to what appears to be an effective and thrilling close.

Finally, the story of Savage Opress is also finally resolved here, sadly and satisfyingly, in a way that feels appropriately grand and brutal.

Visuals of the arc are top-notch, including Maul-inflected designs for Death Watch, the gorgeous environs of Mandalore, and the home of Black Sun.  Action is also thrilling, with non-stop duels, battles in the air, fist fights; culminating in a Sidious/Maul/Opress showdown that will surely thrill most of the faithful.

So...what more could a Star Wars fan ask for?

Well, I will say that there are times when "getting what you think you want" borders on fatigue. Where once the idea of Boba Fett and Jango Fett was unique and mysterious, we've now literally seen 15 on screen at a time, firing flamethrowers. Star Wars has to closely guard that specialness. I loved the episode, but I was aware that there's a danger in too much of a good thing.

Also, I've always felt that Sidious should fight a little less like Maul. A little more lightning and a little less two-handed dueling. But that's a quibble. At best.

This arc was an answer to the disposable last arc, but also seems to herald (perhaps) Clone Wars moving towards new stories entirely. What lies in store for Ahsoka, considering what we've just witnessed? Is her fate sealed? I'm excited to find out.

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

Season 4, Episode 13 - Point of No Return

The story of D-Squad comes to a not-terribly rousing ending with Point of No Return, a decidedly kid-friendly story arc. In this episode, the team finds themselves aboard a Republic cruiser, fully expecting to get home safely. Things are, though, not exactly what they seem. Which surprises exactly no one.

There's some standard and perfectly acceptable action to be found here, a few "last minute saves" and quite a big (very fancy) explosion. Certainly, being The Clone Wars, you never feel as if the entire cast of characters will not be killed - in fact, you can almost bet that someone will go. So it's hard to uniformly dismiss the episode as unwatchable or bad. It's simply much ado about very little. None of our main characters are at risk, R2-D2's near death isn't fooling anyone, and in the end, we learn what it means to be a soldier. Or something along those lines.

My main complaint about the D-Squad storyline is that, even as it gives us a few great moments of R2-D2 heroism, the rest of team feels extremely young-skewing and not terribly funny. Gascon, especially, seems immune to useful information - such as when he insists the empty ship is nothing to worry about. His silliness just never convinced me or made me feel invested.

Rating (out of five): **