October 26, 2009

The first episode of the first season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was the perfect introduction to the series proper, focusing almost exclusively on Yoda, one of the most beloved characters from the original trilogy. Here we had a series set in the prequel era yet very clearly drawing upon the spirit of those first few films, and Ambush was an excellent choice to showcase this aspect.

With the Clone Wars tearing the galaxy apart, it has become incumbent upon both sides — the Republic and the Separatists — to win over key planets and systems so as to maximise strategic possibilities. One such planet is Toydaria, the homeworld of Watto from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Yoda travels to the nearby and neutral coral moon of Rugosa in order to convince King Katuunko of Toydaria to sign a treaty with the Republic.

Yoda arrives on Rugosa

Yoda arrives on Rugosa

There’s something very elegant about the way Ambush links the prequel and original trilogies together via the character of Yoda. He is both the playful puer aeternus from The Empire Strikes Back and the wise leader and dynamo of Revenge of the Sith, but always still the philosophical mentor to anyone willing to listen.

This point is emphasised in the fortune cookie: “Great leaders inspire greatness in others.” It’s that inspirational element that makes Yoda so endearing and enduring as a character, helping to elevate the Star Wars saga as a whole from space opera to genuine epic.

Yoda’s three clone trooper escorts are at first bemused by the small green Jedi Master. Like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, they don’t at first quite know how to take him. But, as with Luke, Yoda touches each of them personally, and soon they are carried in spirit by his optimistic and empathic philosophy.

In one of the best scenes of the season, Yoda emphasises the individuality of each of the three clones and their unifying connection to the Force:

“In the Force, very different each one of you are. […] Yes, clones you may be, but the Force resides in all lifeforms: use it, you can, to quiet your mind.”

This is an important piece of dialogue for a number of reasons. Firstly, it introduces into the series the Force as a philosophy, making it more than just some Jedi superpower. Secondly, it reminds us that wisdom, not blaster-fire, is ultimately what triumphs in the end.

Rys, Jek and Thire learn much from the wisdom of Yoda.

Rys, Jek and Thire learn much from the wisdom of Yoda.

But most significantly, Yoda’s speech indirectly raises the conundrum faced by the Jedi: the clones are living, breathing, unique individuals, not droids or machines. And yet here they are: manufactured, mass-produced and bred for battle. To be a disciple and student of the Force means respecting life and cherishing that which supports it both physically and spiritually, and yet the Jedi find themselves owning slaves and leading them into a war they had no part in starting.

In Ambush, of course, Yoda leads his men to victory. But it’s a hollow victory, for it’s merely one step closer to ultimate defeat.


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