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Landing at Point Rain

November 10, 2009

After the more leisurely-paced episode Senate Spy (and then a three-week break), The Clone Wars has returned with action galore in Landing at Point Rain. This is a 22-minute slice of intensity from a larger war epic — think the D-Day landing sequence from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan crossed with Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down — and it opens a four-part story arc that will continue in the coming weeks. (Senate Spy essentially functioned as a prelude.)

The war returns to Geonosis

The war returns to Geonosis

With the earlier discovery of a new droid foundry on Geonosis, Generals Skywalker, Kenobi and Mundi lead a landing party to take down the shield generator protecting the foundry, ultimately hoping to destroy the facility and capture Geonosian leader Poggle the Lesser. But things don’t exactly go as planned, and Anakin Skywalker and Ki-Adi-Mundi must journey to the rendezvous point on foot, fending-off legions of armed Geonosians in the process.

There isn’t a clear, direct link between the fortune cookie and the episode this week (“Believe in yourself or no one else will”) though it is a truism that is particularly relevant to leaders in battles as well as to life in general. But the most interesting moments of Landing at Point Rain are quieter than the bombast on display  — they come from the world-weary demeanour of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he contemplates the price of war.

“What I worry about is the way this war seems to be drawing-out with no end in sight,” Obi-Wan remarks in the opening scene, all too aware that the need to revisit Geonosis does not bode well for the continuing efforts of the Republic. As he prepares to return to the barren rock planet that was home to the first battle in the ongoing Clone Wars, he can’t help but reflect on the events of that fateful day. There’s a real sense that nothing has changed despite the best efforts of the Jedi, and yet real people continue to die on the battlefield.

To drive the point home, clones die left, right and centre in Landing at Point Rain, with at least one hapless trooper being carried off by a Geonosian, presumably to face a fate worse than death. Flamethrowers are employed as Geonosians swarm in from all directions, and these bug-like aliens begin to writhe in agony as they burn to death. This is ugly stuff, and as the look on Obi-Wan’s face shows as the battle rages on, there are no winners in such a blood-soaked enterprise.

Flamethrowers

"Bring in the flamethrowers!"

Anakin and Ahsoka, meanwhile, jokingly compare kill-counts in a game of one-upmanship. “I’ll never understand how you can simplify these battles into some kind of game,” is the extent of Obi-Wan’s reaction, yet this difference in attitudes sums up perfectly the gulf between the philosophies of the Jedi Master and his former Padawan. Anakin’s cavalier attitude to war reflects his ego-centric view of life in general, ultimately leading him to make certain momentous decisions in Revenge of the Sith.

The role of General is a serious one, with the lives of all those under you resting on your shoulders. Obi-Wan has accepted this new responsibility by acting not as a single man but as a part of a larger whole — on the battlefield, he is simply General Kenobi: no more, no less. Anakin, on the other hand, is first and foremost interested in serving his own ego, showing-off for the sake of it and just generally acting as if the war is being provided for him to prove his abilities.

Joseph Campbell, in Pathways to Bliss, recounts the tale of a certain samurai:

His overlord had been killed, and his vow was, of course, absolute loyalty to this lord. And it was his duty now to kill the killer. Well, after considerable difficulties, he finally backs this fellow into a corner, and he is about to slay him with his katana, his sword, which is the symbol of his honor. And the chap in the corner is angry and terrified, and he spits on the samurai, who sheathes his sword and walks away.

Why did the samurai sheath his sword? Had he killed the man in a personal act of vengeance, he would have no longer acted as a samurai but instead in the service of his own ego. I leave as an exercise for the reader the determination of who, between Obi-Wan and Anakin, would have withdrawn their lightsaber in such a situation.

True heroes don’t fight for the glory or the fame: they fight only because they must. It’s not about how many kills you make or what fancy moves you can pull-off. As Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back, “War does not make one great.” At the end of the day, it’s all in the attitude.

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