Archive for the ‘The Clone Wars’ Category

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Weapons Factory

November 27, 2009

Following on from the Clone Wars episode Landing at Point Rain, Weapons Factory continues to highlight the rather unorthodox methodology of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. There is a fundamental disconnect between Anakin’s understanding of right and wrong and that of the Jedi Order, and in the final minutes of this episode, we see just how great that disconnect is.

With the mission to destroy the shield generator a success, it’s now up to Anakin and Ahsoka to destroy the Geonosian droid foundry itself. With the addition of Jedi Master Luminara Unduli and her Padawan, Barriss Offee, the group decide to split-up: Anakin and Luminara will distract the Geonosian forces with a rather straightforward configuration of troops while Ahsoka and Barriss sabotage the foundry from within.

Luminara Unduli and Anakin Skywalker team-up on Geonosis

But, as obliquely hinted at with this episode’s fortune cookie (“No gift is more precious than trust”), Anakin is unsure about the idea of the two Padawans being given such responsibility. The notion of “trust”, however, is a red herring: Anakin is simply uncomfortable with losing control of Ahsoka and allowing her a degree of autonomy.

From the very first moments of Weapons Factory, Anakin undermines Ahsoka at every opportunity, not once giving her the opportunity to grow as a leader or as a Jedi. By allowing Ahsoka to grow, Anakin risks losing the relationship they’ve formed. Like the Mother personality in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho — keeping her son, Norman, as unnaturally frozen in time as the stuffed animals that adorn his office — Anakin cannot allow Ahsoka to mature, for if he does, he loses the child he now cares for.

This then manifests as a rather paradoxical Master/Padawan relationship. Anakin must at once keep Ahsoka in the role of “child” and yet, simultaneously, he must be sure not to mentor her too well, lest she “grow up”. The result is a kind of “big brother” role, where doesn’t so much mentor as hector.

It is not surprising, then, that when Barriss first encounters the pair, they are (rather publicly) at each other’s throats, behaving more as out-of-control siblings than as in-control master and apprentice. Luminara and Barriss, on the other hand, present as calm and respectful of each other’s role in the relationship. The styles of Anakin and Luminara are like night and day.

And so once the two Padawans inevitably become cut-off from the group, the differences in approach between Anakin and Luminara are truly apparent. Luminara remains calm, having made peace with either possible outcome; Anakin, meanwhile, becomes belligerent, mistaking Luminara’s enlightened detachment for cold-hearted indifference.

Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee prepare to enter the catacombs of the droid foundry

Anakin’s attitude represents a complete misreading of both Jedi and, in our world, Buddhist philosophy. It’s not that you don’t care or turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, but rather that you accept that death is necessarily a part of life — no amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth will change an outcome, whatever it may be. You can (and should) be an active force for good in the world, just as the Jedi are, and yet still be willing to accept that life itself is a grand work of art, and both joy and sorrow, comedy and tragedy, give the finished, rendered piece its beauty.

“It’s not that I gave up, Skywalker, but unlike you, when the time comes, I am prepared to let my student go,” Luminara tells Anakin. “Can you say the same?”

Whether Ahsoka eventually dies, graduates or turns to the Dark Side (as unlikely as that may be), I think we all know the answer to Luminara’s rather pointed question.

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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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Ambush

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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Senate Spy

October 19, 2009

In the fourth episode of this second season of The Clone Wars, we see yet another experiment in genre, this time integrating the thriller into the Star Wars universe. Senate Spy, apparently based on the Alfred Hitchcock classic Notorious, mixes intrigue with stunning locales, all-the-while setting-up a new story arc that will continue for several episodes to come.

Padme Amidala has been requested by the Jedi Council to spy on Rush Clovis, a fellow senator and delegate of the InterGalactic Banking Clan, in order to uncover ties between the Banking Clan and the Separatists. But Amidala and Clovis were once “good friends”, leading Anakin Skywalker to worry that the flame of romance may be rekindled between his (secret) wife and this charming Scipian.

Padme Amidala and Rush Clovis share a dinner on Coruscant

Padme Amidala and Rush Clovis share a dinner on Coruscant

The fortune cookie this week refers to Anakin’s jealousy: “A true heart should never be doubted.” Jealousy and possessiveness, of course, are functions of unhealthy attachment — that which ultimately turns Anakin to the Dark Side — but here we get to see a gentler, and sometimes more humorous take on the same theme, as Anakin tosses Clovis around in the back of a Naboo star skiff with some deliberately rough piloting. And, once again, the idea that “duty” should supersede personal considerations is raised, but also in a more light-hearted manner.

In terms of political machinations, however, this has to be one of the most densely-packed episodes to date, nicely fleshing-out the relationships between corporate entities, the Separatists and the Republic, while also adding a few new twists in the process.

The important point to remember is that the InterGalactic Banking Clan never openly aligned themselves with the Separatists in Attack of the Clones. They may have agreed to help equip and arm the Separatist forces, but this agreement was made behind closed doors. As Senate Spy reveals, ostensibly the Banking Clan merely manages debts between lending institutions and debtors such as the Trade Federation, as well as other related transactions (presumably on a suitably large scale). Business is business, after all.

Similarly, the Trade Federation may be conspiring with Count Dooku, but just as in the case of the Battle of Naboo, we have a situation where an organising body can remain untainted despite the actions of its viceroy. Captain Panaka may have had tough words to say at the end of The Phantom Menace (i.e. “I think you can kiss your trade franchise goodbye”), but nothing eventuated. Why should things be different this time?

Lott Dod, delegate for the Trade Federation

Lott Dod, delegate for the Trade Federation

Here we have a political climate which allows for corporate interests to not just lobby senators, but to actually have representatives in the Galactic Senate itself. How could there ever be justice or fairness in such a world?

One on level, George Lucas is commenting on the enormous power wielded by corporate interests in our own world. The tobacco lobby, for example, represents the interests of companies who continue to sell a product featuring known chemical carcinogens, yet the lobby itself still exists and still has great political power. Giving them a seat in the Senate would really just be the logical extension of these politics of corruption.

On a deeper level, the question here really is, can your ethics be bought and sold? If you’re a hero on his journey, you need to turn away from that call to the Dark Side: like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, you resist the temptation, pull back and even take a leap into the unknown rather than sell your soul.

But others instead choose not to rise to the challenge: they serve their own egos first and foremost, and so, of course, they turn a blind eye to corruption, thereby becoming corrupt themselves. This is indeed “the quick and easy path”, and it’s not just a danger in that galaxy far, far away.

Will you be a hero? Will you accept the call to adventure and turn away from the Dark Side of the Force? Heroes and heroines are made, not born — they are every man or woman who ignores temptation and continues on their journey, no matter the personal cost. We can all be heroes, if we make that same choice.

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Children of the Force

October 12, 2009

The third episode of broadcast season 2 of The Clone Wars is the third episode of the second production season; it’s also the first episode to be seen that demonstrates the quantum leap in production values between the two seasons. The lighting is more atmospheric and the CG character models are far more expressive. In terms of just sheer look-and-feel, the closest comparison would be to the difference between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

In Children of the Force, Cad Bane continues his mission to kidnap Force-sensitive children on behalf of Darth Sidious, using the Jedi holocron as his guide. Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu must set things right before Bane’s client can achieve his goal.

Cad Bane consults with Darth Sidious

Cad Bane consults with Darth Sidious

The fortune cookie for this week’s episode advises that “[t]he first step to correcting a mistake is patience.” Again, this refers back to the previous episode, Cargo of Doom, where Ahsoka advised Anakin to be patient in his pursuit of Bane.

But the two most interesting moments in Children of the Force are casual asides that are almost glossed-over. The Star Wars films (and each of the prequel films in particular) have always possessed a rather subversive quality, where the main thematic point is often hidden due to deliberate misdirection on George Lucas’ part. Recall the Battle of Geonosis, where the Republic battles the Separatists in an epic struggle of Good versus Evil, and yet the cinematic language says otherwise.

The first moment to look out for is when Anakin and Ahsoka land on Naboo. Ahsoka asks to “take the lead” because she has “a score to settle”. Anakin, not the wisest of the Jedi, agrees to Ahsoka’s request without hesitation. This is a direct contradiction of the fortune cookie: patience, a foregoing of Ego-driven impulses, is quite opposed to personal vendettas and an all-too-eager pursuit of one’s enemies. The Force was not guiding Anakin and Ahsoka that day.

Anakin Skywalkerand Ahsoka Tano arrive on Naboo in pursuit of Bane

Anakin Skywalkerand Ahsoka Tano arrive on Naboo in pursuit of Bane

The second moment occurs after the interrogation of Bane. Chancellor Palpatine wants a full report on the Jedi’s progress on the matter; Obi-Wan objects, stating that this is purely an internal matter, but Anakin counters with the observation that as the Jedi are acting as a military force, they are now subject to full governmental oversight.

This is how the Jedi Order has become irreparably compromised. By becoming Generals in a (manufactured) war, the Jedi can no longer function as autonomous peacekeepers, instead acting on behalf of the Chancellor himself. Once they discover the truth — that they have been working in the service of a Sith Lord — they cannot confront him without it being an act of treason.

They have been boxed into a corner from which they cannot hope to escape. This will be their ultimate undoing, and in reality, the Chosen One has very little to do with it.

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Cargo of Doom

October 11, 2009

The second episode of the season 2 premiere of The Clone Wars sees Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, pursue the cunning bounty hunter Cad Bane in an attempt to regain the stolen Jedi holocron. Meanwhile, Bane tortures General Bolla Ropal in the hopes of getting him to unlock the holocron, thereby meeting Bane’s objectives.

The most talked-about aspect of this episode must surely be the zero-G battle sequence. It truly is a thing of beauty, and director Rob Coleman should be commended for how adeptly he pulls it off. (This is not surprising; his episodes are always stunningly cinematic.) But from a writing standpoint, the real drawcard here is the thematic continuity between this episode and the previous one, Holocron Heist.

Anakin battles Bane in a zero-G environment

Anakin battles Bane in a zero-G environment

“Overconfidence is the most dangerous form of carelessness” declares the fortune cookie for Cargo of Doom — a core theme throughout the entire Star Wars saga. Overconfidence was the downfall of the Jedi Order, the Achilles heel of the Empire and the one thing Yoda warned Luke against when confronting the Emperor. In Holocron Heist, Ahsoka’s overconfidence manifested in her disobeying orders on the battlefield: there, it resulted in her being moved to guard duties; in Cargo of Doom, however, it almost costs her her life.

It’s one of those paradoxes of life that the more we learn, the more aware we become of just how much we don’t actually know. This is far too scary an idea for some people to face: they latch onto religious dogma, political ideologies… anything to provide the illusion of certainty. These are the people who refuse the call to adventure, instead holing themselves up inside their personal comfort zones.

Then there are those who embrace the call. They are willing to “let go” and let the Force guide them, so-to-speak.

In Cargo of Doom we have a moment of great irony, as Ahsoka follows in her Master’s footsteps as she impulsively pursues Bane just as Anakin did with Dooku in Attack of the Clones. “I’m not impressed,” she quips to Bane, believing she has bested him. Yet soon the tables are turned, and she becomes Bane’s captive.

Ahsoka, captured by Bane

Ahsoka, captured by Bane

Here, once again, we see the price paid by those not fully willing to surrender to the Force. The Ego, the seat of consciousness, is throwing its weight around while the Self, that which speaks to us when we quiet our mind, hardly gets a look-in. This is the real crux of the tension between knowledge and wisdom. Ahsoka has been well-trained — she has knowledge to spare — but her wisdom is solely lacking. She has yet to fully embrace the Force on its own terms.

By the end of the episode, however, Ahsoka herself is reminding Anakin to be patient — in other words, to listen to the Force, the Self — as he runs off in pursuit of Bane. He claims to be determined to retrieve the holocron, but is it a noble cause driving him, or is it really just a personal vendetta against Bane, now that he has hurt someone Anakin feels close to (i.e. Ahsoka)? Yoda observed as far back as the Clone Wars feature that having a Padawan would force Anakin to confront his issues with attachment. And attachment, of course, is all about the Ego.

If Ahsoka is slowly learning the truly Ego-less intent of the Jedi, Anakin’s still not listening to his higher Self. And it will cost him more than he could possibly imagine.

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Holocron Heist

October 11, 2009

In Holocron Heist, the debut episode of season 2 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, things are really heating up. Season 1 introduced new characters and laid the groundwork for the story about to come; if season 1 was the first act, season 2 is the start of the second act — the meat of the story.

Bounty hunter Cad Bane (introduced in the season 1 finale, Hostage Crisis) has been tasked by Darth Sidious to steal a Jedi Holocron from the Temple for reasons as-yet unknown. Meanwhile, Ahsoka Tano has been put on guard duty after disobeying orders in a battle on Felucia, and coincidentally, she happens to be guarding the Holocrons in question. It therefore falls on the shoulders of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka herself to thwart this daring heist.

Ahsoka Tano battles Separatists on Felucia

Ahsoka Tano battles Separatists on Felucia

One of the pleasures of watching The Clone Wars is in seeing various genres pop-up that were rarely seen in the films themselves. Here we have a classic heist episode, complete with schematic analysis, elaborate disguises and a good, old-fashioned laser-based alarm system. George Lucas has always loved a good homage, and here is no exception — it’s very nicely done, in fact. It doesn’t feel at all out-of-place in the Star Wars universe, either.

The other interesting thing to note is the effect Anakin’s mixed signals are having on his Padawan. Throughout season 1, he advised Ahsoka to be guided by her own agenda yet still respect authority (or at least feign respect). She blatantly disobeys orders on the battlefield in the first act, pursuing the enemy at all cost — clearly an artefact of Anakin’s rather warped point-of-view.

Cad Bane and Clawdite changeling Cato Parasitti plan the heist

Cad Bane and Clawdite changeling Cato Parasitti plan the heist

In Jungian terms, this relates back to Anakin’s unbalanced Introverted attitude, where external demands (such as a duty to respect the chain of command) fade into the distance, with a kind of ego-driven impulsiveness taking precedence. One need only recall Anakin’s headstrong attempt to best Count Dooku at the climax of Attack of the Clones to see the root of Ahsoka’s disobedience. (Luckily, she hasn’t lost a limb… yet.)

“A lesson learned is a lesson earned” is the fortune cookie for this episode. If Ahsoka really has learnt her lesson, there may be hope for her yet. Sadly, Anakin still has over 20 years of suffering to endure before his lessons are learnt — for that, he needs to be reminded of the power of human compassion.