Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Jedi Order: Stagnant Philosophy

It is my belief that by the time of The Phantom Menace (32 BBY), the Jedi order had become stagnant. They had been without a strong Dark Side enemy for a millennium, and were piling policies and personal limitations upon the "Jedi Code." In a sense, they were building up the Order more as a philosophical religion than an actual peacekeeping force.

Perhaps more important was the fact that they actually became a peacekeeping force. In previous time periods, the Jedi had been soldiers in war. It was in these times--such as the Sith War (approx. 4000 BBY, chronicled in Knights of the Old Republic) and the Yuuzhan Vong War (25-29 ABY)--that the Jedi Order did not have policies prohibiting romantic attachments. Luke Skywalker married Mara Jade in full knowledge of the Old Republic Jedi Order's stance on the issue. Luke remarked that--although he didn't understand how or why--being with Mara felt "right." Considering that Luke was the first of the Jedi after the Force had been brought back into balance--and the fact that he was the catalyst for the redemption of the Chosen One and the end of the Sith--his opinion should mean quite a bit.

In the period of time before the Clone Wars, the Jedi had become stale. With no great conflict to keep them tethered to the natural world, they simply lost touch with reality, becoming more ethereal philosophers than actual warriors. This is notable because the Jedi need to be warriors. After all, they can't keep the peace without fighting for it.
This lack of "fight" may be the problem. Obi-Wan states in Revenge of the Sith that "only a Sith deals in absolutes." This may or may not mean that Jedi do not believe in absolutes (which does not seem to be true, as they often speak of an absolute light and dark), but it most definitely means that they do not always act in absolutes. This may simply mean that they have mercy, and do not always deal out harsh punishment, but it is more likely that they do not actually have any concrete concepts for actions to be taken.

In essence, the Jedi had become lost in their own rampant idealism and religion, losing their common sense. It was only after the New Jedi Order began that the true Jedi way was accepted. Qui-Gon Jinn was truly the only "true" Jedi Knight seen in the Star Wars prequels, with the possible exception of pre-Dark Side Anakin.

Of course, the truth is that the KOTOR and NJO eras were filled with war and darkside conversions. Does that mean that the Jedi of the prequel films were correct in their overly restrictive philosophy? After all, if not for the Sith secretly lying in wait for a thousand years, perhaps the Jedi would not have fallen; it's not as if too many Jedi were actually turning to the Dark Side during that time.

However, it's my belief that the Star Wars galaxy simply must be at war. History in the Star Wars universe is cyclical; a neverending loop of light and dark struggling against one another. If the stars aren't at war, something's wrong.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

TCW - "Lair of Grievous"

This was a rather cool episode, though not without many flaws/boring bits.

This episode is a great example of how The Clone Wars is making each and every Jedi unique, and it's awesome to see. Kit Fisto had a pretty cool characterization, complete with an accent and a rare fighting style. His former apprentice, Nahdar Vebb, was especially interesting, since this is the first main-character Mon Calamari to grace the screen since Admiral Ackbar. Vebb fights with a more rigid and slightly awkward fighting style than that of other Jedi; perhaps this is a result of his Calamari physiology? It would seem so, and it fit very well.

I'm happy to see an episode where Grievous is an actual threat, however I am still slightly upset at the fact that the episode's plot still revolved around Grievous's patheticness, and Grievous still couldn't beat Fisto in the end without backup from hs magnaguards.

Still, though, it was a pretty amazing moment when Fisto grabbed a second saber and revealed that he knew Jar'Kai (the two-saber style).

This is easily the best example of the amazing animation present in TCW. While the early episodes of TCW had extremely stiff animations for the saber fights, this episode really shined as the best example thus far of fluidity and attention to detail. Fisto's head-tails and sabers moved in a dazzling show of circular motion that's not been seen on TCW before. It was perhaps one of the best moments of the series thus far, even though it lasted only a few seconds.

Unfortunately, this episode doesn't hold up as well when viewed as a whole. It's certainly got some great elements, but as an overall narrative it suffers. While the Jar'Kai moment was stellar, the rest of the episode wasn't as entertaining.

Friday, December 5, 2008

TCW - "Cloak of Darkness"

This episode has raised the standard for The Clone Wars in nearly every possible way. "Cloak of Darkness" is (as its name suggests) dark, violent, and amazing.

The often-stiff animations of previous Clone Wars episodes are rarely seen in this episode. The lightsaber battles, often the weakest point of the series, are amazing here. Every strike of the saber is purposeful and well-animated, giving an ultra-stylized yet realistic feel. Without a doubt, the engine room saber fight is actually better than many of the battles seen in the Star Wars films.

Luminara Unduli's characterization was great. Yoda aside, she seems to be the only Jedi we've met thus far who is genuinely gentle. Her voice, movement, and dress all compliment her soft personality. However, she is also shown to be a great warrior. Her only real flaw is her blind belief in the superiority of the Jedi, which she eventually learns from.

One extremely notable thing about this episode is that it begins to show Ahsoka's darker side. She is most definitely the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker, as she uses force (and even fear) to accomplish her goals.

The character of Captain Argyus was very cool. His voice was excellently done by James Marsters (of Buffy and Smallville fame), and his characterization was great. His not-so-noble end was perhaps the most shocking thing seen in this show thus far, and perhaps even in all of American TV animation history. Argyus literally is stabbed through the chest and chokes on his own lung.

All in all, this episode stands as the pinnacle of storytelling in this series thus far. Its editing, animation, dialogue, and story are astounding to watch. There were very few moments in which I had to remind myself that this is a TV series with budget constraints. This may be the only episode of The Clone Wars that I can watch completely relaxed, without having to find fault.

If you watch any episode of this series, watch this one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

TCW - "Bombad Jedi"

So this was interesting.
Jar Jar works better here in The Clone Wars than he ever did in the films, but not by a lot. It seems that the Clone Wars crew is in with the audience on the fact that Jar Jar is a joke, and they properly treat him as such.

Jar Jar's antics aren't the problem with this episode; it's the fact that his antics are the only notable thing about the episode. Some interesting stuff happens here—we go to a new planet for the first time, Padmé is captured but escapes, and Nute Gunray is captured by the Republic. But all of those things are secondary to Jar Jar pretending to be a Jedi and stumbling his way into saving the day.

Thus far, we've had stories in The Clone Wars that reach epic heights of storytelling, filled with war drama, action, and all the things we expect from Star Wars. A comedy-centric episode like this one breaks that pattern, but would actually be a nice change of pace, if not for the fact that Jar Jar is hardly the best example of good comedy, even by Star Wars standards.

The best that can really be said about this episode is that it makes Jar Jar seem "not so bad" instead of awful. That's not good enough, I think, to justify the episode's existence. I would rather have had this story as a web-exclusive short rather than an entire 22-minute TCW episode.

Friday, November 14, 2008

TCW - "Duel of the Droids"

This is a bit better than last week's episode, but not by much. At the very least, was cool to see the Jedi-leading-small-team-of-soldiers-into-enemy-territory style of action scene, one of my favorites (and not seen since The Phantom Menace).

General Grievous is a threat again, for the first time since the Tartakovsky Clone Wars animated series. His cat-and-mouse chase with Ahsoka was nicely tense.

The "bumper-battle" between the astro droids was pretty funny. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I always wanted to see R2 droids try to fight each other by bumping into one another. Now my dreams have been realized. Thank you, Lucasfilm.

All in all, I actually feel like this entire 2-part story arc would have been better-served by combining both episodes into one. Instead of the whole subplot with the droid smuggler, R2 could have been stolen by Grievous immediately after the first battle, leading straight to the rescue mission. As it is, this episode is somewhat decent, but barely on the side of "pretty good" instead of boring.

Friday, November 7, 2008

TCW - "Downfall of a Droid"

This feels less on par with the previous episodes we've seen and more like the Clone Wars movie, which is very bad. Given that it was one of the first episodes produced (apparently at the same time as the movie), it's understandable, but still not enjoyable. Everything here feels like a bad first attempt: stiff animations, so-so voice acting, sub-par writing, and electronic rock music that feels horribly out of place.

If there's anything interesting about this episode, it's the fact that it implies R2 is special because his memory has never been wiped and he's been allowed to build up a personality. R2's always been This has been theorized about by fans, but it's nice to hear it confirmed directly.

There's really not a whole lot to say about the episode. It has a decent concept, but the execution is so far off the mark that it's hard to care.

Friday, October 24, 2008

TCW - "Rookies"


I had assumed that the show would stick to the usual kids' show content limits of having extremely mild language (nothing above a "darn" or "heck"), and no on-screen deaths.
I did NOT expect this episode to have three highly violent on-screen deaths, blaster shots to the face, and a trooper's exclamation of "What the HELL was that?!?"
In all honesty, I'm slightly sad that they're taking this route, as it means that my little six-year-old brother probably won't be able to watch the show anymore. At the same time, however, I'm excited to know that actual depth will be seen in the show, and that death will not be ignored in a story about war.
There were some stiff animations here, but I'm not sure you can fault the animation team for that this early in the season's production. Still, however, some of the scenes came across as extremely cheesy when they didn't need to. Perhaps the director felt the need to balance darkness with comedy?

The fact that "Rookies" focuses almost exclusively on original characters is a huge bonus. While it's great to see the characters we already know from the films, it's hard to feel too excited to see their adventures since we already know what happens to them in Revenge of the Sith. These new characters, unlike the main characters and the Jedi, are all very mortal. The fact that only two survive is a testament to how far the creators of the show are willing to go, and it's great.

"Rookies" is a story about graduating. The clone "shinies" are forced into action and end up either dead or growing up into seasoned veterans worthy of the 501st Legion. This perfectly parallels the journey that the show itself is now taking because of this episode. The show is growing up, getting more serious, and viewers will need to decide if they're on board with it or if they need to abandon ship.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

TCW - "Destroy Malevolence"

In this week's episode, Obi-Wan and Anakin board a Separatist warship in order to rescue a Republic government official. General Grievous battles Obi-Wan, but when the ship begins to go down, he flees the ship in his personal starfighter. Sound familiar? That's because it's point-for-point exactly like the opening of Revenge of the Sith. Just switch Palpatine for Padmé, exchange elevators for trains, and remove the duel with Count Dooku.

The plot of the episode has no twists or surprises whatsoever because this story has already been done before. What's worse is that it's a letdown as the final part of the Malevolence story arc. The Malevolence was essentially beaten in the last episode; its demise here is rather unspectacular. It literally is gone in a flash from a long distance away. No big explosion (that we can see), no nothing.

If there is a bright spot in this episode, it's the reunion of R2 and 3PO. Anthony Daniels lends a perfect level of authenticity to the duo, and it's fun. But it's ultimately a short bit that lasts less than 30 seconds in a 22-minute story.

This isn't a terrible episode, per se, it's just very by-the-numbers and not at all special.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

TCW - "Shadow of Malevolence"

Anakin leads a starfighter squadron on a desperate mission to destroy the Malevolence before it can attack a Republic medical station.

This episode felt more like the original trilogy than any scene in any of the prequels. The fact that it so sharply echoed the OT films in terms of visuals and lines of dialogue helped, of course, but it also echoed that same feel.

Seeing the Y-Wing starfighters from the OT, in their top-of-the-line armored-up glory, is a special treat. The fact that the battle chatter was lifted from the OT as well was really cool.
"Deflectors on, double front!"
"Watch out for those towers!"
"Shadow Twelve standing by."
It's very nostalgic, while also serving the episode itself. I don't think we need this level of homaging every week, but it's nice once in a while.

Something notable about this episode is that it continues the focus on the Jedi's concern for their clones' lives. Normally in Star Wars, pilots die left and right, but unless they're Biggs Darklighter no one cares. Here, Anakin feels guilt over losing half his squadron. It's a nice touch.

At Plo's mention of the "Nebray Mantas," I expected a swarm of ten-foot mantas to come flying out. What I didn't expect was a swarm of ten-HUNDRED-foot mantas that completely dwarfed the tiny fighters of Shadow Squadron. Definitely a "wow" moment, and one that just feels right in the Star Wars universe.

"Shadow of Malevolence" is a really fun episode that makes the starfighter geek in me very happy.

TCW - "Rising Malevolence"

After Jedi Master Plo Koon's fleet is destroyed by a massive Separatist ship, he and his clones must survive inside of an escape pod long enough for Anakin and Ahsoka to find them.

Until now, I never really thought of Plo Koon as much of anything beyond a strange background character in the prequels. And, to be fair, that's all he was at the time. However, with only his first appearance in The Clone Wars, he's already one of my favorite Jedi. He has an Alec Guinness Obi-Wan-esque vibe, which is fitting considering that he's voiced by James Arnold Taylor, the same actor who voices Obi-Wan. Much as with Yoda's portrayal in "Ambush," it's nice to have an Original Trilogy-esque character in the show.

This is a well-done, tense episode that nicely echoes bits from the films—notably the asteroid field sequences from The Empire Strikes Back. It's surprisingly grim, focusing on the concept of death, and how we choose to confront it. The clones accept their fate, believing themselves to be expendable to the Jedi. Plo and Ahsoka, however, choose to trust in the Force and hold onto hope against odds. It's an interesting philosophical contrast, and continues the trend of placing small moral messages in each episode.

On the whole, while this episode isn't quite amazing, it's very good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TCW - "Ambush"

Yoda and a squad of clones rushes to meet with the Toydarian royalty in order to negotiate passage for supply lines, but are ambushed by the Separatists.

Right from the beginning, the scale of this episode is astonishing. A massive (albeit short) space battle kicks off the story, perfectly capturing the Star Wars feel. Also, it's neat to see Toydarians other than Watto. I like how TCW is expanding the Star Wars world we already know.

"Smaller in number are we, but greater in mind," says Yoda. This is the moral crux of the episode. The battle droids are stupid and lifeless, but Yoda and the clones are intelligent living beings connected to the Force. It's a good moral, but the problem is that it's hammered home far too strongly. The battle droids have never been more stupid than they are here, and it's painful. It's impossible for the villains in a story to be a credible threat when they're so moronic that they literally kill each other by accident. Fortunately, the other side of the story, with Yoda and the clones, is far more compelling. We're told by Yoda that the clones are actual individuals within the Force—they have souls, essentially—which is a very important detail. Given that this is the first episode of The Clone Wars, it's fitting that here we establish that the clones are actual people, not cannon fodder like the droids.

Yoda's character in this episode is near-perfect. He acted like the Empire Strikes Back Yoda that we all love, rather than the rubber jumping frog from the prequels.

The best part of the episode, however, was the music. "Yoda's Theme" (arguably one of the best musical pieces in the entire saga) permeated the episode, as well it should. It's ridiculous how the theme was almost never used in the prequel films, and the fact that it exists here is absolutely wonderful.

The action in the episode varies. Every action scene leading up to the big confrontation in the canyon is childish nonsense, but that big battle is incredibly well-done. "Lopsided" is how I would describe the action in "Ambush," as with the episode as a whole. On one hand, the characterization of Yoda and the clones is awesome, but conversely, the droids (and most of the action they're involved in) are so terrible that they drag the entire story down with them.

All in all, this episode ends up being pretty decent. Not amazing, but definitely leaning on the side of rather enjoyable.

The Clone Wars TV Series

At this point in time, the first three episodes of The Clone Wars have aired. As you can see from my last post, I did not enjoy the Clone Wars film.
This series, however, is the complete opposite.

I love the TV series.

I honestly think that it feels more like the original trilogy than the prequel films do.
Yes, the battle droid jokes can get annoying, but I've actually found them genuinely funny (with some notable exceptions).
The series adds so much more than was already there; already we see new vehicles and weapons for the clones, as well as devlopments on characters that were only present in the background. Plo Koon was once just an ugly-looking Jedi Master that was shot down by his own clones in Revenge of the Sith, but now he's a really interesting character that is very entertaining to watch.

The music in the series is fantastic. It actually follows the original trilogy's example and uses the main themes. If Yoda's doing something cool, "Yoda's Theme" had better be playing. And in the very first episode, here it is.

Rather than talking more here, let's get into the actual episode-by-episode reviews themselves.