Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TCW - "Landing at Point Rain"

This may be the single best ground battle in the entire Star Wars saga.
After the short few-minute setup scene, this entire episode is one gigantic, epic, and terrible war scene. Clones die right and left; gunfire and cannon blasts fly in all directions; even our Jedi heroes cannot emerge unscathed.

Each episode in this "Geonosis arc" has its own specific focus. This episode's focus is all-out war insanity.
It draws some definite parallels to other war stories, notably D-day—which is fitting, considering Star Wars's heavy WWII connections.

More than any other battle in Star Wars' TV and movie history, this feels like a real war. The directorial style makes the viewer feel there with the characters in the middle of this conflict. As the battle goes worse and worse for the Republic heroes, their desperation becomes practically palpable.

Other notable details go a long way in helping with the overall feel. The clones, more than ever before, seem to act like real soldiers. They truly seem mortal now, rather than just token characters in an animated series. In this instance, it's actually surprising when a clone doesn't die, rather than when he does. Also, they use flamethrowers.

It's rather remarkable that this episode actually makes you fear for a few of the characters' lives. Obi-Wan in particular has a rather awesome moment where he prepares to make his last stand, despite his hopeless odds.

This is definitely one of the standout episodes of the entire series thus far. Without a doubt, it's the one with the most jaw-dropping eye candy. If you're looking for an episode to show friends (and get them hooked on the show), this is the episode to go to.

Friday, October 16, 2009

TCW - "Senate Spy"

This is the first episode of The Clone Wars where not a single shot is fired, nor a lightsaber ignited. There's literally no action to speak of. Instead, it's a highly tense romantic drama.
Unfortunately, this change of pace doesn't pay off. In a series where we expect a certain level of fun and excitement, an episode like this needed to be flat-out amazing in order to seem like anything other than a boring waste of time.

All in all, while this episode wasn't terrible, it was mostly a boring waste of time.

Friday, October 9, 2009

TCW - "Children of the Force"

In this episode, we get the conclusion of this "Cad Bane trilogy," which, according to later episodes in Season 3, is apparently not a technical trilogy. It's complicated.

This is perhaps the first Clone Wars episode that actually feels like a Star Wars movie in terms of scope. A total of four planets (and a space station) are visited, making the entire story seem more epic. Each planet, of course, gets a mere few minutes of screentime, but it's something at least.

Cad Bane's capture in this episode finally puts an end to the three-episode-long repetitious plot cycle of Cad Bane (1) initiating a daring plan to capture an object/person of value, (2) tricking the Jedi, and (3) narrowly escaping the Jedi's grasp. Finally, here, he's captured. The score is still Bane: 3, Jedi: 1, but the Jedi are definitely making a comeback. That Force-torture scene, though... that was intense. It was definitely a morally-gray thing for the Jedi to do, but it still made for a powerful scene.

I have to question why they decided to use Mustafar in this episode.  If it was used as a Sith/Separatist outpost here, why would Sidious use it again later?  It doesn't really make sense.  It raises too many questions, and doesn't give any reason why Mustafar should have been used here.  Any other planet would have been just fine.

Lastly, that scene in Bane's space station was pretty awesome.  The visual of red lasers crossing with blue and purple sabers in the dark was really great.

Overall, this was a pretty good episode.  Nothing incredible, but still pretty decent.

Friday, October 2, 2009

TCW - "Cargo of Doom"

Well, this was certainly many levels of awesome.  Right from the start, we see a nice big space battle.  One thing that I noticed is that the Venator-class Star Destroyer Resolute completely obliterates all four of the Separatist Munificent-class Star Frigates.  Apparently Separatist frigates are the space equivalent of battle droids: near-completely useless in every possible way.

Rewinding just a bit, though, there is a problem with this episode.  At the end of "Holocron Heist," Anakin was on a mission to rescue Jedi Master Bolla Ropal, and Obi-Wan firmly stated that he would find Cad Bane while he was still on Coruscant.  However, by the beginning of this episode, Bane has already escaped Coruscant, met up with a Separatist fleet, attacked Devaronia, kidnapped Ropal (and, by extension, the Kyber crystal), and was already in the middle of leaving Devaronia when Anakin finally caught up to him.  How exactly did that happen, and why don't we get to see it?  Those details seem rather important to leave out.

The next few scenes of the episode are really interesting.  First, Yularen acts like a near-insubordinate jerk.  It's definitely interesting, and I wonder how that character dynamic will develop in the future.

The use of the AT-TE walkers as dropships was pretty clever, though I find it highly unlikely that Anakin's regular outfit is actually able to function as a spacesuit.  Ahsoka's spacesuit, on the other hand, looks pretty great.  I would actually prefer that she wear that suit in the future rather than her usual Togrutan tribe-child garb.

The torture-killing of a Jedi has been called "shocking" by some, but I honestly feel like it was shocking in fact only.  It wasn't a terribly dramatic scene, perhaps because it dealt with an alien that had suction cups on his fingers.

The zero-gravity scene was amazing. Definitely one of the most original and striking action scenes in recent Star Wars memory. At one point, a clone stood upside-down on the ceiling and let loose with his Z-6 Rotary Cannon.  Because gunning while on the ceiling is awesome.

The following scene with Ahsoka was pretty great.  The shot of her centered in the hallway is really great-looking.  Speaking of Ahsoka, her "space suit" costume was pretty great, and I hope that she gets to keep it in the future.  Because seriously, she needs a better outfit. 
I actually really like the fact that Ahsoka was able to take Cad Bane down with hand-to-hand combat, even if she did just get zapped later.

The hostage exchange scene didn't make a lot of sense.  Why did Anakin unlock the crystal if he was just going to grab Ahsoka's lightsaber and attack Bane anyway?  There was no advantage in giving Bane what he wanted before attacking.  It really doesn't make any logical sense, and it bothers me.

Lastly, we see Cad Bane obviously escape in clone armor.  This makes the third episode in a row where Cad Bane has managed to accomplish his goals and narrowly escape the Jedi.  At this point, it's not cool anymore.  It's just annoying.

In the end, this is a very fun episode, with a couple of major flaws.

TCW - "Holocron Heist"

So here we are.  Season 2 of The Clone Wars.  It's pretty good thus far.

It starts off with one of the most epic battles we've seen yet, as the Republic forces retreat from Felucia.  This is very cool for continuity's sake, as we later see in Revenge of the Sith that Felucia is still a battleground.

Seeing Plo Koon in a starfighter dogfight is a lot of fun, even if it only serves as exposition for the overall battle.
Considering how much work the production crew must have put into creating Felucia--all those giant fungi must have been hell to digitally craft--it seems odd that they would only use it in the first few minutes of one episode.  I sense a return to this planet in the future.

The subplot involving Ahsoka's disobedience is a little puzzling, however.  While she was initially resistant to her orders, she ultimately followed them.  Anakin did the same thing in Attack of the Clones, yet he wasn't reprimanded in the slightest. (Maybe the Jedi Council figured that he'd been punished enough after having his arm cut off?)  Why is Ahsoka punished so badly in this instance?  Is it because this instance is only adding to the already-extensive list of her past acts of over-aggression?

Ahsoka's punishment scene was almost jarring, in a good way.  The tone, voice acting, and animation all seemed perfectly genuine and personal, which isn't normal for this show.  It's also great to see ANYTHING in this show that DOES NOT HAVE TO DO WITH BATTLE.  Fighting is all well and good, but the nonstop action in The Clone Wars is sometimes too much.  It's important to slow down and give the viewers a chance to get to know the characters in times of peace as well as in times of conflict.

The plot of Cad Bane and his Clawdite companion was pretty smart.  It seemed highly plausible, and the fact that the Jedi were able to lose the battle while not seeming incompetent is a credit to the writing crew.

The Jedi Temple is a favorite thing of mine in Star Wars canon.  I grew up reading about young Obi-Wan's adventures in the Jedi Apprentice book series, which included at least one story about an intruder in the temple.  This story was delightfully nostalgic for me.

Seeing Jocasta Nu was cool, even if I have a severe dislike for the character.  (I mean, seriously.  She looks like a Sith Lord.)
Ahsoka's adventure in the Jedi Archives was fun.  Normally we only get to see Ahsoka as a cocky brat, but here she's acting like a genuinely nice young girl.

The rest of the episode is relatively straightforward.  In fact, that may be its only detriment: aside from the opening few minutes dealing with Ahsoka, the rest of the story is rather ho-hum.  Bane is very nearly caught, but manages to sneakily escape with his prize.

There is one pretty awesome surprise at the end: a mention of the Kyber crystal.
Now, the Kyber crystal is somewhat of a holy grail in Star Wars lore.  In early drafts of A New Hope, the Kyber crystal was a way of focusing the Force and amplifying a Jedi's power.  In several later Star Wars novels and games, the "Kaiburr" crystal was described as multiplying a Jedi's power by a thousand times, and shards of the crystal could be used in lightsabers to multiply their power as well.
The crystal mentioned in this episode is certainly not the same "Kaiburr" crystal from the EU, but it's still an extremely important and powerful object: it contains a list of every known Force-sensitive child in the galaxy.

All in all, however, this episode is a little boring in hindsight.  It's not bad by any means, and it's extremely well-made, but it serves more as a set-up for future episodes than a great story in its own right.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jedi Funeral

Everyone knows about the Jedi funeral pyre scenes in Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. They're iconic and awesome. After my dad was cremated, my grandmother was upset until I reminded her that cremation is the Jedi custom. Then she got all excited.
Yes, that is how geeky we are.


Seriously. I mean, in The Phantom Menace, we only see the flames surround the edges of Qui-Gon's head. His right boot is starting to crumble, but otherwise he looks fine. Not long after the camera cuts away, however, the onlookers were probably staring at his sizzling, blackened flesh peeling slowly off his face. Eww.
Not to mention the smell...

Now, Vader was contained within his black armor. He probably cooked all nice and neatly inside there like chicken in an oven. But Qui-Gon? That's just nasty.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clone Wars update

It looks like Season 2 is going to be really great. From all the clips I've seen, the show looks better in every single respect.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Expanded Universe / The Karentraversy

A recent issue has come up as of late. Karen Traviss, author of the Republic Commando series of expanded universe novels, has posted on her blog that she is leaving Star Wars writing behind. Apparently, the established "canon" of Star Wars has changed with the new stories being told in the Clone Wars TV series, and was forced to either write books that would introduce massive retcons to her already-established stories or simply walk away. She chose the latter.

This has caused some controversy--or, as The ForceCast's Jason Swank put it, "Karentraversy." If the canon of the Expanded Universe is being messed up, does that mean that the hundreds of Star Wars EU stories that have been written are no longer reliable sources of Star Wars information?

But then the other thing to ask is "what is EU?" Does it include the film novelizations? After all, the novelizations of the original trilogy aren't completely accurate. What about the "official guides"? I'm not talking about the books that are very clearly based in the EU, such as The New Essential Chronology or The New Essential Guide to Characters; I mean the books such as The Visual Dictionary, which is marketed as an official visual guide to the established canon of the films. I read the Revenge of the Sith Visual Dictionary, and one passage directly referenced a story from the Jedi Apprentice series of young adult novels. Does that mean that the Visual Dictionary has upgraded that other EU story to G-canon level, or does it mean that the Visual Dictionary does not canon information? Or does it simply mean that only that one quote is incorrect, while the rest of the book may be treated as canon? It's just too complicated.
Until the 2008 Clone Wars series, Star Wars canon was unified. The New Essential Chronology had been published, and it told a story that seamlessly interwove all the Star Wars stories from the comics, novels, games, and films into a single, wonderful, millennia-spanning tale.

But now, with The Clone Wars apparently causing Karentraversy in canon, all of that may be threatened. Does this mean that all there is to the Star Wars universe is the films and the Clone Wars TV series? That's definitely not what Lucasfilm has been claiming for a very long time. In the Star Wars Insider Magazine,, and many other sources, Lucasfilm has used Expanded Universe material to answer questions from fans and inform them of Star Wars's continuity.

Now, I don't believe that the Karentraversy is going to ruin the Expanded Universe. I really doubt that anything extremely major is going to occur. However, in principle I'm rather upset. I don't want to see the Star Wars franchise thrown into chaos over what should be relatively minor issues.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Clone Wars - Season 1 Retrospective

So we've finally reached the end of Season 1; the 22 episodes are through.

All in all, there are mixed results. Some episodes really stand out, whilst others are instantly forgettable.

Ambush - 3/5
Good, but not amazing. Too many battle droid jokes.

Rising Malevolence - 4/5
A great, simple episode. Good introduction of Plo Koon.

Shadow of Malevolence - 4/5
A very fun space battle evocative of the Original Trilogy.

Destroy Malevolence - 3/5
Nice, but slightly anticlimactic.

Rookies - 4/5
Very cool, and surprisingly mature.

Downfall of a Droid - 3/5
A good episode, but not great.

Duel of the Droids - 4/5
A very good action episode. The droid bump-battle was hilarious.

Bombad Jedi - 2/5
Not a completely terrible episode, but not terribly great, either.

Cloak of Darkness - 5/5
Amazing characterization and fight choreography, with pervasive darkness.

Lair of Grievous - 3/5
Great intro for Kit Fisto, but not the best episode overall.

Dooku Captured - 2/5
Nothing special.

The Gungan General - 1/5
An insult to the viewers' intelligence.

Jedi Crash - 4/5
Extremely cool, and great characterization.

Defenders of Peace - 3/5
Decent, but not too great. A bit disappointing as the second part of its arc.

Trespass - 4/5
Absolutely great visual style with a good story to match.

The Hidden Enemy - 3/5
Interesting, but ultimately strange on multiple levels.

Blue Shadow Virus - 1/5
Terrible writing.

Mystery of a Thousand Moons - 2/5
Jumbled and convoluted.

Storm Over Ryloth - 4/5
A good tactical/space battle episode, with some great Ahsoka development thrown in.

Innocents of Ryloth - 5/5
Maybe not amazing, but a great episode in every sense.

Liberty on Ryloth - 4/5
A fun and slightly deep adventure.

Hostage Crisis - 4/5
Some great characterizations and maturity, yet also anticlimactic.

I have a few picks from the 22 episodes that I think particularly stand out, for very different reasons.

1: Rookies
This episode showed us that the show is willing to go to some rather dark places, showing literal self-sacrifice, on-screen death, and mild swearing. Hell yes.

2: Cloak of Darkness
Here we finally saw lightsaber battles that looked perfectly realistic, as well as editing that kept everything flowing wonderfully. Punctuated by the shockingly violent end of Argyus, this episode rivals "Rookies" in its darkness.

3: Jedi Crash
The opening battle scene in the skies is flat-out amazing, even if the rest of the episode isn't.

4: Trespass
The completely altered "snowy" visual style is entertaining just for the sheer novelty.

5: Innocents of Ryloth
A great episode that humanized the war, giving the viewer an emotional tie to the conflict.

6: Hostage Crisis
The Clone Wars without its hands tied. Great characterization and no-punches-pulled action. (Ziro does bring it down, however)

My review scores for this season average out to about 3.27 (OMG!), or 65%. The stories really were all over the place, with some being great stories worthy of the Star Wars name and others being trash.

The animation was really lacking in many of the early episodes, but got stunningly better in "Cloak of Darkness" and "Lair of Grievous."

The music seemed to be great in the first episode, with the classic John Williams theme for Yoda being used extremely well in "Ambush," but afterward the music became simply "good for a television series," and not anywhere near the level that real Star Wars music should be at. Perhaps if other episodes had had better music, they would have evoked stronger emotions, and ultimately been better.

Another complaint I have is with the "moral messages" that the writers seemed to be throwing into the show. In a 22-minute episode, there may not be enough time to really examine many of the moral messages that episodes like "Defenders of Peace" and "Liberty on Ryloth" attempted to tackle. I would much rather that political/ideological messages be left out of these 22-minute stories unless they are going to be treated with enough maturity and care as to fully utilize such a message. To date, no episodes have yet done that.

The sheer level of detail in the series, however, is astounding. The facial animations in particular are to be lauded, as they are extremely expressive, and rarely wooden.

All in all, I'm happy with Season 1 of The Clone Wars, but I still wish that it had been better. Perhaps my view is spoiled because of the incredible Clone Wars micro-series, which had all manner of depth, emotion, and poignancy despite the restrictions of its format. In comparing the two series, I think that I prefer the micro-series, as it had more emotional impact and character development (and utilized the John Williams music to a great degree).
However, this new series may, in fact, become much better in seasons to come; it's hard to tell. I feel like this series may be held back by the fact that it's controlled by George Lucas himself, who can come up with amazing ideas but not always make them work out in their final form.

Still, however, this season was a good start. Lots of feedback is being sent to Lucasfilm, and the series's director, Dave Filoni, definitely seems to be listening intently. At this point, it seems like the series will only get better.

Friday, March 20, 2009

TCW - "Hostage Crisis"

This is by far the most violent episode of The Clone Wars thus far. We get on-screen neck breaks and an execution shot to the back. Fun. ^-^

On a lighter note, this may be the first time we've seen Anakin and Padmé's relationship not be completely awkward and creepy. It's true that Anakin's "romantic gesture" was a stupid, stupid thing to do, but hey, at least the dialogue didn't sound horrible. This scene made their relationship seem sweet, rather than forbidden and terrible as it was seen in the films.

Cade Bane's character is very original for Star Wars, and it's nice to have him here. He's not my favorite bounty hunter, but he's pretty cool nonetheless. The fact that he was rescuing ZIRO, of all people, however, was a little silly. Still, he'll be a great character to have around in Season 2, which actually brings me to my next point.

This episode seemed more like a preview of Season 2 than an actual episode. If it had not been the final episode in a season, I'd have no problem. However, the fact that this episode doesn't really have much of a resolution is problematic. Bane just walks in, grabs Ziro, and leaves. That's it. There's not much real emotional drama here like we just saw with the Ryloth trilogy. What we do have is very cool, but still rather disappointing. The only thing that's really won or lost in this episode is Ziro, and do we really care about him?

On a last note, it was really great to see Aurra Sing in action, since she's one of those characters that is only barely seen in the films, yet is cool enough to warrant much more. (being a fallen Jedi and all) She can and should become a much bigger character in future episodes.

All in all, this was really more of an epilogue or a preview than a finale. It was definitely a cool episode, but was more like the first act of Die Hard (where the villains take over) without the rest of the story (where John McClane strikes back).

Friday, March 13, 2009

TCW - "Liberty on Ryloth"

They should have titled this episode "The Wrath of Mace Windu." Not a complaint; just an observation.

It's interesting to see how the different episodes of "The Ryloth Trilogy" each examine the Clone Wars from a different perspective. "Storm Over Ryloth" looked at the war from the military commanders' perspective, "Innocents of Ryloth" gave us a glimpse at the way the civilians see the war, and "Liberty on Ryloth" shows us the political side.

In this episode, we get to see the "Radical Revolutionary vs Pudgy Politician" conflict, and I'm not sure it entirely worked. It's nice that they're working in all of the important political detail in this show, but it doesn't always work. This episode really only gave us a glimpse at what was going on in Ryloth's political arena, but a longer story (filled with some good back-and-forth drama) would have served that angle better.

However, one thing that was shown surprisingly well was the cruelty of the Separatists.

They BOMBED a VILLAGE filled with women and children. Just as the Republic troops are talking about giving out food to the villagers, they turn around to see the entire village DEAD. It was an extremely well-done scene.

The Mace Windu action scenes were very cool; some of the best stuff seen on this show yet. His use of the shatterpoint technique against the glass was taken straight from the Star Wars novels, which I always appreciate.

Overall, this was a good episode, but not completely amazing.