Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It Needs to be Personal

There've been some pretty incredible episodes recently on The Clone Wars. Many fans have noted that the recent Darth Maul/Mandalorian story arc, ending with the super-climactic "The Lawless," is perhaps the best story the show has done yet. With big things happening with Darth Maul, Palpatine, and the entire planet of Mandalore, there are huge implications for the saga as a whole. Many have also noted that the following episode, "Sabotage," featuring Ahsoka in a CSI-style murder mystery, felt lackluster by comparison. Personally, however, I disagree.

For all the Mauldalorian arc's epicness, for all of its direct ties to the primary characters, and for all its major events, much of it felt too impersonal. Some of that is undoubtedly because the story is following villain characters that we're not supposed to relate to anyway. A lot of it, however, is probably due to the rapid-fire pacing of the episodes, which doesn't give the drama time to breathe.

[spoilers for The Clone Wars season 5]

In the span of two episodes, we have the Mandalorian government being overthrown, a civil war breaking out, an A New Hope-style rescue attempt, the deaths of three major characters, and Palpatine coming into physical conflict with Maul and Savage. That is entirely too much for two episodes to handle properly. If the arc added two or three more episodes, more could have been done better. What if one of the episodes focused entirely on Obi-Wan and his quest to save Satine? As it happened, he basically landed on Mandalore, watched Satine die, then left. He didn't appear to actually have any impact on the story whatsoever, and his scenes were almost running in parallel with—instead of intersecting—the main plot. It was a side story, essentially. I'd also like to have seen a Bo-Katan-centric episode, dealing with her struggles to unite the Mandalore-loyal warriors against the now-Maul-led Death Watch. Having her side of the story only seen in glimpses seems odd.

Now, I do think the episodes were still extremely well-done. My gripe is that, in the end, after watching "The Lawless," I felt more like I'd watched an episode than experienced a story. It was hard to entirely get lost in the drama of it all when it was so obviously cut down to its bare bones and left at a cliffhanger. When I first saw "The Lawless," I didn't quite understand why it didn't impact me as much as I thought it should. However, after seeing "Sabotage," it's becoming clearer.

"Sabotage" is paced properly and has epic-scale cinematography that perfectly mimics the films. Because of this, the stage is set better for the actual story. What's more important, however, is the way the episode deals with character. Ahsoka is given the spotlight, clearing most other characters out of the way. Instead of having Maul, Savage, Vizla, Palpatine, Satine, Obi-Wan, and Bo-Katan all fighting for center stage, Ahsoka is allowed to breathe, letting us follow her adventure and live through her in the story itself.

This goes back to the central tenet of the Star Wars original trilogy: the story must be personal in order to be powerful. The prequel films lacked such a character as well as a cinematography crafted to support a character-based narrative. The sequel trilogy absolutely, completely needs a character-based story that feels personal in order to recapture what truly makes Star Wars special.

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