Sunday, April 10, 2011

Clone Wars Season 3 Review


After the conclusion of the widely appreciated Boba Fett arc of Season 2, fans of the Clone Wars series greatly looked forward to the next season. The creators of the show promised deeper writing, improved animation, and mind-blowing stories. The initial trailers showed a stunning battle on Kamino and the intriguing ability of Ahsoka to see the future in her dreams. After it was revealed that Darth Maul's brother, Savage Opress, would enter the series and that the Nightsisters clan would be introduced, anticipation reached a fever pitch. By most accounts, the third season started off with a bang with the marvelously animated Kamino episodes, but the ship started to leak with the following political episodes. From time to time, fan favorite villains like Cad Bane provided highlights, but for the most part, the first half of the season left fans disappointed. The creators of the series urged the fans that the plots of these episodes did have a purpose that would be illustrated in the future, but we have yet to see how they tie into the frontline stories.

But just when excitement surrounding the series was at an all time low, the second half rocketed the experience into light-speed with the amazing Nightsisters arc. The latter half continued to delight fans with an outstanding trilogy of trilogies that drew their energy from the Star Wars films themselves and reached new heights in the visual achievement of the series. Finally the season concluded with an arc that showed off the animation capabilities of the show, and introduced more characters from the films into the series. Ultimately Season 3 was a story of two halves, one that left fans scratching their heads and one that left them picking their jaws up off the floor. Inside these vastly different parts, I see 7 distinct story-lines; I will give my opinion on each of them and speculate where they are going.

Series I: The Clone Wars

Episodes: Clone Cadets, ARC Troopers, Supply Lines

Summary: Clone troopers are led by the Jedi, fight against the Separatists, and ultimately are being manipulated by the Dark Lord of the Sith. Yet they remain central to the story of the Clone Wars. They are the souls on the frontlines at the center of the war named after them. One of the earliest episodes of the series told a story from the perspective of the clones. Rookies was loved by fans and remains one of the most beloved episodes to this day. The creators brilliantly decided to bookend this hallmark episode, with stories that told the origin and further adventures of its characters, while adding a few new ones along the way. The stories about the war continued with Supply Lines, an episode that set up another fan favorite, Ambush.

Assessment: The animation in these episodes was a notch above that of the previous season. The depiction of the watery planet of Kamino was an outstanding achievement in the series. The battle that ensued was on an epic scale that rivaled Season 2's Landing At Point Rain. The battle on Ryloth also included a good deal of action. The story of Domino Squad was very compelling, as we saw a dysfunctional group of clone cadets mature into decorated soldiers. Coupled with Rookies, the Kamino episodes create a strong trilogy that takes us into the world of the Clone Army, like never before seen on screen. Aside from the infantry, we also saw some well done scenes involving Jedi and Sith in these episodes. The duals between Anakin and a fantastically animated Ventress, and Obi-Wan and Grievous were very entertaining. The last stand of Master Di and the heroic deeds of Clone 99 were memorable and compelling parts of these stories. Perhaps the action in the clone training simulation could have been intensified, and less of Jar Jar's negotiations on Toydaria could have been shown in favor of an extended battle on Ryloth. But overall these episodes were pretty solid.

Looking Forward: For a series titled "The Clone Wars", there wasn't really a proliferation of either clones or wars this past season, with the initial episodes providing some of the strongest character exposition and action sequences in these areas. I am greatly looking forward to more battles like we had in these episodes in Season 4. For Domino Squad, ARC Trooper Fives remains the only living member. I'm sure we will continue to see stories about him, as he fights beside the central character of Captain Rex. Hopefully we haven't seen the last of clone-focussed stories. The marine battle shown in the Season 4 trailers teases us with more clone action.

Series II: Political Currents

Episodes: Sphere of Influence, Corruption, The Academy, Heroes on Both Sides, Pursuit of Peace

Summary: After a strong start on the frontlines, Season 3 started to slow down a bit and delve into the complicated world of galactic politics. We started off by following the Pantoran Baron Papanoida on his quest to find his kidnapped daughters. Then we came back to Mandalore, to find corruption permeating and crippling the planet's young government, as even its Prime Minister bowed down to a lust for wealth power. Finally the series took a look at Palpatine's grand scheme, with Padme Amidala desperately trying to quell the machines and fears of war to no avail. The one bright spot in these episodes seemed to be Ahsoka's growing understanding of politics.

Assessment: To most fans, this series of episodes was the weakest in all 3 seasons of the show. Sphere of Influence was bearable, with the strong character of Papanoida carrying the episode. But to date the story remains irrelevant, and the introduction of Greedo to the series was relatively unheralded. However controversial, the immanent Deathwatch takeover of a pacifist Mandalore was anticipated by many excited fans. But when Season 3 rolled along we only saw irrelevant episodes detailing the erosion of the government. To make matters worse, Deathwatch wasn't even involved in this erosion. Instead we had nameless villains whose greatest offense was accidentally poisoning school children. We got to see some heroism on Padme's part and a bit of character exposition of Duchess Satine. But these episodes were blatantly unnecessary with the most exciting sequences surrounding Ahsoka's martial arts abilities. Of the following 2 episodes about galactic politics, I felt Heroes on Both Sides was the more relevant one, and in my opinion the best of the political episodes. Ahsoka's realization that she wasn't just fighting mindless automatons and twisted warlords was an important one. However these episodes focussed on Padme too much. We have seen her beat her head against the wall of corruption and manipulation one too many times, and there isn't really anywhere interesting for her character to go. More emphasis should have been placed on Palpatine, as only one short scene hinted at his plot.

Looking Forward: Even though some of these episodes were sometimes boring and pointless, the general story-lines that they follow have a great amount of potential. Now that we have seen the erosion of the political systems on Mandalore and in the Republic, the stage is set for the takeovers by Deathwatch and Palpatine respectively. In coming seasons, I look forward to seeing the return of the Mando splinter group and an epic battle for control of Mandalore, as well as further exposition surrounding Palpatine and his machinations. Additionally, an interesting seed has been planted in young Ahsoka's mind. Will she realize that she may not be fighting on the right side before it is too late?

Series III: The Underworld

Episodes: Assassin, Evil Plans, Hunt for Ziro

Summary: In these episodes we saw the return of the nefarious third-party character that give Star Wars so much depth, the scum and villainy of assassins, bounty hunters, and crime lords. The story here builds off of the lauded introduction of the Underworld in Season 1's Hostage Crisis. The first two episodes detail how Aurra Sing and Cad Bane went about enacting Ziro the Hutt's revenge on Padme Amidala and acquiring the information to free Ziro from prison. When Sing attempted to terminate the senator on a diplomatic trip to Alderaan, Ahsoka hones her new abilities to see the future through Force visions. Then we watch Bane capture C-3PO and R2-D2 in an effort to gain information that will help free Ziro. The arc concluded in the third episode, that followed Ziro after he escaped and Quinlan Vos and Obi-Wan's quest to track him down. But eventually Ziro's past caught up with him as he was murdered by former lover Sy Snootles, leaving the Jedi and Cad Bane to engage in an epic showdown that was one of the highlights of this arc.

Assessment: Aurra Sing seemed to lack a certain edge in her episode, leaving fans with mixed opinions. But the revelation that Ahsoka can have Force visions was very interesting. Alderaan was beautifully animated, as this episode serves as an early look into Princess Leia's eventual homeland. The second episode Evil Plans left a lot to be desired, and in my opinion was one of the worst episodes in the entire TV series. It neither included high action nor an interesting plot, and was a complete waste of the popular villain, Cad Bane. Thankfully the final episode of this arc was a bit more fun to watch. Quinlan Vos was a fresh addition to the series, a perfect character to play off of Obi-Wan's by the book methods. However cheesy, the romance between Ziro and Sy was dramatic against the backdrop of the swamps of Nal Hutta and jungles of Teth. Finally at the end of this episode, we saw a much needed action sequence between the Jedi and Bane. This was well choreographed and gave the story a climactic end that the previous one lacked.

Looking Forward: This arc did little to advance the characters in the Underworld, with Boba Fett and many others on the sidelines. But I still hope there will be more stories told about Bane and Sing. I can live without seeing the Hutts again though. Hopefully further exposition on this subject will be more action packed and relevant to the war and its politics, like the arcs in Season 2. The evolution of the young Boba Fett into the most notorious bounty hunter in the galaxy is certainly the most compelling story-line in the Underworld, and I look forward to seeing how Cad Bane and Aurra Sing will factor into it.

Series IV: The Dark Side

Episodes: Nightsisters, Monster, Witches of the Mist

Summary: I'm sure a lot of people would agree that Season 3 didn't really start until the Nightsisters episodes aired. Here we were brought a story like none before it, one that focussed on the Dark Side of the Force. It began with a space battle between the Republic and the Separatists. After their ships crashed in a hanger, a lightsaber dual ensued between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ventress. The Sith warrior was outmatched, forcing her to call Count Dooku for help. But Dooku saw this as an opportunity to kill his apprentice at the wary request of his own master Darth Sidious. Left alone after escaping an exploding warship, Ventress finds her way back to her birthplace, the witch infested planet of Dathomir. There the Nightsisters begin their plot to avenge Dooku's betrayal of Ventress. Initially a trio of assassins including Ventress, storm Dooku's palatial home in an attempt to kill him, but they are no match for the Dark Force user. After retreating they come up with a new plan, offer Dooku a male warrior to replace Ventress that they control through Dark Magic.

After a brutal selection process, none other than Darth Maul's brother, Savage Opress, is chosen. After enhancing and enchanting the Zabrak warrior, the Nightsisters turn him over to Dooku for training. However their plans are accelerated when Anakin and Obi-Wan catch the scent of this new force, and become a threat to his life. Thus Ventress boards Dooku's ship after Savage completes a mission and forces the immature Sith to help her fight Dooku prematurely. After withstanding a beating from Dooku's Force lightning, Savage realizes that he is nor more than a pawn and turns against both Ventress and Dooku, with Ventress too taxed by fighting Dooku to calmly control Savage. Ultimately the outmatched Ventress and Savage retreat with Anakin and Obi-Wan on Savage's tail. Ventress escapes into unknown space, and Savage finds his way back to the Nightsisters, where he is told that his brother Darth Maul is still alive. The story ends with Savage embarking on a quest to seek Maul out for further training.

Assessment: These episodes blew the previous Season 3 episodes out of the water. Their plot is fresh and compelling, and the animation is groundbreaking. However brief, the space battle towards the beginning is fantastically animated, and the duel that occurs in the hanger is excellently choreographed. The environment of Dathomir was depicted with breathtaking detail as its inhabiting Nightsisters proved to be interesting characters. The attempt on Dooku's life was a climactic end to the first episode. The dark nature of the following episode was novel, as the show reached a new level of violence and palpable action. Savage Opress was proven to be a dangerous warrior as he slaughtered clones and Jedi alike on Devaron. Dooku's Sith training was intriguing to watch, as it proved to be a warped version of Yoda's training of Luke. This makes sense considering that Yoda was Dooku's master at one time. The final duel that involved Anakin, Obi-Wan, Dooku, Savage, and Ventress was probably the greatest the show has seen. And the revelation of Maul's fate was one of the most shocking moments of this past season. Throughout these episodes the music fit well with what was going on in various scenes. There was a much welcome abundance of new character models, like the Zabraks, Obi-Wan's Episode III look, a couple new outfits for Ventress, the debut of Saesee Tiin and a couple new Jedi, and even the brief appearance of Delta Squad. The combination of an innovative plot and well executed visuals, voice acting, and music, make this arc one of the best of the TV series thus far.

Looking Forward: The future of this story-line is extremely exciting to think about, as we now have the groundwork for many compelling stories about Dooku, Force Witches, Ventress, Savage, and even Darth Maul. Throw in the possible role that the under-used Darth Sidious could play into this plot, and you have a recipe for brilliance. It is implied that Savage will find and be trained by his brother. More powerful than ever, Savage could team up with multiple Sith parties and help eliminate their opposition. I'm sure that we have only seen the beginning of the role and activity that the Dark Side has in the Clone Wars.

Series V: The Force

Episodes: Overlords, Altar of Mortis, Ghosts of Mortis

Summary: Before the dust could settle after the epic Nighsisters arc, the Mortis trilogy plunged the series even deeper into the mysteries of the Force. An ancient distress signal draws the 3 main protagonists of the series, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka, to an intersection in space that causes their consciousnesses to be transported to a strange world that appears to be an amplification and allegory of the nature of the Force itself. In the first episode, the 3 Jedi experience visions that cause them to consider what their place is in the universe. Obi-Wan discusses his former Padawan Anakin with the curious yet wary ghost of Qui-Gon. Ahsoka receives a warning from her future self. And Anakin sees his deceased mother, Shmi, who calls attention to his issues with attachment. The episode concludes with Anakin passing a test that allegedly proves he is the Chosen One from an ancient prophecy. A being called the Father whose apparent purpose is to balance his quarreling and opposite-natured children, asks Anakin to stay in Mortis to replace him, but Anakin refuses.

While trying to leave the planet, the Dark Side inclined Son kidnaps Ahsoka and takes control of her, forcing her to fight Anakin to the death. Meanwhile the Light Side inclined Daughter helps Obi-Wan obtain a dagger that has the ability to kill the Son. But the enchanted Ahsoka is able to take the dagger from Obi-Wan and turn it over to the Son, who attempts to kill the Father with it. But at the last moment, the Daughter hurls herself in front of her doomed father and sacrifices her life for his. With her last breath, the incarnation of the Light Side frees Ahsoka from the Son's control. The Jedi try to flee Mortis once more, but Anakin discovers that he must kill the Son, or there will be serious consequences. But when confronting the Son, Anakin is shown events from his future, and in an attempt to thwart them, joins the Son. However the Father is able to erase Anakin's memory of the future, and then the Father and the Jedi proceed to kill the Son, bringing balance to the Force.

Assessment: These episodes are extremely controversial, and can be interpreted in various ways. Many find a literal interpretation to be unbelievable. But I feel like there is enough evidence to support that the events of these episodes were nothing but a collective Force vision experienced by the 3 Jedi. Therefore I think these episodes are an allegory of the Star Wars saga itself, mainly focusing around the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin. Through its ethereal nature, this plot allowed the creators of the series to paint a rich and compelling story, independent of continuity restraints. The planet of Mortis was beautifully animated. The dialog was deftly written. The fight scenes were mind-blowing. And the characters were very interesting. Additionally, the music of the series reached new heights of excellence, as John Williams motifs were craftily altered and echoed throughout the trilogy. This story answered questions in a very Star Wars-like fashion by providing answers at the expense of asking even deeper questions. But after this episode we know for certain that Anakin is the Chosen One, and more importantly that both his former master and Padawan understand this.

Looking Forward: The future of this story-line is expressed in various questions. Now that Anakin knows for certain who he is, how will that affect his training of Ahsoka, his view on the war, and ultimately his fall to the Dark Side? Will Obi-Wan report this knowledge back to the council, and will that start to sow the seeds of distrust that we see by Episode III? How will this experience affect Ahsoka? She now has been warned about Anakin's philosophy and has seen how it can negatively affect him. Will she realize that he is going down a dark path and reject the temptation of the Dark Side, or will she continue to emulate her master and slip deeper and deeper into the shadows? This story-line will most likely not continue directly, with the beings of Mortis now dead, but there is an opportunity for it to have a profound effect on the future of the series.

Series VI: Star Wars

Episodes: The Citadel, Counterattack, Citadel Rescue

Summary: After 2 plot heavy trilogies, the series turned back to some classic Star Wars adventure. Anakin, Obi-Wan, Rex, and a stowed-away Ahsoka embark on a dangerous mission to free Jedi Master Even Piell from the clutches of the twisted and cunning Osi Sobeck and his notoriously impenetrable prison, the Citadel. Along the way they pick up Captain Tarken who shares half of the information with Piell that the Seperatists are after. The team spends a good deal of time trying to escape the Citadel, with Sobeck thwarting their every move. Meanwhile Anakin and Tarkin begin to discuss their philosophies on the war with each other, and agree that the Jedi Code can sometimes inhibit the Jedi's ability to command the clones. Ultimately many team members are killed in the great escape, including Domino Squad's Echo, and Master Piell himself. After several intense skirmishes with Sobeck's minions, the remaining rescuers are forced to call in a fleet to get themselves off the planet. Among those who come to aid them is Saesee Tiin who takes part in a large space battle above the surface. Finally the heroes are rescued and brought to Coruscant where they prepare to reveal the important information to the Republic that Piell had died to protect. However Ahsoka, who had taken the information from him, would only reveal it to the council, and Tarkin would only agree to give his part to Palpatine.

Assessment: The Citadel Trilogy continued the season's upward trajectory of improving animation and excitement. The character expression was phenomenal, and there were many emotionally compelling moments. Even though I didn't find Sobeck to be the best villain the series has seen, I was very pleased with the portrayal of the classic Star Wars character, Tarkin. His relationship with Anakin added another dimension to pretty simple plot. At times the music in these episodes was filler and at other times it rose to the occasion. But there certainly was no problem with the choreography of action, as the final battles in space and on the ground were amazing. One of the most controversial issues in the series stemmed from this arc however, as according to the Expanded Universe, Even Piell was supposed to live through Episode III. But I only see that as a minor inconsistency in a sea of inspired story-telling.

Looking Forward: This story arc laid the groundwork for a very compelling side story in the TV series, the relationship between Anakin, Tarkin, and Palpatine. We know that around this time, Tarkin begins helping Palpatine build the Death Star, and the Citadel's resemblance to the lethal space station probably is no coincidence. I would love to see these character's relationships continue to develop and watch the early formation of the Imperial might in Episode IV. These episodes seemed almost like a prequel to A New Hope in that way, but most of all, they were compelling because they included many classic Star Wars elements, and I look forward to seeing more of the same.

Series VII: A Padawan's Tale

Episodes: Padawan Lost, Wookiee Hunt

Summary: Season 3 concluded with a Finale duology centering on Ahsoka. During a battle on Felucia, the Padawan is captured by Trandoshan game hunters and released onto the distant moon of Wasskah to be hunted down for sport. Soon she bands up with a clan of lost Jedi Padawan's with the same fate, and with the help of  the beloved Chewbacca and his fellow Wookiees, they defeat their treacherous captors and escape the forlorn moon. Experiencing the loss of a fellow Padawan, Ahsoka is thrust into a leadership position, and provides the moral strength that allows the captives to become victorious. Meanwhile Anakin struggles to let go of his attachment to his Padawan, as he paces the halls of the Jedi Temple, powerless to find and save her.

Assessment: Fans were initially uncertain if these episodes could outdo the epic trilogy of trilogies that came before them, but once again, the creators of the series delivered a visual and emotional masterpiece. The most stunning aspect of these episodes was without question the animation. The environment of Wasskah was densely depicted with outstanding detail. The expression of the characters was believable, as we felt their pain, frustration, sorrow, exertion, and triumph. The Trandoshans proved to be some of the most menacing villains the show has seen, with both their looks and sounds portraying their fierce reptilian nature. The addition of Chewbacca and the Wookiees to the series was another fantastic and well received feat. The season certainly ended on a high note with a demonstration of how animation, sound, and music can come together to create an enthralling experience.

Looking Forward: The Finale did set up a possible explanation of why Yoda has good relations with the Wookiees. But ultimately it was all about Ahsoka. She is nearly a full knight now, proving that she can overcome dire circumstances without the help of her master and even lead others. It will be very interesting to see how her character develops. Plo-Koon seems to be an active mentor to her; will his wisdom be able to counter Anakin's recklessness? As much as this arc sets a story standard for the series, it also sets an animation standard. And one of the greatest things I take from these episodes is the anticipation of how amazing the animation will be in Season 4.


Overall Season 3 was a season that continued to push the boundaries of television animation. Even though the first half had some dull moments, I feel like the final 11 episodes saved the season and caused it to surpass the  previous 2 in my mind. From the trailers we gather that the series will return to the frontlines in Season 4, with clips of epic battles on the marine planet Dac and Naboo being released, as well as a large-scale space battle. We have seen images of a young Admiral Ackbar and a 4-armed, double-bladed-saber-wielding Jedi of Dexter Jettster's species. Another exciting thing to expect in the next season is the introduction of the Phase II clone armor from Episode III. Personally, I am also excited to see the return of one of my favorite Jedi, Kit Fisto, and more action from the recently quiet General Grievous. There also appears to be a story in Season 4 involving Count Dooku, Anakin, and Padme. That leaves us all wondering if Dooku will find out about their secret.

In the coming seasons I hope to see an epic battle on Mandalore, the rise of Boba Fett, the fate of Ahsoka and Rex, a Zillo beast army, the return of Darth Maul, the revenge of Savage Opress, and more character exposition of Darth Sidious, the man behind the Clone War. I was thoroughly satisfied with Season 3, and greatly enjoyed writing reviews for the episodes. I can't wait to sink me teeth into Season 4, and look forward to speculating about it all summer long. The Clone Wars is keeping Star Wars mainstream, and I am loving every second of it. I hope you are too.


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