Sunday, April 10, 2011

Overlords Review

I don't know how to begin my review of the Clone Wars episode 3.15 because it rendered me speechless. The Clone Wars has been two things thus far, action and politics. For the first time, this show in my opinion has superseded these genres and crossed into pure dramatic fantasy. This episode contained barely any violence and was as far away from the mechanics of the galactic government as Star Wars can be in this era. It seemed to exist not as an excellently crafted series of dialogs and action sequences but as pure emotion. Even though the departure from almost everything that makes a Clone Wars episode recognizable may deter some of the fans of the series, I believe this episode's strength lied in an area that has been long neglected is Star Wars storytelling. I have not experienced a Star Wars tale based on characters to this extent since I first saw the Original Trilogy.

I will briefly note the technical achievements of this episode, which were outstanding. The animation was as breathtaking as it has ever been in this series. The entire environment of Mortis was incredibly detailed and reminded me slightly of the CGI alien planet of Pandora from the movie Avatar. The changing of the "seasons" was masterfully illustrated, as the storms on the planet gave it depth and atmosphere. Similarly the music in "Overlords" was perfect. Aside from well timed John Williams motifs interspersed throughout the episode, like the Force theme, the Imperial March, and Qui-Gon's theme, Kevin Kiner's score went on to echo and add to the core music. The sound design added to the fantasy and mystique of the environment and the episode as a whole. As usual, the new characters were beautifully animated. The look of the Father fully encompassed a godlike and timeless being, as the Children's physique embodied their respective sides of the Force.

This brings me to the most exciting element of the episode. Star Wars did not become popular for its politics or even its groundbreaking effects. It did not gather fame from the depth of its universe or the choreography or its action. Many franchises include these things. No, Star Wars is Star Wars due to an extremely unique and innovative concept. And that is the concept of the Force. The concept of good and evil. The concept of the eternal quest of humanity to bring harmony to the universe. And this episode brought the central aspect of Star Wars to the forefront like no visual media has since we saw Yoda's teachings on Dagobah. This was not a lecture about midichlorians or an expose on unleashed powers; this was an exploration of the very nature of the Force and even more importantly how it effects the characters that we have come to know and love.

The visions experienced in this episode by Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka developed their characters more than two and a half seasons of witty dialog and heart-pounding peril. This sequence of scenes brought the Clone Wars --and even all prequel era storytelling-- to its core, the core that recounts the compelling story of the  rise of the most iconic villain in western culture. It was shocking to see the specters that the heroes laid eyes upon. In several minutes we saw the return of two pivotal characters in the Star Wars story, Qui-Gon Jinn and Shmi Skywalker, be it in an illusionary and perhaps questionably sentient form. It also was equally shocking to see an incarnation of the possible future of Ahsoka, the character that binds the Clone Wars series together. It is difficult to perceive how much of these encounters was "real" and how much was an illusion. But nevertheless they were indubitably intriguing.

The parts of this episode that were exterior to the main characters were slightly unusual. Are we supposed to believe that the fate of the entire galaxy lies in the hands of uber-powerful Force users? Are the events and beings on Mortis material or are they an allegory of the collective actions of all humans and aliens alike who manipulate the Force? Did we see this story from the outside looking in or from the perspective of the Jedi characters? As hinted at by the Clone Wars crew, this episode certainly left a plethora of unanswered questions. But, honestly, I believe the most inspiring works of art are those that don't answer life's queries, but lead us to ask questions and seek to answer them ourselves.

In speculation, I believe that Anakin will attempt to "fix" the dilemma on Mortis via his own methods and powers, rather than fulfill the destiny suggested to him in this episode. How this turn of events serves to further and/or illustrate his fall to the Darkside is yet to be seen. But I am extremely excited to see how this situation is resolved or if it is not resolved at all. But simply I love where this series is going because of its gradual return to character based stories that are relevant to the over-arching Star Wars saga. This episode was for the fans of not just sci-fi or fantasy, but for the fans of the exploration of the human psyche and soul. Battles will ensue, politics will spin, but these tales will only be compelling if they are grounded in the characters of the story. And this episode provided a foundation here for seasons to come.

In conclusion, this episode was visually stunning, intellectually astounding, and emotionally compelling. Between the high action of the Savage trilogy, and the mystique of "Overlords", the Clone Wars series has provided an amazing portfolio of its essence and potential. And if fans did not enjoy the last several episodes, they should just stop watching the show. Because in my opinion, this is the best Star Wars outside of the six films, and most certainly the best Clone Wars to date.

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