Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wookiee Hunt Review

I'm not sure Star Wars gets better than this. The first half of season 3 of the Clone Wars series left many people scratching their heads, but the second half featured 11 extremely strong episodes, and the finale was most certainly one of them. The animation continued to increase in detail and fluidity, the story was compelling and exciting, the characters were memorable, and even the music went out of its way to scream of Star Wars. After a series of 3 fantastically done trilogies, the pair of finale episodes had a lot to live up to. But in my opinion they marvelously succeeded. I'm not sure "Wookiee Hunt" blew other previous season 3 episodes out of the water, but it certainly was up to par with them. That is probably due to the nature of the plot. Even with perfect animation and interesting character development, it is hard to beat the emotional and action packed trio of trilogies that included epic space battles and lightsaber duels. Yet in its own way, "Wookiee Hunt" carved out its own personality, and left me excited about how the Clone Wars continues to deliver in diverse ways.

Like the previous episode, the animation was breathtaking. The forlorn planet of Wasskah provided a dense backdrop for the story. It is amazing how far the quality of the facial expressions has come in this series. In season 1, they were considered wooden, season 2 gave us a few more "looks" that at the very least made the characters seem alive. But by the end of this season, the characters talk with their faces just as much as they do with their voices. The varied expressions that Ahsoka exhibited in her final dual with the Trandoshan leader showcased the vastly improved abilities of the animators. The look on her face as she stood over the fallen body of her enemy was a noticeable mixture of pride, desperation, and shame.

In earlier episodes, the galaxy that the Clone Wars took place in was very clean. It had sleek spaceships, organized environments, and clear atmospheres. But recently the animators have made strides in "dirtying" things up a bit. The dusty air and soiled objects, clothing, and even skin of the characters go a long way to lending reality to a virtual world. This also reminds me a bit of the "used universe" concept of the Original Trilogy, that of a more dystopian science fiction. Aside from the pure appearance of things, the animators added subtle details in the background of the episode that gave the environment more depth. There seemed to be a complimentary story being told with a few birds in a nest outside the fugitive's tree cave. Toward the end of the episode, the little animals warded off a larger predator, a microcosm of the greater story plot.

The addition of smoke and air-born material enhanced many scenes, especially when the Trandoshan prisoner transport crashed onto the beach. The crew seems to be understanding the concept that just like in a live-action movie, sometimes the sets need to be hidden a bit to seem more real. To draw a comparison to the films, the Cloud City carbon freezing chamber was not a very impressive looking set. But after misty vapor was added to it, the gloomy environment came to life. This is also true of the costumes used in the Cantina scene. The outfits themselves looked amateur and campy in the light of day, but the shadowy lighting of the bar brought characters like Ponda Baba and Greedo to life. I see these concepts being used now in the Clone Wars series, as the animators use dirt, atmosphere, and lighting to make the characters and environments seem real.

With amazing animation capabilities in their tool chest, the creators of the series now can bring stories and characters to the screen that are classic Star Wars, the struggle between Wookiees and Trandoshans with Ahsoka thrown into the mix, was no exception. I understand now how difficult it must have been to bring Wookiees to the series, because even with increased capabilities, they just barely pulled it off. The fury Chewbacca seemed a bit too much like a flexible plastic figure. His hair didn't move as much as Anakin and Obi-Wan's in the Citadel episodes and some of his positions seemed unnatural. But overall it was a thrill to see this saga favorite introduced to the Clone Wars. The individual drawbacks of animating his species were overshadowed by sheer numbers, as more Wookiee warriors joined the final battle on the Trandoshan mother  ship, a battle that didn't leave much to be desired. We saw blaster fights, hand to hand combat, and characters manipulating larger objects like speeders. On a side note, the Trandoshan speeders seem to be the "Jeeps" of the Star Wars universe.

At the side of memorable secondary characters, this 2 part story belongs to Ahsoka Tano. She has demonstrated that she can take care of herself in episodes such as "Brain Invaders" and "The Academy", but now she is gaining the ability to lead others as well. Only a naive youngling in season 1, I now see Ahsoka developing into a formidable warrior. She has gone from slicing up "tinnies" to facing off against dangerous opponents even without wielding her 2 lime-green blades. She came into the series as a "book-smart" Jedi with an overambitious attitude, but now has become a "street-smart" soldier with battle experience. While mentors like Anakin and Plo Koon continue to guide Ahsoka, she is now becoming the guiding light for others around her. But even with her increasing independence, the looming question remains; will Anakin be able to let go of his padawan?

To mention a few things that caught my attention in this episode, it was nice to see the return of some characters from the season 2 episode, "Bounty Hunters" as Sugi and Seripas gave the Wookiees a ride to Wasskah. The deck of the Trandoshan ship during the final battle had a semi-reflective quality that didn't look blatantly computer generated like many other metal-like surfaces in previous episodes. Kevin Kiner's liberal use of John Williams motifs was surprisingly enjoyable, as the heavy use of the Force theme gave added weight to several scenes. Additionally, Ahsoka's theme was also featured prominently in this episode. Some of the camera shots were choreographed beautifully. I particularly liked the moving shot that showed the padawans creeping up to the beach and watching the prisoner transport emerge through the mist.

In conclusion, "Wookiee Hunt" was a worthy addition to not just the Clone Wars series, but the Star Wars franchise as a whole. It stood out as being a fantastically animated story with relevant character development and memorable references and ties to the Original Trilogy. Throughout these final 2 episodes of season 3, the action was paced adequately, as the story flowed well. I was not let down by a single episode of the second half of this season and eagerly anticipate season 4.

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