After the visually stunning duo of submarine episodes that premiered the 4th Clone Wars season, I awaited this episode with great anticipation. And for me it delivered with everything that the third episode of a trilogy should have. Prisoners contained a more detailed plot, better character development, great contrast between the light and dark elements of the characters and situations, and a fantastic action sequence to put a stamp on a strong trilogy.
The first thing that struck me about this episode, was how much darker it was than the previous two. There were torture scenes, imminent peril for our heroes, moments where many characters started to lose hope, and increased violence in the final dual between Prince Char and Ambassador Tamson. Riff planting exploding daggers on unfortunate victims was something that stretched the limits of the PG rating, and his demise by the same token was equally if not more terrifying because you were led to anticipate it. The touch of Tamson's teeth-filled skull floating away completed the violent sequence.
In addition to the visual maturity of Prisoners, the plot also weighed more heavily into the mix. The motivations of characters like Tamson, Lee Char, and Nossor Ri were all explored, tying the events of the previous episodes together nicely. It was made clear that Nossor Ri didn't share the blind allegiance to Count Dooku and the Seperatists that another Quarren leader in the EU, Tikkes, did. However Riff Tamson was able to use the Quarren and Mon Cals' incompatibility with each other to create a civil war and steal a planet from the Republic.
Throughout the previous two episodes, there were subtle hints dropped that Nossor Ri was beginning to disapprove of Tamson's handling of the situation, and the psychological tide finally turned when Tamson got ahead of himself and started abusing and intimidating the Quarren leader instead of filling his head with lies and impossible ideals. This caused the Republic's victory to come in a different way than it did in the Microseries episode that this story was based on. Instead of Kit Fisto and the Republic forces overpowering the Quarrens and Separatists, the Quarren realized that the war between the CIS and Republic was manipulating their planet for the worst and rebelled against the same invaders that they let in to end their dispute with the Mon Cals.
Effectively this turn of events thoroughly renders all previous depictions of the civil war on Mon Calamari non-canon. Unless you want to retcon it to death and say that the Microseries episode and other materials took place after the start of Water Wars, yet before the end of Prisoners, with Tikkes acting as a military commander under Nossor Ri.
Regardless of the inconsistencies, this plot shake-up allowed for an interesting and compelling coming-of-age story with Prince Lee Char, as he slowly gained confidence and ultimately brought the two species of his planet together just like his father had. Even though I thought that the Prince's voice was a bit too cartoony and his character development wasn't complex enough in Water War and somewhat in Gungan Attack, I was pleased with the direction they took with him in Prisoners. In fact, I even detected shades of Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings finale Return of the King.
Like the one before it, this episode also included the most devicive character in the Star Wars universe. But I thought that Jar Jar was again used effectively. You have to give him a bit of credit for the idea to plug up Padme's draining helmet with Gungan slime (Unless of course you are a Padme hater too). There were also some cool fight sequences involving Gungans toward the end of the episode, as they zapped everything in their path with electro-staffs.
This brings me to a quick point. Now we all know that Star Wars isn't exactly well known for scientific accuracy, with sounds in space and other inconsistencies with the real world, but I thought the use of electricity in this episode was odd. Firstly, shouldn't any of the various electric shocks in the duration of Prisoners have extended into the surrounding water and zap those emitting the pulse? And even if all the shocks were contained and focused, shouldn't the pulses from the eels have knocked out the prisoners life support systems?
Aside from this minor quibble, I thought anything that lit up like neon underwater was stunning to watch even if it was difficult to intellectually grasp. The eels were a fantastic addition to the array of hazards thrown at our heroes. The visuals of the dungeon facilities were well conceived and executed. And the perspectives of the camera angles were used well to evoke a sense of magnitude in many of the environments.
One of several issues I had with the first couple episodes, was the underwhelming music score. It was neither epic nor contained enough noticeable motifs. But we finally got a payoff in Prisoners with a great use of the Force Theme during the final battle. Overall, however, I still think that the score of these episodes did them a disfavor and failed to escalate or even echo the epicness of the visuals.
The pacing of Prisoners was well choreographed, with a tense dungeon scene at the beginning, great plot and character development throughout the episode, a climactic battle towards the end, and a fittingly regal conclusion that hearkened back to the ending of the Phantom Menace. As always, I thought there could have been more tidbits with other characters like Ahsoka, Kit Fisto, and Captain Ackbar, but the core of the story held up and finished satisfyingly.
In conclusion, I think the trilogy of Mon Calamari episodes were a perfect start to Season 4. In hindsight, the layout really does remind me of the Phantom Menace. Hopefully that means Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith-like episodes are to come! As I was last week, I am just as --if not even more excited about the remainder of Season 4, and I can't wait to move on to even more visually stunning and emotionally compelling stories!