It's ironic that the most "outside of the box" story that this series has seen actually took place in a giant box. I can imagine the brainstorming session. Filoni: "Gungans? Comic book adaptations? Wizard of Oz references? Come on, guys, we need to think outside of the box!" Writer: "Well, how about we take a bunch of bounty hunters and put them inside a box!" Regardless of how the idea was realized, I give major props to whoever was creative enough to come up with it. Usually the concepts for Clone Wars episodes fit a very wide but still predictable pattern. They involve conflict between a protagonist faction, and an antagonist faction. Recently episodes have started off fast, slowed down to bring us character stuff, and then featured some type of climactic confrontation at the end. This pattern has caused the concept behind episodes to become a secondary factor to content elements like plot development, dialog, and action. But for this episode, the concept was so radically different, that it actually transcended the content for me.
Pacing in the Clone Wars is a really tricky thing, and the writers and directors don't always hit it right. Many episodes are far too ambitious, causing character and plot development to be decreased in order to fit the entire story and necessary events into the episode. Other times a story will only require one or two major action sequences, and the time in between will feel forced and drag on a bit. This problem can be solved by expanding stories into arcs, but frequently the episodes won't be balanced well. But this episode, The Box, did away with all of these issues for me by stepping away from both the battles and politics of the war for a bit and just giving us a fun and creative story that still included interesting elements. I believe that this is one of the best paced episodes, because the content fit well into a 22 minute format, and the story resembled that of episodic animated television. This felt like a classic superhero cartoon.
Moving from the semantics to the implementation, I really loved the physical concepts in this episode. For once the Clone Wars isn't trying to copy real life, but is giving us environments and situations that you would probably only find in a cartoon. The "Box" itself took advantage of the CGI that this show is built on. The look was very creative and fun to watch. It put the characters in situations that I never expected to see them in. Obviously as a Star Wars fan, I love lightsaber and blaster fights, but it was really cool to see a different type of action for once. The Box's controlled environment brought the concept of the Citadel training platform in Clone Cadets to a whole other level.
On to the characters themselves, what could be more fun than a bunch of bounty hunters trying to outlast each other? And with the exception of a short yet interesting scene with Anakin and Yoda, all 22 minutes were jam-packed with bounty hunters. Firstly, Obi-Wan as Rako Hardeen continued to impress me. He rose to the occasion and, like any true Jedi, worried first and foremost for the survival of the other contestants. The only thing that disappointed me, was that there weren't any all out fights pitting multiple characters against each other, but the point of the Box wasn't to kill off everyone, so I understand why that was the case.
Another character that impressed me was Cad Bane, who showed a wonderful mix of rogue bravado and samurai-like honor. He asserted himself in the beginning of the episode by wasting the poor Ithorian bounty hunter Bulduga just to get his hat back, mumbling a classic excuse to Rako about it being a nice hat, but then showed great honor by protecting Rako when it was obvious that Eval wanted to kill him out of jealousy. The fact that Bane knows when to lead and when to follow, and when to kill and when to save, exemplifies that he's one of the greatest bounty hunters ever.
Now Eval on the other hand, walked a very thin line, and took the role of antagonist in this episode if you can call it that. I was disinterested in Eval from the beginning when he waddled up to Count Dooku. Eval appears to be yet another pawn of Tyrannus who is ambitious, but not powerful enough to usurp the Count's position as leader of the Separatists. In the end, Eval's misguided trust in Hardeen and new-found jealousy has put him in a very compromising situation. Based on what happened to characters like Osi Sobeck and Riff Tamson, I don't expect Eval to survive the next episode.
The other bounty hunters in this episode were interesting, with Embo standing out as one of the more adept and cunning of the bunch. I liked the designs of all of them, but found it a little odd that they didn't try harder to sabotage each other. Perhaps elite bounty hunters at this level must have agreements with each other that are necessary to share the market and not implode their faction with infighting. I was surprised that Sugi wasn't there, but maybe she didn't want to put herself in a compromising situation like this. I would also have liked to see Boba and Bossk show up, but it's looking like their only appearance in this arc will end up being in the first episode.
To rattle a bunch of little things off that I liked, the music in this episode was pretty good, with a few recognizable motifs and a great choral segment in the duel between Hardeen and Eval. I'm glad that just like in A Friend In Need, Dooku was present but didn't play too large a role in the story. The animation of fire inside the Box was superb, as well as any brief shots of Serrano. I liked the parallelism of Yoda telling Anakin that if he went after Obi-Wan, he could save him, but the future is always in motion. This was very similar to what Yoda said to Luke in the Empire Strikes Back. And lastly, I continue to love the Boba Fett and Mandalorian references with Hardeen including the mention of the Concord Dawn.
In conclusion this was one of my favorite episodes of Season 4. It was paced well, the concept was inventive, the plot fit well into the time period without anything dragging on or feeling rushed, it contained classic dialog and meaningful references, and reflected on Cad Bane and Obi-Wan's characters very well. I am absolutely loving this arc, and can't wait to see how it concludes!