Alright, I just want to start by saying that usually my enjoyment of an episode is directly tied to its quality. If an episode has a good plot, fluid animation, and great action, I will usually have a favorable opinion of it, and if it lacks some of those things, I will tend to dislike the episode. But with this episode, my enjoyment of the story is probably a little irrational. So I will start with the disclaimer that this review isn't about how good the episode was, but rather why I enjoyed it so much. There are some things that I thought could have been better, but the overall meat of the episode was enough to please me very, very much. So let me explain why.
Back last decade there was a live-action show on TV called Firefly. It was directed by Joss Whedon, got terrible ratings on American network stations, and was cancelled in one season. The show was a quintessential western set in a sci-fi universe about a band of social castoffs wandering through space trying to make their way in the galaxy. In retrospect, it is one of the most critically acclaimed sci-fi series to ever air, and is definitely one of my favorites. The episode Bounty captured the flavor of this show more than anything I have seen since it was cancelled. There was even an episode of Firefly that was very similar to this one. If I remember correctly, the gang were commissioned to pull off a train heist on a planet, but when they found out that they were actually stealing medicine that was being delivered to a desperate town inflicted with an epidemic, they forewent their payment and made sure the cargo was delivered safely, despite some disagreement in their ranks. The overall plot of Bounty was a twist on this classic western story.
I believe one of the reasons why Star Wars was initially so successful, was because George Lucas helped put together a perfect mix of the sci-fi and western genres, while injecting the right amount of mysticism to balance out the story. Thus any episodes of the Clone Wars series that have a similar balance of these genres, are considered by me to be at the heart of the Star Wars franchise. In the prequel era, we have become accustomed to politics and spectacular duels between Force-users, but elements that hearken back to A New Hope always delight me. This episode started off with Asajj Ventress setting foot in the original wretched hive of scum and villainy itself, Mos Eisley Spaceport. The scene with Ventress killing a cantina patron, causing the raucous crowd to fall silent for a moment, was a deftly subtle reference to Han Solo shooting Greedo (not the other way round, mind you) in A New Hope. If only the Modal Nodes were performing that day.
Aside from the great western feel to Bounty, another thing that pulled me into this episode was the title characters themselves, the bounty hunters. I have always been a fan of Boba and Bossk, and loved seeing Bossk portrayed more ferociously than he was in Season 2. A few of his lines seemed a little out of character, but for the most part I loved seeing him in action. I wish that Boba's armor had been more reminiscent of his eventual Mandalorian outfit, but his gray and red look was still pretty cool. At least we are assured of seeing the young Fett again when his final transition is made. And if this episode wasn't enough of an homage to the Original Trilogy, we got to see a younger Dengar. It was really cool seeing yet another minor character fleshed out a bit on this show, and I really like the balance of new and old characters in this episode. The two new bounty hunters were really awesome. I like the looks of both the droid and the purple humanoid, and I would say that they were much cooler to watch in action than the others, with one's agile robotic limbs and the other's green tentacle-like weapons.
I considered this episode to have a pretty slow start. Even though I loved the Mos Eisley scenes I was eagerly anticipating the action, and, boy, did we get it. I didn't count but the whole train heist fight probably took up at least half of the episode. The non-stop yet varied action was very fun to watch. I loved seeing Dengar and Bossk show why they were hired by Vader to track down the Millennium Falcon. Some fans of these characters probably were unhappy that they both were kicked off the train, but there is a reason why they didn't succeed in Episode V as well. Boba lasted the longest of the Original Trilogy characters, but I was slightly disappointed that even he ended up getting played in the end. It really looks like he still has some growing up to do before he takes his place as the most notorious bounty hunter in the galaxy. The ninja-like raiders were also very cool to watch in action. I absolutely loved their designs and choreography, especially that of their leader. Throw in the unique movements of the droid and purple hunters and this was definitely one of my favorite action scenes in this show.
But this episode shined even beyond theme, action, and characters. The animation of the environments and vehicles was superb. Mos Eisley was very close to its famous portrayal in A New Hope, the space station with the elevator was really inventive, the train below the surface was really fun to see, and the design of the caves that it sped through was really well done and artistic. The crystals in the caves reminded me of a cave in the Clone Wars micro-series where lightsaber crystals grew. The fact that there were so many moving elements in this episode just added to the visual perfection. Even little details like the movements of the beaked species' mouths were animated well and made the visuals interesting.
Now don't get me wrong, a lot of Clone Wars episodes have great animation, characters, and action. But many of them lack the character development and plot relevance that I look for from a Star Wars show. When the action sequence was still happening with only a third of the time left, I started to worry that this episode would be nothing more than pointless action, that either the bounty hunters would succeed or fail in protecting the mysterious cargo and that would be it. Remembering the train heist episode of Firefly, the thought began to creep into my head; it would be really interesting if there was some twist with the cargo, and the bounty hunters had to react to it and change how they carried through their mission. I can't begin to express how relieved and excited I was when that chest was forced open and a terrified young alien girl rolled out. This was the twist that I was looking for to test the characters and provide some relevance to the story.
At first I was greedily hoping that Boba would be the one to cave and protect the girl and alter the mission, especially after his initial reaction to her. But showing that Boba has a heart really doesn't do anything in the grand scheme of things, because we all know who he grows up to be. So I applaud Katie Lucas for using this situation to instead shed light on Ventress. It was at this point that I became extremely interested in this episode, because I had no idea how Ventress and the others would react to this development. For me this provided suspense that I felt could have been played up even more if the episode had reached that point a little earlier. But for 22 minutes, I think they did a great job of fitting everything in adequately.
This episode was given relevance when it put Ventress in a position where she had to chose the moral standards that will dictate her future path, a fine example of excellent character development. However ruthless she seems to be on the outside, Asajj seemed to relate to the girl's situation, most likely seeing herself behind the alien's eyes. The editing of the plot climax of this episode was superb. Ventress handed the box over to the gross leader, the audience was already curious about what decision Asajj had made, and the fact that the obese alien was planning to marry the captive girl only added more sympathy for her. Ventress boarded the train, continuing the suspense, and then the box was opened to reveal none other than a very unhappy Boba Fett. Even though I don't like seeing my favorite character humiliated like this, I saw humor in this scene and emotionally connected with the outcome as Ventress handed the girl back to her valiant brother. And not to be outdone, Ventress kept an edge to her softening heart by requesting payment for what was essentially a deed performed out of conscience. It will be very interesting to see where they go with Asajj's character in the future, because now anything is possible.
In conclusion this was hands-down my favorite episode of this series. Yes, I wish that a few things were done differently, but the shortcoming were overshadowed by amazing action, epic character and environment designs, sufficient musical accompaniment, solid dialog, tasteful references to the films, and an extremely well written story that included a great balance of humor, suspense, character development, and moral underpinnings. I am very satisfied with this episode and wish that the story of these bounty hunters was continued in the next episode, but still am very excited to see the return of Maul and Savage in the coming weeks. This arc is definitely shaping up to be the best of this season and one of the best of this whole series.