Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Clone Wars Review: Season 4




Prologue

After the rush that was the last eleven episodes of Season 3, fans came into the fourth season of the Clone Wars with great anticipation. Over the summer we were promised that the heightened intensity of the last part of the previous season would be built upon, and were teased with trailers and clips of an epic underwater battle on Mon Cala. As the season neared we also began to see glimpses of more future episodes, like those with the slavers, Mandalorians, and clones on a dark planet. While the hyped marine premiere was met with mostly positive reaction, the episodes following it were very divisive. The focus on characters that had been used for humor in the films like the droids and Gungans for an extended period of time left many fans feeling jaded. However it was during that lull that a new trailer was unexpectedly released, teasing the return of Maul. Once again this event divided fandom, but the generated buzz at least got us through the weakest period of the show.

The Umbara arc that finally came upon us brought the season --if not the entire series-- to new heights in the eyes of many, however the roller coaster ride continued with a pair of inconsistent arcs focussing on comic book slavers and bounty hunters. Yet the season picked up again with a finale quadrilogy that contained at least a few episodes that made it the top of everyone’s list, ending things with a controversial and exciting pair of episodes featuring the possibly over-hyped Darth Maul. Ultimately, I believe that Season 4 can be divided into six general storylines. Yet just like the previous season, these plotlines have yet to affect each other greatly, let alone merge. Hopefully as the series draws near the end, all the loose ends will be tied together to give meaning to some of the seemingly random developments with characters and peoples. In this article I will summarize on each storyline, give my opinion on it, and speculate about where things are headed in future seasons.


Storyline I: Battle Lines

Episodes: Water War, Gungan Attack, Prisoners, Shadow Warrior

Summary: The first four episodes of Season 4 were united by the common theme of marine races coming together to defeat an outside threat. On the planet Mon Calamari, pressure from Riff Tamson led CIS representatives manipulated the native Mon Cala and Quarrens into a civil war. After a series of spectacular battles, the young Mon Cala Prince Lee-Char filled the shoes of his deceased father and inspired the two races to unite against the Separatists and regain their sovereignty with the aid of a fellow underwater species, the Gungans. However following their defeat, the Separatists shifted their focus to Naboo and attempted to Force the Gungans into rebelling against the humans inhabitants of the planet as General Grievous invaded Naboo with his droid army. Meanwhile, Count Dooku lurred Anakin into a trap and captured him. Yet this plot was thwarted when the sacrifice of General Tarpals allowed the Gungans to capture Grievous and trade him for Anakin, while forcing the Separatists to back down.

Assessment: The first underwater in Water War had grand scale and very fluid animation. However this was merely introductory and lacked tension and character development. The middle installment took a closer look at the characters, and provided more intense action with a murkier backdrop. The Hydroid Medusas and Karkaradons had very inventive designs, and the sequence with the Trident ships creating water cyclones which became the environment for epic character showdowns was very well done. The concluding Mon Cal episode had a good balance of character development and action and continued to push the limits of violence in the series. Yet the following episode Shadow Warrior lacked a strong connection to the previous arc and seemed rushed and out of place. Aside from the great portrayal of Tarpals and animation of Otoh Gunga, this was the first of many apparently pointless episodes in Season 4 that failed to both move the story and characters forward and entertain the majority of the audience.

Looking Forward: Considering that this storyline only illustrated the war, rather than alter it, these episodes will probably have little effect on the future. The only thing that I took away from the arc was the knowledge that Ahsoka continues to grow as a character. She now is beginning to become more of a leader than a follower in the Clone Wars, successfully guiding young Lee-Char. With most of the main characters’ fates sealed, her development is one of the keys to providing relevance to storylines that only illustrate events. In a metalogical way, these episodes also set the stage for darker and larger scale battles in future arcs.


Storyline II: Twisted Tales

Episodes: Mercy Mission, Nomad Droids

Summary: After several action packed episodes, the season took a left turn and brought us a couple whimsical stories featuring the droids R2 and Threepio. The first followed the duo as they attempted to unravel a mystery on the planet Aleen. Along the way we saw Wolfpack, tiny ewok like aliens, tree like creatures, and a strange pixie spirit. The episode culminated in the droids solving a riddle and pushing a cover over a hole that was contaminating the air. However their adventures continued in the next episode when they escaped a space battle in a starfighter and then traveled to a series of odd planets, leaving a trail of chaos in their wake. A tiny fat alien was reduced to goo, a plot by pit droids to enslave the inhabitants of a planet was thwarted, and an underground droid fighting ring was blasted into oblivion. In the end R2 and Threepio made it back unscathed to the safety of the Republic fleet.

Assessment: These episodes were nothing more than brainless entertainment that seeked to tease the audience with overdone humor and randomness. Inspired by the brief 1980s Droids TV series and referencing everything from Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz, this duology left many fans confused and disappointed. Perhaps one episode like this would have been received better, but two seemed drawn out and superfluous. R2 and Threepio are great supporting characters in Star Wars and do provide good humor, but I don’t believe they are strong enough to carry an entire storyline.

Looking Forward: Hopefully the writers learn from the reaction to these episodes and endeavor to never write any more like them again. I don’t expect the events of this storyline to have an effect on the overall plot of the Clone Wars. They only served to prove that the audience of the show has grown up a bit and would prefer to see stronger writing and more mature themes at this point in the series.


Storyline III: The Descent of Darkness

Episodes: Darkness on Umbara, The General, Plan of Dissent, Carnage of Krell

Summary: Thankfully these mature themes were infused into the Umbara arc. The quadrilogy began by literally dropping us into the middle of an intense battle between the Clones and the mysterious Umbarans on their nocturnal planet. After the first battle, the Jedi in command of the 501st Legion, Anakin, was replaced by Palpatine with the more conventional General Pong Krell, forcing Captain Rex and his men to adapt to the change in leadership. Over the next two episodes, Krell’s “by-the-book” strategies put the Clones in many compromising situations, which resulted in troopers like Fives and Hardcase to frequently bend the rules to complete their missions and stay alive. Eventually Krell grew tired of the disobedience and order the execution of some of the dissenters. However the clones protected their brothers and refused to carry though. This led the cruel General to completely betray his men and trick them into attacking each other. After becoming aware of this atrocity, the clones confronted Krell and captured him after an epic battle. With communications with the rest of the army cut off, Rex was put in the difficult position of deciding whether or not to execute Krell before their base was attacked by the enemy, but the choice was made by another clone named Dogma, who shot Krell fatally after Rex hesitated, redeeming himself partially for previously supporting the General’s maniacal leadership.

Assessment: This was certainly one of the best storylines in the entire Clone Wars series. The scale and animation of the battles brought the show to another level, and the writing and themes transcended most of the entire season. These episodes were very successful in giving Rex and his clones very individual personalities and drawing the audience into their stories. The dialog, action, vehicle design, and music in this arc were all phenomenal. Dee Bradley Baker did an outstanding job lending unique personalities to each of the clones with his voice acting, and Dave Fennoy was equally commendable for contributing to the character of Pong Krell. The General’s assertive tone, stylized design, and awesome pair of double-bladed sabers made him the most popular addition to the season. His final speech about a darkness rising lent great relevance to his time on screen in the scope of the war. With the emotional scenes of Clones accidentally killing each other and Krell brutally attacking them, the Umbara arc brought the series to a new level of darkness, as the heroes were pitted against each other and any semblance of order collapsed.

Looking forward: Umbara provided a great deal of development with the characters of Captain Rex and 501st troopers like Fives. They are starting to realize the true and intended consequence of this war is to rip the Republic to shreds. It will be very interesting to see how the events on Umbara effect these clones’ reaction to Order 66 and the rise of the Empire. It’s very possible that we are watching the path that leads many clones to eventual defection. The writers of the show have promised that Order 66 will be addressed in this series, and I can’t wait to find out more about it and the clones. Another thing that these episodes did was illustrate the stress being placed on the Jedi Order. Pong Krell probably was the first of many Jedi to fold under the pressure and attempt to jump to the other side. Perhaps we will see more occurrences of Jedi going rogue in future seasons.


Storyline IV: Slaves of the Times

Episodes: Kidnapped, Slaves of the Republic, Escape From Kadavo

Summary: Following the events of Umbara, the heroes investigated the mysterious disappearance of an entire colony of Togrutas on the planet Kiros. In the first episode Obi-Wan Kenobi faced off against the Zygerrian slaver Darts D’Nar in WWE fashion while Ahsoka and Anakin rushed to defuse bombs that threatened to blow up a village. After being stalled adequately, D’Nar ran away, only to be caught by the Jedi in an epic confrontation on his ship. Finding out the whereabouts of the kidnapped togrutas from the captured D’Nar, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, Anakin, and Rex then covertly infiltrated the Zygerrian homeworld under the guise of slavers. There they met the slaver queen, Miraj Scintel. However Miraj was cunning enough to thwart the heroes rescue attempt and imprisoned them, sending Obi-Wan and Rex to a labor camp where they were broken down emotionally, and forcing Anakin to be her bodyguard. Yet Anakin quickly escaped with the help of Ahsoka and R2 who had accompanied them, and then was joined by Plo Koon and Wolfpack in a the rescue of Obi-Wan and Rex.

Assessment: This arc contained both good and bad moments. The storyline was based off a comic book that had originally taken place earlier in the war, and thus the episodes felt isolated from the rest of the series. There wasn’t a whole lot of development with the heroes, and most of the villains had been killed off towards the end. I felt the first episode was pointless, because Anakin and Ahsoka were rushing around to disable bombs that only would have damaged an empty village. However I did enjoy the final confrontation on D’Nar’s ship. The middle episode was the strongest in my opinion. It had a very Original Trilogy feel, good pacing, and great dialog. I loved the animation of the Zygerrian capital city. However the final episode failed to impress me. The character arc with Anakin and Miraj was dropped, and Dooku was introduced into the story just to make the Zygerrians irrelevant. I much would have rather seen things play out without the meddling of the Sith. Aside from the plot flaws, I did enjoy the action towards the end of the episode, as Wolfpack helped the heroes finally rescue what was left of the captured Togrutas.

Looking Forward: Even though this episode was hyped to play on Anakin’s slave past, I don’t believe there was significant exposition or development with his character. The only element of these episodes that seems relevant to the overall story is Miraj’s inference that the Jedi are enslaved to the Republic. We know that this message will get through to most Jedi too late, but perhaps Ahsoka will put two and two together sooner. Considering that Ahsoka and Rex were the only major surviving characters in this arc that have an unknown fate, I’m surprised that this theme wasn’t played up more with their characters. Yet the experience still could be referenced in the future as being important to their development.


Storyline V: The Manipulation of Mercenaries

Episodes: A Friend In Need, Deception, Friends And Enemies, The Box, Crisis On Naboo

Summary: After the hit and miss Slavers Arc, the season moved along to a fan favorite faction in the Star Wars universe, the bounty hunters. The first episode followed Lux Bonteri on his quest for revenge for his parents’ deaths, which led him to the doorstep of the militant Death Watch with a worried Ahsoka in tail. However things went awry when she was held captive by the Mandos ,and Lux was forced to watch them terrorize a nearby village. With the help of a droid rebellion incited by R2, Ahsoka and Lux were able to escape the clutches of Pre Vizsla. But still seeking to avenge his parents, Lux left Ahsoka to chase his own destiny. Soon after on Coruscant, the Jedi enacted a plot to fake Obi-Wan’s death and insert him deep undercover in a ring of bounty hunters in order to discover information about the rumored abduction of the Chancellor. Oblivious to the plan, Anakin and Ahsoka then crossed the galaxy chasing Obi-Wan’s killer, who they discovered to be impersonated by Kenobi himself. Following a gruelling test designed by Moralo Eval to determine which bounty hunters were adept enough to help abduct the Chancellor, Cad Bane then led Obi-Wan and other hunters on the mission on the payroll of Count Dooku. Obi-Wan tried to use his inside position to thwart the mission, but at the last minute Dooku pulled the carpet out from under everyone and changed the plan. This resulted in a confrontation between Anakin and Dooku, as Dooku tried to abduct Palpatine himself. Yet with the help of Obi-Wan, Dooku failed and the Chancellor was saved.

Assessment: Like the previous storyline, this one was also inconsistent. I enjoyed the first episode. Even though I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a possible “romance” between Lux and Ahsoka, I felt the writers handled their relationship well by injecting a bit of humor into the situation. This episode was very visually aesthetic, from the snowy planet that it took place on to the architecture of the local’s village. The animation of the action scenes was very well done, and the Mandos were portrayed well. I liked the update to Vizsla’s armor and was excited to see a female warrior in Bo-Katan. The plot of the episode was also well contained. The following trio of bounty hunter episodes successfully built up Obi-Wan’s character and provided great development with the characters of Cad Bane and Moralo Eval. They contained good dialog and several great action sequences. It was awesome to see the sheer number of characters in these episodes, from cool new bounty hunters to owners of businesses. However I was very disappointed with the concluding episode of this storyline. Throughout the preceding episodes, the relationship between Kenobi, Bane, and Eval had been constantly evolving, revealing more about Bane and making Eval a more dynamic character. But in Crisis On Naboo, like he did in the slavers arc, Dooku intervened and stunted any further character growth. I felt like a mercenary storyline should end with a showdown between rogues, not a lightsaber duel that was a blatant copy of something that would happen again in the near future.

Looking Forward: The characters that gained the most from this storyline were Lux, Ahsoka, Bane, and Eval. Lux and Ahsoka’s continue to move forward, and they still may cross paths a few more times. They are coming from radically different places, and it will be interesting to see if they ever do meet in the middle at one point, and where things will go from there. With Bane, for a moment it seemed that his relationship with Kenobi was bringing out a more noble side of the merciless Duros, but upon realizing the betrayal, it’s likely that Bane’s status as a villain has been solidified. I expect that by the time this series end, Bane will meet his fate and be replaced by possibly Boba Fett as the most notorious hired gun in the galaxy. While Eval was portrayed as quite weak in the last few episodes of this storyline, there still may be some more development for him in store. Perhaps his genius might be recruited by the Sith to construct future technological terrors like the Death Star.


Storyline VI: Currents of Chaos

Episodes: Massacre, Bounty, Brothers, Revenge

Summary: The final storyline in Season 4 began with General Grievous leading a Separatist attack on Dathomir as revenge for Mother Talzin’s betrayal of Dooku. Despite being aided by an army of zombie witches, the Nightsisters quickly were wiped out by the droids, leaving only Asajj Ventress and Talzin alive. Having lost yet another family, Ventress then wandered the galaxy, making her way in the universe as a hired gun. She participated in protecting cargo being transported on a subterranean train with the help of fellow bounty hunters Boba Fett, Bossk, and other counterparts. However when Ventress discovered that the cargo was a kidnapped girl being forced into a marriage with a wealthy ruler, she had a change of heart and aborted the mission, returning the girl to her family. In the following episode, the story shifted to Savage Opress’s search for his brother, Darth Maul. Despite being betrayed by a snake named Morley, Savage found Maul in a degenerate state. But with the help of Mother Talzin, Maul was restored and sought to draw Obi-Wan Kenobi into a confrontation. Not expecting to have to face both Zabrak brothers, Kenobi was overpowered, but the unexpected appearance of Ventress initiated a more balanced 2 on 2 duel. Still unable to overcome Maul and Savage, Ventress and Kenobi escaped and left the brothers to plot a future attempt at revenge.

Assessment: This might have been the strongest storyline in Season 4 if not for some pacing issues in the third episode. The animation and action in Massacre was phenomenal, and the character development with Asajj Ventress through the first two episodes was exceptional. The second episode had an entertaining western feel and also included a good amount of action. I was glad that they included so many awesome bounty hunters in this episode, because I was disappointed in how things were left in the previous arc. Boba’s new armor was cool, Bossk looked fierce, the new characters Latts and C-21 were designed well, and it was great to see the addition of the Original Trilogy character Dengar. Yet the third episode confused me a little. After a great deal of hype, Maul didn’t show up until the last several minutes. I also felt like this was a lost opportunity to develop Savage’s character more. But the last episode ended the season on a high note, with fantastic action and animation, and great dialog. The final duel between the brothers, Kenobi, and Ventress was probably the best choreographed showdown in the entire series. I was glad that they left the story open at the end, because there was too much potential for further development with the characters to end things at that point.

Looking Forward: Considering that the return of Darth Maul was hyped to be the focal point of this storyline, I was disappointed to see how little explanation and purpose surrounded this event. I’m hoping that future Maul episodes will provide more backstory about his life after we last saw him in The Phantom Menace. Since he already avenged Qui-Gon’s death by defeating Maul, I don’t believe this storyline has any major effects on Obi-Wan’s character, but Savage and Ventress both have undecided fates that can be worked towards in the future. I’m guessing that they probably are headed in opposite directions, one will fall into darkness and be defeated, and the other will come to the light and die nobly or live a fulfilling life. It’s also interesting to note that this storyline briefly featured Boba Fett. He wasn’t strong enough to prevail this time, but eventually we will see him come into his own.

Epilogue

In conclusion, Season 4 was an average season filled with both ups and downs, exceptional stories and mind-boggling flops. It started off with a solid arc, then fell to low depths of mediocrity, only to rebound with one of the strongest arcs in the entire series. Then it ended with a series of inconsistent arcs that contained at least one or two dud episodes. After watching four seasons of the Clone Wars, it is my opinion that four part arcs are too long. So far, these are the quadrilogies we have seen, Geonosis (which actually had five episodes of you include the loosely connected Senate Spy), Umbara, Bounty Hunters, and Ventress/Maul. I personally feel like each of these arcs would have been better if condensed into three episodes each. Yet we still are hearing that more four part arcs are down the road. One other thing that I believe about this season in retrospect, is that the Slavers arc should have aired before the Umbara arc. The comic book episodes were clearly lower quality than the Umbara ones and suffered from dashed expectations after the high that was Carnage of Krell.

Looking forward to Season 5, I hope to see a continuation of the stories of Ventress, Maul, and Savage. I expect to see the Mandalorian story picked back up, with tensions and violence rising between Satine’s government and Death Watch. I’m looking forward to seeing how Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, Lux, and possibly Boba Fett might get caught up in the situation. Another thing I will be looking for is continued development with Captain Rex and other clones and exposition about their relationship with the Jedi and Order 66. I’m hoping that Season 5 is more consistent then Season 4 was and the arcs are more interconnected and build off of each other. One of the greatest flaws of this show is its inability to successfully float in the space between episodic and serial television, the result is plots and characters frequently being built up and then dropped or rendered irrelevant. I’d liked to see all of these sporadic storylines tied together and merged into one dynamic story that deepens the films and completely bridges the gaps between Episodes II and III. To do this, we need more Sidious and episodes that are relevant to the overall plot of the Clone Wars. As always I am optimistic that all of this can be achieved, and look forward to another season of this groundbreaking series.

7 comments:

  1. I mostly feel the same way... good review :)

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  2. Really well done summary of the season and I completely agree. Here's to hoping that season 5 is even better!

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  3. People listen up!! I have secret info on star wars the clone wars season 5 with ahsoka and lux's romance!!!!! First of all I've heard that ahsoka willeave the Jedi order to be with lux, and find her own path as far as fighting undercover and saving her from order 66!!! Epic plus ahsoka and lux plus romance equals the best thing in the history I the world!!!!!!!! Long live ahsoka and lux!!!!!!!!!!!!:):) comments? Questions? Please ask!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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