Artificial Continuum

Friday, December 4, 2009
Star Wars: The Clone Wars rockets into its second season with an explosive three episode arc, but does it soar or crash? The Clone Wars ended last season with the introduction of the show created bad-ass bounty hunter, Cad Bane. Bane became an overnight fan favorite due to his original design, and his sadistic brutality. Smartly, Dave Filoni, supervising director of The Clone Wars, decided to feature him even more heavily in the opener to the shows sophomore season. Filoni promised darker and more mature storytelling, and to take multiple steps away from the mixed reviewed first season.

Holocron Heist

“Holocron Heist” follows the efforts of Cad Bane, and a small team of other bounty hunters to steal a valuable Jedi holocron, that contains information on all the galaxies force sensitive children. However, Ahsoka, who has been assigned to guard duty for disobeying orders, leads a counter attack to prevent the thievery.

“Holocron Heist” is a mixed bag of an episode. Thankfully, it doesn't delve into stupidity or lame jokes like some episodes in the first season, but instead flounders on several plot points and design flaws. (Problems I'd take any day over the former.) The first major issue is Ahsoka's punishment. While leading a ground assault on Felucia, she refuses to retreat despite her master's urgings that she is about to be overwhelmed by a much larger attack force. Although the battle scene is beautifully animated, and well designed, Ahsoka's attitude seems out of place. In season one, Ahsoka faced a similar situation that ended up killing her entire squad. This experience scarred her deeply, and it was much of a struggle to take up her position of leadership again. However, to have her take part in a similar action in this episode felt counter productive. You would have though such a traumatic event in her character's history would have lead to some change in behavior.

Another problem “Holocron Heist” faces is Cad Bane. Yes, Cad Bane. The same character I was raving about earlier becomes a strange liability to this episode. Bane's introduction scene includes some of the best imagery seen so far in the series, and it really stands out from the rest of the episode. However, the first main problem with Bane comes in the form of his employer, Darth Sidious. Darth Sidious is very much the central villain to the entire Star Wars saga. His appearances are always marked by a sense of dark royalty, and secrecy. To see such a powerful and central character resorting to hiring a bounty hunter to do his bidding seems out of character. At the very least, he would have Dooku, or one of his other subordinates take care of the actual dirty work. Resorting directly to Bane seems like a liability that Sidious wouldn't be willing to take. Another issue with Bane is how the episode frequently depicts him stumbling into various traps or situations that could kill him. These situations feel out of place seeing as Bane is not only a cool and collected character, but a villain. Why should the audience care at all if he is sucked into a wind turbine? He's trying to kill our heroes.

However, on the plus side “Holocron Heist” is a well crafted, and interesting story that plays out very much like a crime drama, but one that includes shapeshifting aliens and robots voice by Seth Green. Despite it's shortcomings, “Holocron Heist” is an enjoyable episode, and sets the tone for episodes to come.

Score: B

Cargo of Doom

Picking up right where the previous episode left off, the episode follows Cad Bane as he steals the second piece to the holocron he stole in the previous episode. While attempting to escape with his cargo and a captured Jedi, Bane is ambushed by Anakin Skywalker and his fleet. After quickly destroying Bane's ragtag group of frigates, Anakin and Ahsoka are forced to board his smoldering capital ship to rescue their capture comrade and holocron.

Unlike the previous episode Bane is once again at the top of his game. He pulls off a series of interesting and devilish traps and moves that like his debut episode, “Hostage Crisis” are fun to watch. At the top of his badassery, Bane deals with his opponents with deadly skill. He even tortures a character to death, a moment that is shocking to see in a series that is primarily aimed to all ages. However, once again aspects of Bane's character seem out of place. The fact that the Separatists would entrust an entire battle fleet to a bounty hunter seems not only uncharacteristic, but just stupid. The Clone Wars series seems to not realize that the Separatists aren't just a group of droids, but a coalition of organic species who have realized that the Republic can no longer sustain itself. They are a political entity, not some mindless group of evil beings, and this episode strays from that idea more then any.

Another issue with the episode was how it handled some of the issues with space. There are two instances in the episode where a character is direclty exposed to space, and survives. In one scene, Anakin and Ahsoka board Cad Bane's vessel wearing little more then space helmets. Later, Bane opens an airlock in an attempt to kill the two Jedi, but the two face little more then being sucked outwards. Realistically, just being exposed to space in those instances would have killed the two instantly.

A highlight of the episode was Anakin's forces first encounter with Bane. Using a device on one of his hand gauntlets, Bane deactivated the gravity in the hanger where he had been corner. Leading to a unique and well designed battle sequences. Droids were shot in half only to find their bodies drifting away from them. Clones were killed and floated upwards like dead fish. And Anakin and Bane dueled like two martial arts fighters. The action overall in this episode was well done, and the whole story had a feeling of urgency.

Overall, this episode was a step up from the previous, and the best of the Bane episodes so far.

Score: -A

Children of the Force

The conclusion to Season 2's opening arc delivers with everything that is right with the Clone Wars and very little that is wrong. This epsiode followed Bane's escape from Anakin's custody, and his and Sidious attempts to capture the Force sensitive children listed in the stolen Holocron. Playing out like a game of cat and mouse between the two sides, the struggle of power between both sides is handled well and actually sees equally matched.

As the chase between both sides spills across the galaxy a wide range of locales are shown, the most ever seen in the series so far. Ranging from the swamp planet of Rodia, Naboo, Bane's space station hideout, and Mustafar, the locations add an epic scope to the episode that actually adds the Jedi's feelings of desperation. Although every one of these locales are portrayed nicely, especially Naboo, the inclusion of Mustafar seems like an odd decision. As the planet where Anakin and Obi-wan held their fateful duel, Mustafar seems like an odd choice. It is utterly bizarre to see the now heroic Anakin jumping about on the planet that symbolizes his fall from grace.

Another noteworthy aspect is the inclusion of Darth Sidious. Although Sidious had played a minor role in the two prior levels, this is the most active role he has had in the series to date. Although he still never appears in person, Sidious's plans for the force sensitive children are stated explicitly and openly by the Sith master himself. Having the shadowy figure play such an open and active role in this episode once again seems like a bizarre link to Revenge of the Sith, that wasn't completely necessary. Dooku, a character already well established in the show, could have carried out the role just as easily. Sidious identity is also made painfully obvious in this episode, which is no surprise to the viewers, but it distracts from the episode at a whole. There is one scene were Palpatine confronts Anakin about the crisis with the Jedi children in which only the ignorant could doubt his identity.

Yet another distraction to the episode was just how cutesy the child Jedi were. With bulbous eyes and bodies that resembled those of Care Bear, the children came off as distraction as a whole. A geek part of me also finds it annoying that Rodian children cry exactly like a human baby.
Despite these complaints Children of the Force was a strong episode. There is a scene in which Mace Windu, Obi-wan, and Anakin attempt to crack Bane's mind with the Force that is incredibly eerie and effective. Bane is once again a show stealer, and it is impressive to see how he turns even losses into victories. The ending scene at Mustafar is also surprisingly climactic and exciting.

Overall while not as strong as the episode prior, Children of the Force is another example of how the Clone Wars is beginning to find its footing.

Score: B+

Sorry for the delay, I've been working on a lot of things lately, and haven't had time to write reviews. The next pod of episodes which deal with the Second Battle of Geonosis should have a review up by the end of next week.