Artificial Continuum

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Witches of the Mist, the conclusion to the three part Savage Opress storyline, at the moment stands as one of the most important episodes in the series to date. Regardless of quality, the story advances made in this episode will forever change the make up of the series.

Following the events in the previous two episodes, Dooku begins his training of Savage Opress. However, at the same time the effects of Savage’s previous attacks have not gone unnoticed by the Jedi, who dispatch Anakin and Obiwan to deal with the threat. As Savage is quickly being thrust into the forefront of the war Ventress begins to enact the final stages of her revenge.

As a finale to a three part arc Witches of the Mist succeeds. The majority of the plot points are brought to a relatively satisfying conclusion, and it delivers on the necessary action that the story demands. However, as mentioned earlier Mist is perhaps most significant in how it drives several key players for the series into completely new territory. It is not surprising at all to see that the main characters of this saga (Count Dooku, Assaj Ventress, Savage Opress, and Mother Talzin) all stand on different ground then they did where the story began. This in and of itself makes this episode a winner. The Clone Wars is a series where events are often frustratingly contained within an episode or arc. This is not the case with Mist as there is no simple way the series can continue to function as it once was after this episode has concluded.

Although the Jedi are included their roles are miniscule and in the end utterly unneeded. Once again Dooku, Savage, and Ventress steal the show. Savage continues to grow and involve as a memorable villain and again appears surprisingly layered. His training at the hands of Dooku stands as a stark parallel to Yoda’s teaching of Luke in the Empire Strikes Back and offers an interesting glimpse into both characters as well as Sith culture.

However, the moment fans had been waiting for since the arc began was the final three way showdown between Savage, Ventress, and Dooku. Brilliantly animated, orchestrated, and choreographed the sequence drips with tension and emotion more so then any battle since Anakin’s duel with Obiwan in Revenge of the Sith. It may actually stand as the single best action sequence the series has ever had.
The episode culminates in a haunting and emotional final sequence that not only hints at things to come, but drops perhaps one of the most unexpected and bold twists in the history of the franchise.

Also notable is the inclusion of Delta Squad from the fan favorite video game Republic Commando. Although their appearance bubbles down to little more than a cameo, their appearance is a healthy bit a fan service.

If it were not for the issues of pacing Witches of the Mist would stand as one of the top three episodes of the series. However, like the previous installments before it, Mist is just too large a story to contain in a twenty two minute episode. Like Monster, this installment manages to avoid feeling bloated except for one sequence at its midpoint that feels incredibly disjointed.

Score: -A

When Season 3 was first teased at this year’s Celebration V, one of the most hyped plotlines surrounded a villain named Savage Opress. This powerful and intimidating villain was stated by George Lucas himself to be an important player in the shape of the series. Despite his ridiculous name, the majority of the fan base was excited for the inclusion of this seemingly brutal new villain. Savage made his debut in this week’s episode Monster, did he live up to the hype?

Still seething from her betrayal at the hands of Count Dooku and her failed attempt at revenge, Ventress has once again turned towards the Nightsisters for assistance. Following the failed assassination attempt conducted by Ventress and her witch kin, Dooku has become increasingly paranoid about attempts on his life by the Jedi and his other enemies. With nowhere to turn, he is contacted by Mother Talzin, the leader of the Nightsisters, who offers him a solution, a male from the planet of Dathomir. Little does Dooku realize that his new found apprentice will be a pawn for Ventress and her new allies.

Once again Monster focuses on the villains of the series, with none of the usual heroes making an appearance. This stands in the episode’s favor as the majority of plot surrounds Ventress’s vigorous selection process for her new pawn. Monster is brutal, violent, and contains some of the darkest material the show has visited to date.

As suspected the star of this episode is Savage Opress, who is given a surprisingly detailed and empathetic introduction. Although a member of a clan of Zabrak warriors, Savage is shown as a caring and human character. This makes his manipulation by Ventress and his transformation by the Nightsisters, who prove to be the true monsters of the episode, all the more horrifying. When Savage has become the villain we have glimpsed for months he is a completely different being then the one we were introduced to. Surprisingly this works, Monster creates a villain with all the brutish complexity of Frankenstein’s monster.

The brutal selection process makes up the majority of this episode, but was highlighted by expertly choreographed and animated action sequences. Often inventive and always engaging this sequence stands as one of the most fun of the season.
As the middle act of a trilogy of episodes, Monster acts a transition episode and once again suffers from issues of pacing. Monster works fluidly throughout the course of the plot until one horribly executed sequence towards the episode’s climax. The scene is handled so quickly and given so little thought that what could have been an effective step in Savage’s story just stands as a horribly awkward and disjointed scene.

Despite this one flaw, Monster stands as one of the single best episodes of the entire series and carefully lays the ground work for an explosive conclusion to one of the series’ best story arcs.

Score: -A

The Clone Wars for its near three year run now has been a series of heroism. Even if recently that line has begun to blur, the clones, Jedi, and most importantly Anakin himself have stood as true heroes in the conflict that has consumed the galaxy. However, Clone Wars has really developed into a series that thrives off its villains. Cad Bane, Aurra Sing, or Assaj Ventress, the dark side has always been a scene stealer. Nightsistsers took a turn for the better in giving us our first villain centric episode, and a step away from the clumsy politics driven installments that were prevalent in the beginning of the season.

Nigthsisters picks up in the middle of a massive space battle, led by Dooku’s prized assassin Assaj Ventress. The Republic is on the run, and it appears that the Seperatists may pull off a surprise victory. However, the prowess of Ventress has drawn the attention of Darth Sidious. Worried that his apprentice may be growing too powerful, Sidious orders the death of Dooku’s apprentice, setting off a chain of events that could shape the face of the war.

The shift of focus in Nightsisters is its most apparent attribute. Although we are given glimpses of Obiwan and Anakin in the first act, the villains are the centerpiece here and for that reason alone this episode becomes a must watch.
As the title suggests Nightsisters introduces the Dathomir witches to the Star Wars G canon for the first time. Long time villains of the expanded universe, the inclusion of the Nightsisters is a welcome addition to the series. Although both Dathomir and the clan themselves have undergone some changes since their initial appearance in the Star Wars comic line, little damage appears to have been done to the overall continuity. Even a brief glimpse at Ventress’s origins stays relatively close to the already established backstory.

Earlier in the season, Ventress stole the show in the supposedly clone centric episode Arc Troopers. It seems only appropriate that here Ventress’s spotlight is stolen by her master Dooku. Although her ever present malice and violence is at its peak here, her motives and actions in Nightsisters are all too familiar. This cannot be said for the Count, who is more fascinating in this single episode then through the entirety of his roles in the Star Wars prequels. Early in the episode when Sidious orders Dooku to murder his assassin, a surprisingly human display of compassion breaks through and makes the dynamic between the two all the more powerful. The bearded Sith shines yet again at the episodes climax in a spectacularly choreographed lightsaber duel that outshines many of those in the live action films. Dooku fights with a strange finesse and elegance that is only hinted at in the films.

Despite all that works, Nightsisters has one major flaw and that is one of pacing. As seen in Assassin and to a lesser degree Arc Troopers, there is quiet simply too much going on this episode for its own good. When sitting back and examining the episode as a whole it is sometimes surprising at simply how much story has progressed within the space of twenty two minutes. While a fast paced storyline works, Nightsisters often feels clunky. The story that the writers and directors of this outing are trying to tell is just too grand in scope for the time frame they are given. Although writer Katie Lucas, daughter of the big man himself, does a stellar job at setting pieces into place for the following two outings not everything can be salvaged.

The animation and score continue to improve at an amazing rate. Characters are more vibrant and expressive now than they ever have been, and the action sequences are often breathtaking.

Overall, Nightsisters is a welcome change to the series. Exciting, colorful, and with heavy doses of dark side this stands as one of the better episodes of the series. Let’s just fix those pacing issues.

Score: B+