Artificial Continuum

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Our heroes are in a dire situation. "Prisoners" brings about the final episode of the Mon Cala arc with a opening that is probably as bleak as we've seen on the show (perhaps outside of "The Citadel" arc last season). Heroes are captured, a king is on the run, and Riff Tamson stands as proud leader of Mon Cala. While, "Prisoners" brings about a suitably satisfying conclusion to this opening art to Season 4, it (like its predecessors) is still flawed, but suitably entertaining.

Following the disastrous results of the battle seen in "Gungan Attack", Anakin, Padme, Ackbar, Jar Jar, Fisto, and their armies have been captured by Separatist forces. As Tamson attempts to torture the location of Prince Lee Char out of the surviving Republic leadership, Ahsoka and the fleeing Prince must develop a plan to not only rescue their people but win back their planet.

One thing that "Prisoners" and the entirety of this arc has provided well is a sense of scale. The battles, environments, and even the consequences of battle seem larger than we have seen so far in the series. Although the end result of this episode is really no surprise, there is a suitable amount of tension leading up to its climax.

Perhaps the most notable improvement is how the character of Lee Char seems to have undergone a drastic improvement in both writing and voice acting between episodes. Although his overall story arc is still predictable, Lee Char is no longer as cringe worthy a central character as he was in the previous installments. His dialogue feels more natural, and for some odd reason his voice has grown on me.

Tamson, of course, is once again a welcome addition to "Prisoners". His brutality makes a comeback, and the shark headed general kills in some truly jarring ways. With the conclusion of "Prisoners" it is easy to place Tamson alongside such classic Clone Wars villains as The Son, Cad Bane, and Savage Opress.

Like "Gungan Attack", the action in "Prisoners" is better shot and more suited to its underwater environment than the opener "Water War". That being said, the return to land and spaced based battles will be a welcome decision by the production crew. While these past episodes were an interesting experiment and obviously a valiant effort on the part of the animation crew, they were not as successful as one might have hoped at conveying a sense of visceral action.

Despite the positive improvements "Prisoners" made to the Mon Cala storyline, it also made some rather jarring missteps. The conclusion itself rang as being to hollow and predictable, and there are some moments of ridiculous Gungan/Jar Jar slapstick that stand completely completely at odds with the rest of the episode.

That being said, "Prisoners" was an entertaining conclusion to the first arc of season four. While it was flawed and frustrating at times, its easy to see that quite a bit of work went into the production of these episodes and in that regard alone they are respectable.

Score: B
Friday, September 16, 2011

The Battle of Mon Cala/Dac/Mon Calamari continues in the second half the fourth season opener of The Clone Wars with a jump in quality but with the reappearance of old problems.

After the overwhelming loss in the previous episode, the survivors are on the run from the ever persistent Quarren and Separatist forces. Lee-Char is doubting his abilities as a leader more now than ever and even the help of Ahsoka and Ackbar can't seem to help him step up to the role of leader his people need. Meanwhile, Master Yoda approaches an old ally for assistance in the battle and the Separatist's prepare for a final assault to kill the last lines of the Mon Calamari defense.

As the second episode of a three part arc, "Gungan Attack" suffers from much of the same problems as "Water War" but improves due to a better sense of direction and character.

"Gungan Attack" throughout conveys a sense of urgency. Our heroes are stranded and separated and are faced with seemingly impossible odds. Like last year's "Counterattack" (one of my personal favorites), this episode follows a small band of heroes attempting, mostly fruitlessly, to avoid the clutches of a diabolical enemy commander and waves of enemies. Its interesting to see a battle go so utterly against the Republic's favor, which is something we have yet to see in the series.

Tamson is ,again, a scene-stealer. Although not as brutal as he appeared in the episode prior, the shark-like commander continues to manipulate both the Quarren and Mon Calamari to benefit himself. The plot line is interesting and is a welcome distraction from Lee Char's floundering attempts at leadership. The fact that Tamson is paired with a sympathetic and honorable Quarren leader makes the entire political web of this arc all the more engaging.

The inclusion of the Gungan army comes as a surprising (well, relatively given the title of the episode) and bizarre twist. Their inclusion seems rushed and almost haphazard, and this continues to their inclusion in the battle itself. Jar Jar makes his return and again he injects an otherwise serious episode with unneeded and jarring slapstick.

For the most part the action in "Gungan Attack" is far more focused and visceral. The big scale battles have passed in favor of guerilla warfare, and the latter lends itself better to the underwater setting. The climax for the episode features an inventive sequence that involves a great fight scene between Tamson and Jedi Master Kit Fisto, who plays a far more pivotal role here than in "Water War".

Again, the animation is beautiful. The world of Mon Cala is vibrant and the animation team again succeeds at creating realistic water effects. Subtle touches such as muffled explosions and floating corpses help to create a unique visual flair to the episode that make it a unique viewing experience.

As for those returning problems? Well, Lee-Char is still frustrating and poorly voiced, the terms of war are still confusing, and the large scale battles are still poorly executed. Outside that, "Gungan Attack" represents an improvement for the arc and leaves it open for an even stronger installment next week.

Score: B

Season Four is upon us and The Clone Wars promises to give us one action packed season beginning with a three part underwater battle on the series famous planet of Dac/Mon Calomari/Mon Cala (whatever).

The world of Mon Cala is in a state of crisis. Its long time leader, a Mon Calomari king, has been assassinated and in his death leaves a power struggle between the two native races the Quarren and Mon Calomari. The current prince, the young Lee-Char, is next in line for the throne, something the Quarren aren't particularly happy about. Due to the manipulation of the Separatist ambassador Riff Tamson the Quarren are soon swayed the enemy side and the planet is plunged into civil war.

"Water War" like numerous episodes of Clone Wars presents an interesting premise and great visuals but struggles over execution and muddy dialogue.

The episode's beginning is chaotic and even with the typical "Clone Wars Intro" sequence what exactly is going on takes a few seconds to piece together. This may be in the fact that it doesn't really make sense why the Quarren care so much about the death of a Mon Calomari king. The races have always been portrayed in the past as two separate entities previously in the Expanded Universe. If this has been retconned then while unfortunate, it would have been nice to have a better understanding of what exactly the state of the planet is.

The character arc for this series of episodes appears to focus around Lee-Char, who is a hard character to adjust to. He is portrayed as a naive and childlike leader, which in itself is okay. Lee-Char just suffers as a character from hackneyed dialogue and a less than stellar voice actor. Thankfully, he is paired alongside Captain Ackbar (the earlier incarnation of the famous fish headed alien from Return of the Jedi). Ackbar's portrayal is both refreshing and true to the original film and its great to see him take a lead role in this episode.

Riff Tamson is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe. His political aspirations are ambitious, and some might say cliched, but he makes up for that in visual style and sheer brutality. He alone carries some scenes above the mediocrity that tends to grip this episode. During the inevitable battle, Tamson rips and tears his ways through enemies with animal-like brutality and its a gory wonder to behold. His manipulation of the Quarren people is also an interesting plot line as it helps to emphasize the grey areas of the show's political storyline.

Visually, the episode is a wonder. Underwater effects are given beautiful levels of depth and feel as realistic as a Star Wars world can be. Characters float, swim, and charge through liquid with incredible fluidity that has never been matched on the show until this point.

However, something has to be said about how non-compelling the large scale battles in this episode are. While the sheer scale of them are sometimes a fun visual treat, they lack the punch that episodes like "Landing at Point Rain" or "Arc Tropers" brought. This is primarily due to the underwater set piece. Characters are slowed down considerably and underwater fire fights are actually less exciting than they sound. This could have been avoided with clever choreography and camera work, but outside some close up action scenes (mostly involving Tamson) there is little to be impressed by.

Overall, "Water War" is an above average episode of the series. While boasting some interesting characters and great visuals, it is eventually weighed down by its uneven plot, frustrating main character, and disappointing battle scenes that prevent it from reaching its potential.

Score: -B