If you’ve watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars since it’s debut in 2008, you know that it’s gotten better and better with every season. But this, the fifth year of the Lucasfilm Animation show, is really a breakthrough. Why? Well, look at it this way. Seasons three and four featured mature, expansive, character-driven story arcs centered on Darth Maul, the Nightsisters, a deadly military campaign on Umbara, and a Day of the Jackal-style Undercover Obi-Wan plot. These were all episodes that older Star Wars fans (and parents) could enjoy every bit as much as their kids—and probably more than their kids. But peppered in between these installments like a bit of candy-colored filler were episodes geared squarely at the Under 10 set that, let’s just say, offered lesser returns. Unfortunately, these were episodes that usually focused on the droids. Stuff like R2-D2’s day of beauty in season three or that weird magical frog that menaced the droids in season four. The biggest problem with these installments is that they segregated two of the franchise’s most beloved characters in storylines that felt atonally childish compared to the sweeping episodes aired around them. What I and many fans had been hoping for was a concept that would integrate the droids more organically into the kind of taut, engaging storyline the series usually offers up. And that’s just what “Secret Weapons” did.
Yep, folks, this is the droid-centered episode I’ve been waiting for. I’m not surprised, either, that it should be this one, because “Secret Weapons” was penned by one of the finest writers to lend his storytelling prowess to that Galaxy Far, Far Away: Brent Friedman, who last season penned the Obi-Wan Undercover arc and my all-time favorite episode of The Clone Wars, “The Box.”
“Secret Weapons” had everything: a smart, sharp heist plot; bizarrely original alien characters; spectacular, truly three-dimensional, animation; and not only a natural integration of R2-D2 in the plot, but the remarkable achievement in characterization that was making him and his three fellow astromech droids distinct characters even though they’re non-verbal. Bravo, Mr. Friedman.
“Secret Weapons” opened with the Clone Wars logo tinted blue in honor of Artoo, but possibly to show also that this would be a kid-friendly installment. Supervising Director Dave Filoni told me before season five’s debut that he intended the red-tinted Clone Wars logo for the Darth Maul episodes last season to be partly in honor of Maul but partly a kind of “rating” indicator to parents that that would be a more mature, violent story.
The Jedi had intercepted a transmission from General Grievous. This time, though, the signal was scrambled, meaning that the Separatists had installed a massive new encoding matrix to scramble their communications from the Republic’s prying ears across several sectors. Luckily, the Jedi had identified the Separatist dreadnaught carrying the encryption module. So they put Republic colonel Meebur Gascon in charge of leading four droids—and one droid pilot—on a heist mission to infiltrate that dreadnaught and steal the encryption module. Col. Gascon was a four inch-high snail-like creature. But mind what Yoda said, and don’t judge Gascon by his size. He had been an accomplished military analyst for the Republic since the Battle of Geonosis. And he sounded like a tiny R. Lee Ermey. He would lead Artoo and three other astromechs on the mission.Of course, Star Wars always finds some comic relief to be necessary. So the five of them would be flown to the dreadnaught by a WAC pilot robot, who’s kind of like the mechanical version of Petro from the previous Young Jedi Knights arc. He even kicked himself when simulating how he would fight the Separatists. And of course he thought himself superior to the astromechs because of the fact he’s a biped and has some verbal ability, even if that verbal ability usually results in childish taunts like “The line starts behind me, mech.” When I saw WAC, all I could think, though, is that he’s just a glorified pit droid who should be servicing the podracers at the Boonta Eve Classic. I can just hear Watto during “Parts Upgrade” screen in the videogame Star Wars: Episode I—Racer saying, “Ohhhh!! You want buy pit droid, no?”
Gascon led the four mechs (and WAC) to a Parwan mechanical engineer, Dr. Gubacher, for upgrades. I know everyone wants a plush Gungi from the Young Jedi Knights episodes, but I tell you, I will not be happy until I get a Parwan action figure. Especially an action figure of my favorite Parwan, Derrown, from last season. Help me Lucas Licensing, you’re my only hope!
Dr. Gubacher, speaking in a mad-scientist German accent, which is interesting because Derrown only spoke in bleeps and bloops, gave Artoo enhanced rocket boosters. The little girlie pink astromech, QT-KT (Codenamed “Pinky”), got a mobile magnet that can attract anything metallic within seven meters, including mines. U9-C4 (Codename “Flattop”) got a laser cutter with a recoil that packs quite a wallop. And M5-BZ didn’t get something new put in, but rather something old taken out—his memory banks, to make room for the colonel’s command center. Which was awesome A full starship-caliber bridge inside that little mech, complete with a captain’s chair for Gascon WAC was upset that he didn’t get any upgrade. That’s because he’s just the pilot.
NEXT: The mission begins! Should we call Gascon and the droids The Tiny Half-Dozen or the Inglourious Robots? To prove his resourcefulness to the colonel, WAC put their stolen Separatist shuttle on a collision course with the dreadnaught, when they finally set out into space. Not sure what he was trying to prove with that, since the dreadnaught immediately pulled them in with its tractor beam. Once onboard, the five droids (and Gascon, safe inside BZ) were led out by two Seppie battlebots. R2 and QT quickly zapped them both and allowed everyone to escape. They headed to the site of the encryption matrix. First, Flattop C4 had to dismantle the automatic security grid surrounding the site by using his cutting laser to slice through the main power line. Now they needed to distract the two super battledroids that blocked their path. This is where WAC proved surprisingly helpful! He used his powerful prevarication skills to work by telling them they’d need to hide in a closet while he initiated some kind of power surge. Not being the brightest droids in the Separatist fleet—though really, are there any bright droids in the Separatist fleet?—they obliged.
Now they had a clear path to the module! The only problem was that BZ used the wrong arm to interface with an access panel and got fried—that’s the kind of mistake that can happen when you’ve lost your memory. With one droid down, and the colonel’s command center lost, the other ‘bots despaired for the success of the mission. But Gascon would not be deterred. He said that he was chosen for this because of his “fearsome cunning,” and perhaps also his size. They could still follow his plan and succeed. The droids demanded, though, that he stop using the weird nicknames to describe them. Or at least WAC did, since he’d tired of being called Cyclops because of his one eye. (Greek mythology is really popular in that Galaxy Far, Far Away?)
They proceeded into the final stretch of their mission. QT used her magnet to attract and collect all the swarm mines that flew around the module. Those would be handy for later. But just as R2 was about to fly up and grab the encryption matrix, the dreadnaught’s tactical droid and his troops cornered them. Our heroes weren’t going down without a fight, so R2 turned off the gravity, then flew toward the matrix, while C4 cut his way through several of their foes with his laser and QT fired the arsenal of mines she’d collected at them. That left only the enemy tactical droid standing. (If he’s markings had been a little more ornate, I’d say it was Kalani from the Onderon arc.) Gascon distracted the tactical droid while R2 grabbed the matrix. That tactical bot got a good grip on Gascon, however, and decided to squeeze the life out of him. It’d be pretty easy. All the droid needed was one good hand to crush Gascon like an empty soda can. Luckily, at that very moment WAC turned the gravity back on and R2 landed with a thud right on the tactical droid, cleaving his nemesis’ metallic head right off his shoulders. Mission accomplished! The droids had come to respect Gascon, and vice versa, with the colonel even agreeing to carry back the lifeless husk of BZ back to the ship for repair.
This was a fun, thrilling episode, and like the Young Jedi Knights arc before it, showed how much the Lucasfilm Animation team has evolved when trying to present more obviously kid-oriented storylines. Do you agree? Or are you guys just waiting for some more gritty Darth Maul action? See you next week!
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Image Credit: Lucasfilm]
‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Recap: The Enemy of My Enemy…
‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Recap: Cirque du Jedi
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To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Hello there!” I am Christian Blauvelt, and I will be your new guide to all things Star Wars. At Entertainment Weekly I became the holocron keeper, if you will, for any matters pertaining to that Galaxy Far, Far Away—including the new developments revealed by Lucasfilm Animation’s ongoing Cartoon Network series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. If you’ve been watching The Clone Wars at all over the past few years, you’ll know that this show has matured beyond anyone’s wildest expectations since its 2008 debut. As such, I recapped the show for EW.com, and drew quite a following among those who like to parse the Star Wars canon for even the tiniest, hair-splitting details. Don’t know the difference between a Kowakian monkey lizard and Krayt dragon? Then I’m your geek! And now I’m bringing my Clone Wars recaps to Hollywood.com!
First up, this weekend’s phenomenal arc-capping installment, “Tipping Points.” Every season, The Clone Wars gives us one grueling, muck-and-grime military campaign, usually spread over four episodes. That’s exactly what we got from the Onderon arc--a microscopic look at the galactic conflict from the ground-up perspective of civilians-turned-soldiers fighting for their freedom. As much as I enjoy episodes featuring Rex, Cody, and other of the Republic’s fine clone troopers, I still prefer looking at this war from the perspective of people who weren’t born in a vat. Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that the clone troopers are professional soldiers, but, to me, it's more interesting to focus on people like the rebels of Onderon who are actually fighting for a day when they won’t have to fight anymore. In short, the stakes are greater.
Last time we saw the rebels on Onderon, they had just rescued King Dendup from what would have been a nasty public execution. It was pretty thrilling, and I half expected rebel leader Steela to shout “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” as she clutched the king, for full Victor Hugo-esque impact. Still, several questions kept nagging me about this rescue. Why didn’t the rebels also try to kidnap the Separatist-allied usurper, King Rash? Why didn’t they try to shoot and destroy the Seppie tactical droid, Kalani? And why does the true king, Dendup, sound so much like Palpatine? Does this mean he’s really evil too?
Actually, there’s at least a very good answer as to why they didn’t kidnap or kill King Rash. An answer that speaks to how sophisticated this show has become in demonstrating the intersection of politics and combat. Because of their thrilling rescue of King Dendup, there’s now rioting in the streets of capital city Iziz. That is, rioting against the government of the usurper Rash and his Separatist allies. It took an elaborate piece of heroic tactical theater to spur the people into action. Onderon is full of really, really apathetic folks, it seems, and if the rebels had done anything rash like kidnap Rash it may have spooked the populace into inertia. The ordinary Onderonian on the street might have thought the rebels to be no better than Rash’s administration if they had employed a similar tactic against him. It would have been a false equivalency for sure, but Steela and the rebel leaders have to factor in public perception when developing their strategy. That’s what I mean about how savvy and subtle The Clone Wars has become in showing aspects of the galactic conflict. Compare the Onderon arc in this regard to the Battle of Ryloth storyline in Season 1—where the Ryloth rebels just had to shoot their way to victory against their positively genocidal Separatist overlords—and you’ll see how far this show has come.
NEXT: The battle for King Dendup is over. The Battle for Onderon is about to begin.
Recognizing her tremendous leadership ability, Dendup gave command of the Army to Steela. Steela, in turn, gave Lux a kiss. Oh, Ahsoka, your on-again, off-again relationship with Lux seems headed for permanent off-again status. But there was no time for anyone to make love under the dappled-green skies of Onderon. Kalani ordered a full-scale assault on the rebels' mountain base. His secret weapon? New droid gunships that shoot bullets instead of lasers and possess powerful ray shields. The only time we’ve seen these before was in Revenge of the Sith when the Seppies used them against the Wookiees in the Battle of Kashyyyk. And for full Cylon-sinister effect, they even respond to Kalani’s orders with “By your command!”
Not gonna lie. The battle was very Avatar-y. But before you allege any copycatting afoot, consider that Onderon had been established as a jungle planet with flying-beast riders in the '90s, years before James Cameron’s opus, in Kevin J. Anderson’s Tales of the Jedi comics.
Anyway, this fight wasn’t going well for the rebels. They had no defense against the droid gunships’ aerial assault. Obi-Wan even told Ahsoka that she should evacuate what forces she could if it looked like defeat was certain. The Republic just couldn’t afford to send in clone reinforcements.
If you think about it, this is the first time, really, that we’ve gotten a sense of how limited the Republic’s resources actually are. That initial order of 3 million clones from Kamino has stretched pretty far for the Grand Army of the Republic in terms of fighting battles on fronts all across the Galaxy. But there are limits. And the recognition of those limits is part of what lent this whole arc a new level of realism for the show. The Republic would certainly like to see Onderon back in the fold…but they need for the people of Onderon to want to rejoin the Republic as well, and to fight on their own to make that happen. Therefore, the Jedi can only serve as military advisers to the rebels, not actually fight the war for them outright. And maybe--just maybe--they would even help send arms to their allies through a third party.
Enter Hondo. The pirate seemed like the perfect third party for Anakin to employ to deliver rocket launchers to the rebels that would help pierce the gunships’ ray shields. Especially since Hondo owes the Jedi a debt for saving his leathery hide from the horned menace of Darth Maul and Savage Opress. So he fired up his starship and delivered the shoulder-fired missiles to the rebs, and even flirted a little bit with Steela! That lusty bastard. But at the first sign of blaster fire, off Hondo went: “Well, my work here is done.” With the rocket launchers, the rebels turned the tide. But only because of these new weapons in their arsenal. Another reason why the Battle of Onderon shows how smart and strategic The Clone Wars has become in its depiction of warfare--this isn’t just a laserfire vs. laserfire light-show anymore.
NEXT: Somebody becomes One with the Force. But I’m not going to turn to the Dark Side and spoil it for you before you click into the next page. I did enjoy that little bit of Luke and Han-style interplay between Ahsoka and Lux, when the latter responded to Ahsoka’s “Steela sure leads by example” with “What good will that do her if she gets herself killed?” Unfortunately, Lux’s quip turned genuinely prophetic just a moment later when Steela in fact did meet her end. Though she successfully rescued King Dendup from a posse of droids that were getting ready to push him over a cliff, it was Steela who found herself dangling off the edge when a gunship nearly crashed into them. A gunship that her own brother, Saw, had brought down. As her last act, Steela pushed the king to safety, but lost her footing and got only a tenuous grip on the cliff’s edge. Lux ran to her rescue but nearly fell over himself. Ahsoka then stepped in, but made the mistake of Force-lifting Lux, who wasn’t in as immediate of danger, out of the way first. Then when she tried to do the whole Yoda-style “Size Matters Not” thing and lift Steela, a laser blast from the downed gunship broke her concentration, and Steela fell to her death. But she had sacrificed herself to save the symbol of her planet’s hard-won freedom: King Dendup.
It was a powerful moment, and one that shows the real consequences of war. It isn’t just candy-colored laser battles designed to get kids to buy action figures. People can die, tragically and senselessly. The price of victory can be very high indeed. That's what gives this show moral purpose and urgency--the very thing that makes it so unique among any animated TV series today. That's why we're recapping it on Hollywood.com.
The Seppies could possibly continue to root out the rebels…but it would take time. And Count Dooku is not a patient man. So he ordered Kalani to withdraw their remaining forces. He did just that, and cleaned up his last and biggest loose-end by casually shooting King Rash.
We were left with a full, Return of the King-style victory celebration as Dendup once again took up the throne that was rightfully his. Lux told Ahsoka that he planned to follow in his mother’s footsteps and represent Onderon in the Galactic Senate. He would steer his planet toward rejoining the Republic. It may be imperfect, it may even be outright corrupt, but at least it still allows for its representatives to try to make it a more perfect union. If it weren’t secretly ruled by a Sith Lord hellbent on plunging the Galaxy into darkness and tyranny, that is. But, hey, Lux doesn’t know that. Hindsight is 50/50, right?
Unfortunately, Ahsoka is now so uncertain about fighting this war that she’s even lost confidence in the purpose of the Republic. Meaning that she’s still not on the same page as Lux. They’ve swapped positions! These two will never be able to get together will they?
What did you think of the Onderon arc? Do you agree that it’s a prime example of the way this series has matured? Do you think Ahsoka really was as disillusioned by the Republic’s non-assistance during these episodes as I think she may be? And is there any chance for Lusoka?
See you next week!
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The Lost star was in agony after a surfing accident but had no clue his injury was a broken bone until he could bear the pain no more.
And he blames the tough nature of surfing pal Kalani Robb for his efforts to walk the pain off.
Monaghan says, "Pro surfers are very tough about it (injury), so I paddled over to Kalani and said, 'I think I hurt my foot.' And he said, 'We'll catch two or three more waves and we'll go in.'
"Then we got out on the beach and he was looking for his girls, so we walked, like, 400 yards down the beach, and I'm hobbling.
"We put some ice on it and the next day (when) I woke up I couldn't even put my shoe on."
The Lord of the Rings star used a cane to hobble onto comedian Jimmy Kimmel's late-night TV show on Tuesday (27Apr10), with his left foot in a cast.
He told the host, "I always wanted to carry a cane. I feel like a P.I.M.P."
When Kimmel asked what had happened to him, the Brit revealed, "I broke my foot. I broke it in a very cool way... surfing. I broke it with one of the greatest surfers of his generation, a guy called Kalani Robb.
"I did a very late drop-in and I was looking for my section when I did a floater and my section was a little far away from me, so I was trying to cut in to the wave... I wiped out, and I was so annoyed... that I dug my left foot in to make a right... and I heard an explosion in my brain.
"I broke my metatarsal, which is easily the coolest bone in the world to break - it was the bone that Cartilage magazine has voted the in-vogue bone to break for the past three years. Before that it was the rib."
The English soccer fan is thrilled to share the injury with some of his heroes: "You're in a great gang with people like Stephen Gerrard, who plays for England..., Michael Owen, who plays for England..., Wayne Rooney, who plays for England, and a certain handsome character called David Beckham."
Monaghan then showed off an X-ray of his shattered metatarsal on his camera.