This is what we’ve been waiting for.
“One vision can have many interpretations,” was the moral that opened “Eminence,” Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ return to the brutal, thrilling sturm und drang of Darth Maul and his still-shadowy plan of revenge. You could see that moral as a mission statement for The Clone Wars itself. This is a show that filters that Galaxy Far, Far Away through a prism of perspectives: heroic Kurosawa-style tales of Jedi honor and sacrifice; kid-friendly coming-of-age stories about younglings testing themselves; quixotic odysseys of droids and other misfits who find purpose and meaning in a galaxy impossibly vast and diverse; flinty military procedurals about clones, their toil on battlefields far and wide, and their struggle to forge unique identities despite being bred to fight and die; and Leone-esque actioners about the scum and villainy who profit off conflict.
The last of these sub-genres within The Clone Wars may actually be the most satisfying. That’s because it strikes the closest to the conceptual heart of Star Wars itself. Unlike Star Trek, which posits the idea of a utopian future in which humanity progresses more and more toward peace, harmony, and tranquility, despite the alien races that threaten to sabotage that utopia, the Star Wars galaxy is one thoroughly messed-up place. If you’re not a Jedi, a politician, a military leader, a wealthy merchant, bounty hunter, or gangster, it could be really hard to survive there. Aside from the fact that that galaxy is almost always engulfed in war, there’s a stark economic disparity between rich and poor—even on that most glistening of planets, Coruscant. An economic disparity that results in bounty hunting, smuggling, spice-trading, and slavery. Unlike the aspirational quality of Star Trek, Star Wars presents back to us a cracked-mirror version of our own society, in which the boundary lines between capitalism and criminality overlap. The way Warner Bros.’ gangster movies in the 1930s and ‘40s did. The way Spaghetti Westerns did. The Jedi are all the more noble because even at their height, they were essentially alone: honorable men and women in a dishonorable world. That Galaxy Far, Far Away is even more chaotic than our own patch of the universe—and yet we call it escapism. This is why Star Wars is at its very best when it lingers on scum and villainy, as Clone Wars did in “Eminence,” because that is its conceptual heart.
“Eminence” is so fascinating, because it doesn’t feature any of the good guys. It lingered solely on the black-hearted and the blacker-hearted. It opened with Maul and Savage’s escape pod drifting through the icy blackness of space and suddenly shrouded in shadow from a spaceship passing overhead. A fountain of sparks cut through its airlock door and suddenly emerged a helmeted Mandalorian wielding a darksaber. Pre Vizsla! Jon Favreau’s Death Watch baddie stepped in to the pod alongside his lieutenant, Katee Sackhoff’s Bo Katan, and gazed upon two slumbering would-be Sith Lords, chilled into unconsciousness during their long journey through the void. (Lucasfilm has said that this scene is an homage to the opening of Aliens.)
Okay, think about this voice cast for a moment: we’ve got Being Human’s Sam Witwer as Maul, The Highlander’s Clancy Brown as Savage, Iron Man and Elf director Jon Favreau as Vizsla, and Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff as Katan. This is like The Avengers of voice actors.