I can still barely wrap my brain around “The Lawless.” Yes, there’s that amazing cliffhanger, which makes me more eager than ever to find out what’s going to happen to Clone Wars' unfortunately still-up-in-the-air Season 6. But this was an episode where the journey was as satisfying as the destination. You gotta give a massive amount of credit to storytellers who can evoke emotion out of the deaths of both a heroic character and a villainous character. How could we possibly feel any emotion for Darth Maul and Savage Opress after the former gutted Duchess Satine before Obi-Wan Kenobi’s eyes? And yet, when Darth Sidious sliced the life out of Savage, we couldn’t help but feel sorrow for the inevitable outcome of a monstrous life that never had to be monstrous. “I am an unworthy apprentice,” Savage rasped at the end as Mother Talzin’s Nightsister magic drained out of him, Clancy Brown finding a pitch perfect mix of tough-guy cool, anguished regret, disappointment, and self-loathing. “I’m not like you. I never was.” To actually make us sorry for him, after what he and Maul did to Satine? That’s an incredible achievement.
Due to the heightened emotions, mythic gravitas, and cinematic sweep of “The Lawless,” it’s no surprise that there were a number of references to the Star Wars movies themselves, right down to the way the episode started: in medias res. Maul had taken over Death Watch, killed Vizsla, and installed himself as the unseen ruler of Mandalore. But Tom Kane’s narration breezed through that to get us smack into the middle of a jailbreak, and I loved the get-to-the-good-stuff urgency with which he said, “We now find Duchess Satine in prison!” That leads us to Star Wars Movie Callback #1: Corky’s “I’m here to rescue you!” Yes, Satine’s nephew with the chiseled Nordic features had stolen a suit of Death Watch armor and had arrived to rescue his aunt. His accomplice? Bo-Katan! But wait, she’s helping Satine, who she just tried to unseat but one episode ago? I guess her anti-Zabrak sentiment is greater than her anti-pacifist sentiment?
Dave Filoni said in our inaugural Clone Wars Google Hangout yesterday that he’s worked out a full geneaology for House Kreyze. But one question still left unanswered now that we know Bo-Katan is Satine’s sister is the following: since Corky is Satine’s nephew, is he Bo-Katan’s son? Did she just abandon him to pursue the life of a warrior? If so, he doesn’t seem to bear much of a grudge. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s an interesting question to ask. Bo-Katan said she was helping her sister, because “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But what a fascinating bit of backstory remains to be told about how Satine and Bo were torn apart in the first place.
They boarded a Gian Speeder that reminded me of my first-ever Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace toy, a Gian Speeder flanked by plastic battle droids set inside a faux-Renaissance-style Naboo archway, that I got for Christmas 1998 as a 12-year-old. Of course, they had barely pulled out into a hoverlane when Maul’s forces attacked. By the Force, the choreography of this airborne, 3-D fight was incredible, with each balletic pivot and armored roundhouse kick having the feeling of weight behind it, like these combatants are truly subject to the physics of the world around them. Case in point: when Bo-katan fires her grappling hook onto a pursuing warrior, then dangles off him, suspended in midair because of his jetpack. Beautiful stuff. A depiction of a warrior people who’ve mastered their environment as best they can while still adhering to the physical laws of their environment, unlike the Sith who we’ll later see impose their will upon physics and bend it to suit their needs.
NEXT: Maul uses Satine to set the perfect Jedi trap.
It began to look bleak. Satine wasn’t going to get away. But she could at least get a message out to Obi-Wan about what had happened to her. Star Wars Movie Callback #2: Satine’s “Obi-Wan, I Need Your Help!” No, it wasn’t quite “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” but it got the job done.” It didn’t hurt that she looked her very best ever, in this slinky, form-fitting, high-collared outfit. Mandarin collars make the hearts of Jedi—and me—grow fonder.
Unfortunately for Satine, she had walked right into a trap that was, in turn, also a trap for Obi-Wan. Like the master strategist that we never knew he always was, Maul anticipated Satine’s jailbreak and planned to use it to his advantage. He’d give her some slack, make it look like she was escaping, get far enough to put in a distress call to Obi-Wan, then reel her back in. That way she wouldn’t know that she was really forcing her old boyfriend into a confrontation with the Sith Lord. And, since Mandalore had remained neutral throughout the war, and the Death Watch were no longer aligned to the Separatists, he’d have to come alone—the Jedi Council would not meddle in a neutral planet’s internal affairs when they’ve got a galaxy-spanning war to fight. Like the one Darth Sidious himself would later set for Obi-Wan on Utapau, it was the perfect Jedi trap. Star Wars Movie Callback #3: Maul’s Sidious-like “Good, you have done well” to Almec when the Prime Minister notified him that Satine had sent a distress message to Kenobi.
Going this one alone, Obi-Wan flew the Twilight, now barely held together at all after some of Anakin’s tinkering, to be at Satine's side. Filoni said during our chat yesterday that he was never a big fan of the Twilight’s design and was more than okay with its ultimate fate in this episode. Obi-Wan was dressed in his Rako Hardeen disguise from Brent Friedman’s incredible Undercover Kenobi arc from Season 4. He told the (space)port authority guard that he had a landing permit, but left it on the ship. They went aboard together to find it. Star Wars Movie Callback #4: An offscreen Obi-Wan dispatching the Mandalorian guard and stealing his armor, just like Luke and Han aboard the Falcon in A New Hope.
Next thing you know, Satine was being rescued...again! At hearing the voice of Obi-Wan, she turned and threw herself into his arms. But, ever the proper, attachment-free Jedi, he pushed her away. Seriously, Obi-Wan, is your heart made of ice? Are you that devoted to the Jedi Code? Or are you really using it as a kind of beard…Hmm. They made their way out of the detention block—Star Wars Movie Callback #5: Wookiee Prisoner Trick! With Satine as the Wookiee in this scenario—but encountered another Death Watch soldier in a turbolift. “What’s the authorization code?” the soldier asked Obi-Wan, regarding the transfer. Obi-Wan’s fist! Indiana Jones Movie Callback #1: Obi-Wan dispatching a guard offscreen to make a quick exit and rescue his girlfriend. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be getting off Mandalore anytime soon without some outside help. Satine suggested they contact her sister. Guess who!
NEXT: “Who Will Fall?” was the tagline for Season 5. Last week it was Vizsla. But now, there is another.
If only they had contacted Bo-Katan sooner, because the Twilight, it seems, couldn’t even handle small-arms blaster fire, let alone when one of Maul’s henchmen fired a rocket into it. Obi-Wan and Satine came crashing back to Terra Mandalore, and who should be waiting for them? Star Wars Movie Callback #6: “We meet again, Kenobi!” No, he didn’t add “When we last met I was but the learner, now I am the master,” though he probably could have. Unlike Obi-Wan’s later experience with another Darth, Maul didn’t want to kill him. He wanted to make him suffer. And for that, he needed him alive. In his throne room, Maul Force-choked Satine before the helpless Jedi Master. Satine’s hair flowed exquisitely in the wind—another area of startling improvement in the animation—and she looked lovely despite her distress. Then Maul impaled her on Vizsla’s darksaber. Obi-Wan cradled her in his arms as life began to ebb out of her sundered body. “Remember, my dear Obi-Wan,” Satine said. “I loved you always. I always will.” For a minute, I was worried Obi-Wan would say, “I know.” But actually, he ended up saying nothing. I suppose he showed his affection for her rather than verbalizing it, but I would have loved it if he could have reciprocated her sentiment in some way. It’s at a moment like this when I’m not entirely certain it is a strength to not have any attachments. Isn’t it, on some level, a fear of loss that motivates a Jedi’s disavowal of all attachment? And isn’t fear ultimately a path to the Dark Side? Maybe that’s why this Jedi Order is doomed, and why Luke Skywalker’s New Jedi Order will be even that much stronger. Luke’s Jedi tolerate attachment, even romance and marriage, because they realize that emotional connection can fuel compassion, a Jedi’s highest calling. Without any attachment how could you have compassion?
Still, I suppose Obi-Wan’s form of grief is preferable to its polar opposite: Anakin’s, when he thinks Padmé is going to die. Anakin can never let go, and is so determined to remain attached to his wife that he destroys all around him including much of himself. Obviously, compared to that, Obi-Wan’s approach is better, but I do think there’s a middle ground between these two poles, and that Luke is the one to discover it.
Anyway, with Satine’s death, half a galaxy away, it’s as if Palpatine sensed a swelling in the Dark Side. He told Mas Amedda—Star Wars Movie Callback #7—“Prepare my ship.” Does this mean Amedda is in on the fact that his Supreme Chancellor is a Sith Lord? Off to Mandalore he went.
NEXT: Maul senses a presence…a presence he hasn’t felt since…
The third time is always the charm, and so it was during our third attempted jailbreak, when Bo-Katan rescued Obi-Wan from his captors during a transfer. She outfitted him with a jetpack and he was ready to go. He would need to get back to the Republic to tell them of what's happened on Mandalore, because, really, a full Republic invasion would be preferable to the chaos that had already engulfed the planet. We finally got that great shot from the Season 5 trailer I debuted on EW.com last August: of Obi-Wan, lightsaber lit and unfurled, standing in the doorway of a hangar, a calm hurricane’s eye looking at all the chaos around him as Maul and Bo-Katan’s forces battle to the death. He got ready to board his ship, but Bo wouldn’t leave with him. It was then that Obi-Wan realized she must be Satine’s sister. I mean, the refined, patrician bone structure they both share should have been a dead giveaway. Oh, Obi-Wan. Here’s another woman you will inevitably disappoint.
One thing that’s quite different about the Clone Wars TV series as opposed to the Clone Wars comics and novels that fleshed out the time period before the release of Revenge of the Sith in 2005 is that so far this show hasn’t concerned itself at all with the search for Darth Sidious. Remember, Count Dooku even told Obi-Wan about Sidious in the events leading up to the Battle of Geonosis in Attack of the Clones. So shouldn’t they maybe be looking for that guy? Well, on the TV series, the Jedi don’t seem to give a damn. I mean, you’d think maybe Obi-Wan would sense the erupting Dark Side energy that surely must have come from Darth Sidious’ Sith Lord Smackdown not far away.
Star Wars Movie Callback #8: “I sense a presence,” said Maul. “A presence I haven’t felt since…Master!” Sidious strode into Maul’s throne room like a shadow given flesh, a singularity in the Dark Side that consumes everything and contributes nothing. Maul, obsequious, said he had built the largest criminal network in the galaxy all in a bid to return to his old Master’ side. Sidious knew better. His apprentice had become a rival. He shoved Maul and Savage through the Force and withdrew twin crimson blades. (He must always have two at all times, because he still was one to fight Yoda in Revenge of the Sith after one flies out the window during his battle with Mace Windu.) It was on. The best lightsaber duel The Clone Wars has ever given us had begun.
NEXT: Sidious proves why he, and he alone, is the Master.
It worked so well, because it was a clash of two different aspects of the Dark Side. There’s the Dark Side that burns hot—that of Maul and Savage—that’s fueled by anger and a lust for blood and revenge, and the Dark Side that runs cold, that isn’t fueled by any emotion whatsoever, that’s detached, analytical: Palpatine’s Dark Side. That kind of Dark Side energy feeds only off the emotions of others, not the Force user himself. That means Palpatine does whatever he can to instill fear, anger, and hatred in his opponents, and takes pleasure in their emotional distress, emotions that he himself can no longer experience. It’s why his fight with Maul and Savage—and later with Yoda—isn’t much of a fight at all, but a great tease, in which he toys with his enemies and deploys their own weaknesses against them. Which is why the one emotion he may experience during his fight with Maul, Savage, and later Yoda, is…joy. He seems to take such a thrill in toying with these opponents. I guess to be really good at your job, you have to love it. Sidious loves it. His mastery is so great, he probably doesn’t even need to do all the flips and twirls and balletic maneuvering we see in this fight. He just does all that acrobatic stuff for the pure theatricality of it. What’s life and death for Maul and Savage is just exercise to him. If the goal of the Dark Side is for an individual to impose their will upon the Force, then Sidious has not only done that, but gone further and imposed his will on physics itself. When Maul and Savage throw him over a ledge, he levitates and instead uses the Force to hurl them off the cliff.
In short, the resolution to Maul and Savage’s reign of terror was Deus Ex Sidious. He impaled Savage on his twin blades. Maul rushed to his side, but it was too late. Sidious cackled that Maul was no longer his apprentice and had been replaced. They locked blades again, until finally Sidious unleashed the ace that’s always up his sleeve: his Force lightning. His former apprentice cried for mercy. “There is no mercy,” Sidious said. “Do not worry. I’m not going to kill you. I have other uses for youuuu….” The way that final “you” became a sadistic laugh may be the greatest thing Ian Abercrombie ever did this with character—and he did a lot of great things with this character. An incredible send-off for him. A terrifying cliffhanger for us.
Just what do you think Sidious has in mind for Maul? And how long do you think it’s going to be, before we find out? Also, are you going to need therapy after all this?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]