Wow, what a difference a week makes when it comes to writing about Star Wars: The Clone Wars, huh? When I last recapped Lucasfilm Animation’s series, the Onderon arc had just wrapped up in moving fashion and the show appeared to settling into a very solid season 5. All very polished and entertaining, but nothing earth-shattering.
Then, it happened. Disney bought Lucasfilm in a whopping $4.05 billion deal and announced plans for a new Star Wars trilogy. Suddenly, The Clone Wars, our little series that could, received a whole new level of exposure. Will it leave Cartoon Network and move to Disney XD? Will Disney plan for the show to synergize with the new movies in some way, despite taking place in an earlier time period? Will the more stubborn Star Wars “fans” who reject anything and everything related to the prequel era take a greater interest in Clone Wars? This show is suddenly a hotter property than it’s ever been before.
We’ll see what rumors pan out in the months ahead, but for now, Dave Filoni and the Lucasfilm animators keep doing what they’ve always been doing: producing a quality TV show. This weekend’s installment, “The Gathering,” kicks off a four-part arc about a group of Jedi younglings on a quest to learn more about the Force—and themselves. It screened to a positive reception at Celebration VI in Orlando for attendees who brought kids with them. Still, Clone Wars’ track record of appealing to the littlest Star Wars fans has been spotty at best. (Remember that day of beauty R2-D2 received at a droids-only spa in season three?) But based on “The Gathering,” color me impressed by what the show is attempting here. If Disney wanted to produce a spin-off series geared exclusively for the 10-and-under crowd, as has been rumored, this wouldn’t be a bad pilot.
Obviously, the ranks of the Jedi have thinned during the Clone Wars. Many knights have died on the battlefield—all the better to soften up the survivors for when Palpatine executes his Jedi-exterminating Order 66. And it appears new recruits are few and far between. I mean, how many parents would want to give up their Force-sensitive children to an organization that’s currently waging a galaxy-spanning war?
Still, Yoda remains committed to training the next generation. And for one group of tween-age apprentices, it’s time for “The Gathering.” What is that, you ask, other than the name of a geeks-only role-playing card game? It’s when a young Jedi ventures into the ice caves of Ilum and finds the crystal that will be the heart of his or her lightsaber. Or rather, like Mr. Ollivander’s wands in Harry Potter, the crystal will choose the Jedi. To the tune of Kevin Kiner’s Gregorian chant-inflected music, Ahsoka led the younglings into Ilum’s Jedi temple. And there, serenely waiting for them, was Yoda. Like Indy in the map room, Yoda redirected Ilum’s precious sunlight to melt a door of ice, exposing a way into the caverns. The younglings will have one day to discover their crystals until the door freezes shut once again. And after that, it won’t reopen for another 19 days, trapping whoever’s left inside.
Like in last season’s masterful episode “The Box,” still my all-time favorite of the series, Clone Wars showed off its effortless ability to quickly and clearly distinguish multiple characters. In this case, the six younglings: selfish, arrogant Petro, who runs off on his own in the caves, hoping to find his crystal before anyone else; prone-to-despair Rodian, Genodi; cowardly Ithorian, Byph; the confidence-challenged Tholothian, Katooni; tech-geek Nautolan, Zatt; and patience-lacking Wookiee, Gungi. Also, any episode that has a Wookiee is great by default.
Petro, Part One—The cocky, green-eyed human is basically just a selfish, arrogant little boy. Or a follower of Ayn Rand, if you prefer. He decides, almost immediately, that he’s going to leave his peers behind and look for a crystal on his own rather than be trammeled by his friends’ limitations. And he finds one right away! Look at it glisten, all sparkly-shiny, ripe for the picking where it hangs just within reach off a ledge. Petro grabbed it! And brought it back to Yoda and Ahsoka, all puffed up and proud. They asked him where his friends were and he replied, “Who knows? I didn’t want to gloat since I found mine so quickly.” But when Petro presented it to the skeptical Jedi, it melted in his hand. This was a crystal, yes…but an ice crystal. Back into the cave with him!
Let’s proceed next to the Wookiee.
Gungi—The hirsute lad thought he heard a crystal calling to him from across an underground lake. But, obviously, he didn’t want to get his fur wet. So his crystal-finding partner Genodi suggested he would merely have to wait it out. When the sun begins to set, the ice in the lake would freeze until it becomes solid and sturdy enough for him to cross it. This would require patience, though. Something that Wookiees aren’t usually known for. (See: Wookiees pulling the arms out of their opponents’ sockets if they lose at dejarik.) But luckily, Gungi had his Jedi training to call upon. He opened himself up to the Force, meditated, and when the ice had frozen he claimed his lightsaber crystal.
Virtue acquired: patience.
NEXT: Genodi discovers a place called hope. Byph finds courage. Petro gets a heart. And Ahsoka gets a brain. (Okay, I had to make the Wizard of Oz analogy work!)Genodi—If only Genodi had a fraction of Gungi’s patience! For that matter, his confidence. Okay, and his optimism too. Genodi really has issues. After leaving Gungi by the lake, she set off deeper into the caves and started frantically declaring, “I’m never going to find a crystal. Never!” Of course, as soon as she said that she fell into a cave with thousands of crystals. But Genodi’s problems weren’t over. She may have thousands from which to choose…but which one? “It’s hopeless,” she cried. “Hopeless!” Finally, she realized she just needed to calm the f*** down, reach out to the Force and grab one. Pessimism rarely solves anything.
Virtue acquired: hope.
Byph—The hammerheaded Ithorian was left to seek his crystal on his own. That was particularly troubling because of Byph’s fear of monsters. Now there was no indication that Ilum has any monsters, but that didn’t stop him from worrying nonetheless. Actually, he did come across menacingly-glowing apparition deep in one of the caves: something that looked like Vaal from the classic Star Trek episode “The Apple” with Kevin McAllister’s furnace in Home Alone. But, like Luke facing himself in the cave on Dagobah, Byph mustered his courage, approached the apparition and discovered it was in fact a crystal producing that light. His crystal!
Virtue acquired: courage
Zatt—The tentacle-headed Nautolan used what appeared to be a Starfleet-issue tricorder to locate his crystal. But he couldn’t get any reading because of all that kriffing ice. So, like the child he is, he smashed the tricorder to pieces. Despite his tantrum, he realized that he’d need to rely on himself, not technology. To do that, he’d need to trust himself. He focused on his surroundings and found a crystal before long.
Virtue acquired: trust. But he really needs to work on his anger issues, also.
Katooni—A member of the same race as Jedi Council members Adi Gallia and Stass Allie, the Tholothian initially partnered with Zatt. But they parted ways after she sensed her crystal on top of a cliff. Some major climbing was ahead of her. When she finally made it and grabbed her crystal, she didn’t want to climb all the way back down. So she literally took the “quick and easy path” behind her and hoped that would lead her back down. However, she fell into a crevice and was trapped.
Petro, Part Two—Still looking for his crystal, Petro encountered Katooni trapped behind a wall of ice. Judging his own needs to be more important, Petro decided not to help free his friend. “I have to go,” he said, leaving her to her icy tomb. He could have easily added, “Stop thinking of yourself as a victim. You need to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Didn’t Madame Jocasta lend you the Jedi Library’s copy of Atlas Shrugged?”
Thankfully, Petro came to his senses. With the ice door to the caverns almost shut, he abandoned the search for his crystal to help Katooni. They pressed their hands together against the ice and used the Force to break through. Katooni headed for the door, and slid under just as it was about to close. Petro stayed behind to snag his crystal—a real one this time!—then burst through the ice door after it had already sealed shut. Turns out, the ice would’ve never trapped them in the caves. Only frozen water, it was. But their minds could easily have imprisoned them had they given in to despair.
Katooni’s virtue acquired: confidence.
Petro’s virtue acquired: selflessness.
Because the characters were so well defined, the lessons that each of them received didn’t feel smug and pedagogical. I don’t know about you, but I’m curious to see what trouble these younglings get themselves into next. Watching them grow and mature will really be fun…until they’re each inevitably slaughtered by the blade of Darth Vader’s azure lightsaber during the events of Revenge of the Sith. Yes, I just depressed you. But war is depressing. Even when it’s a clone war.
See you next week, everyone!
[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]