Monday, February 08, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Season 2 So Far

I'll FINALLY jump into my full episode reviews this week, but first - because I haven't completely set aside my idiosyncratic completist tendencies - here are my thoughts on the first 12 episodes of Season 2.

Episodes are rated on a scale of zero to five stars.

2.01 - Holocron Heist: Cad Bane gets all Ethan Hunt on the Jedi Order's posteriors. Exciting intrigue, great villain characterizations, and a surprisingly well-choreographed (if short) lightsaber duel between Ashoka and not-Jocasta Nu. I wish the Jedi didn't come off as quite so incapable of protecting their own home, though. I'm happy to see Cad Bane win here - but I'd have liked to see our heroes put up a bit of a better fight. 3.5 stars.

2.02 - Cargo of Doom: Anakin and Ashoka confront Cad Bane on a Separatist cruiser in an attempt to retrieve the stolen Holocron. The time skip from the end of the previous episode to the beginning of this one was a bit startling, and I didn't like seeing the usually creatively-resourceful Cad Bane reduced to being the commander of a Separatists ship and droid army, but the action beats here were stellar enough to make up for those things. The zero-gravity sequence alone earns a spot in this series' action-set-piece hall of fame. Landing the troop carriers on the Separatist ship was great as well, but too short-lived of a sequence to live up to its potential. Anakin being manipulated into unlocking the Holocron made for a tense sequence and a good character beat (Ashoka having become just as much a liability to his conscience as Padme) -- but I do wish they'd do a better job (perhaps in editing) of showing exactly why our heroes can't just "use the Force" to solve all their problems. Only after Bane moved his arm away from the trigger was Anakin willing to make a grab for Ahsoka... but this could have been better and more clearly played. When dealing with heroes who can seemingly "do anything," extra special attention must be paid to explain clearly why they choose not to in a given time/situation. That said, this installment was otherwise exquisitely paced and delivered. The subtle tip-off of Cad Bane's escape method was also a nice touch. 4 stars.

2.03 - Children of the Force: Obi-wan, Mace, Anakin, and Ahsoka take us on a universe tour as they chase down Cad Bane and foil Darth Sidious' plot to steal and corrupt Force-sensitive children. This is a tough one. There is SO much cool stuff in this episode: the story idea is great, Cad Bane's trickery is great, Darth Sidious' truly evil plot is a nice break from the usual Separatist invasion antics, the Jedi's patented triple-mindfreak was cool, Ahsoka's worried look in reaction was even cooler, the multitude of locations was visually dynamic, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. BUT -- and this is a big "but" -- slow. the heck. down. This episode's greatest achievement is also it's greatest failure: it could have and should have been feature length. So much happened so fast, that nothing is fleshed out as much as it should have been, and the audience is given no chance to appreciate and/or feel the true impact of anything. Also, that baby Gungan was one of the most hideous thing's I've ever seen. Give me Rotta the Hutt any day over that thing! 3.5 stars.

2.04 - Senate Spy: The Jedi send Padme to spy on an old flame who has begun dealing with the Separatists. Anakin's jealousy ensues. Woah - they slowed down! It's like they knew we needed a moment to breathe after jamming two hours of content into twenty minutes last episode. The Anakin/Padme dynamic on this show could still use an injection of personality, but 1) it's a huge-improvement over the sickeningly bad dialogue of the prequel films, and 2) I truly, truly appreciate them taking the time to focus on it properly. Padme and Anakin's love for her are clearly at the center of Anakin's future downfall, and while it never felt like enough of a real/believable motivation in the films, this show is giving it the second chance it deserves to win and break our hearts. It still needs work, but that they're working on it at all is VERY impressive for an action-based show and I look forward to more character-centered episodes like this one. Also I love how coldly and easily Anakin leaves Padme's Separatist-collaborator ex-lover to his fate. Nice to know Padme is already bringing out the worst in him! 3.5 stars.

2.05 - Landing at Point Rain: Anakin, Obi-wan, and Mace land... at Point Rain apparently. Okay, if the last episode was all character and no action, then here we have all action and no character. It was damned good action, mind you - some of the best general scope and cinematic flavor we've seen on this show - but absolutely nothing else. If it weren't all so consistently entertaining (and if they hadn't just shown us how character-rich they could be last episode) I'd complain about this more, but as it stands the execution of "Point Rain" is truly impressive on a level of scale we haven't yet encountered. Still, rather handing us episodes that are all either action or character-work, I'd find a seamless blend of the two to be far more praiseworthy. 3.5 stars.

2.06 - Weapons Factory: Ahsoka and fellow padawan Barriss Offee join forces to infiltrate the new Geonosian weapons factory while their masters (Anakin and Luminara) provide a military distraction. Ask and you shall receive, apparently! "Weapons Factory" offers the best mix of action and character-work yet in Season 2. We get to see the Jedi worldviews of Anakin and Luminara butt heads, and even if nobody believed Ahsoka and Barriss were actually goners, the fact that they were ready and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice was a great character moment for the two apprentices of differing styles. It's nice the technical know-how Anakin has passed on to Ahsoka has come in handy (would have been nice to see him teaching this), though it's ultimately Anakin's unwillingness to give up that keeps Ahsoka going here while Barriss is busy accepting her fate. It's too bad Luminara's "oh well" attitude comes off as mostly lame and not as a legitimate opposing view to Anakin's never-say-die gruffness. 4 stars.

2.07 - Legacy of Terror: Obi-wan and Anakin dive into a world of Geonosian catacombs, zombies, and one big ugly bug in order to rescue Luminara. Wonderfully creepy, great imagery, worthwhile use of the Geonosians (for the first time in my opinion), and some truly funny banter among the Jedi once they reach the Queen's chamber. Like the previous episode, a solid blend of action and character, but also like the previous episode, I wish Luminara was a more likable character. I'm happy to see some of the other Jedi finally GETTING character, but I'd enjoy her a bit more as something other than a stick-in-the-mud with the survival instinct of a side of roast beef. Maybe if they'd give us a chance to understand her point of view a bit more it wouldn't be so frustrating. 4 stars.

2.08 - Brain Invaders: The creepfest continues as Ahsoka and Barriss find themselves alone aboard a ship of Geonosian-worm-infected-zombified Clone troopers. Easily the best of the season, and one of the best of the series. The Ahsoka-Barriss pairing shines here with the two padawans discussing (and questioning!) Jedi methodologies and Ahsoka ultimately having to find her own answer to the question of when it's time to sacrifice a friend. Add to this rich character base, Anakin's first force-choke (backed by the Imperial-Freaking-March!) and his growing willingness to break rules to save Ahsoka, and "Brain Invaders" becomes perhaps one of the best outings for both Anakin and Ahsoka yet. Finally they can start to contend with those well-developed Clone trooper characters that seemed to hog the spotlight last season! Oh, and did I mention that the action beats, horror veneer, and disturbingly cool Alien-esque vibe all worked beautifully? 'Cause they did. The only thing I would have liked to see here was a bit more drawing of lines between points A and B character-wise. Ahsoka starts questioning some Jedi tactics with Barriss and is forced to put them to the test here... but how does this impact her? How about Barriss, did she learn anything? It's true that to draw these lines by spelling things out too obviously could border on overkill, but nuanced writing can convey such things without overstating them. On The Clone Wars, however, whenever character or thematic lines aren't clearly drawn, it's usually the fault of not enough being said at all. This might seem like a harsh criticism, but that I'm even making it means this show has just jumped to the next level. It's brought it's A-game - I now know what it's capable of - and I'm going to start holding it to higher standards! I want to give a 5-star rating, dammit! 4.5 stars.

2.09 - Grievous Intrigue: Anakin and Obi-wan rush to the rescue when General Grevious kidnaps Jedi Eeth Koth. It was a bit odd to see the entire Jedi Order rally so quickly behind a rescue mission after the whole Geonosian episode arch seemed to establish (through Luminara and Barriss) that attachments and rescue attempts of their own were not the Jedi way... but this is a good example of what I said last episode about unclear character/thematic through-lines on this show. Needs work! But other than that we got some solid if fairly standard stuff here. Exciting and fun action sequences ruled the day. It was nice to see two new Jedi characters introduced (Eeth Koth and Adi Gallia) and I look forward to seeing them given personalities, but the real character-work that shined here was Grevious himself. Clearly the same snidely ruthless character as always, but this time around he seemed well-motivated and, dare I say, WHOLE as a character. Is his attitude toward the Jedi the result of last season's defeats? I'd love to see more establishment on this, but still, the insults he and Obi-wan exchanged while dueling went a long way to firm up his character and distinguish him from the Separatist crowd. I hope Assaj Ventress is given the same treatment soon! 4 stars.

2.10 - The Deserter: While chasing the escaping General Grevious, Captain Rex meets up with a Clone trooper who has ditched The Republic and adopted a family. This episode was hurt a bit by its two plotlines never quite gelling well, but the farmhouse/clones plotline was so strong that this wasn't a major issue. "The Deserter" is the latest in the great Clone character development episode series, following in the footsteps of Season 1's "Rookies" and "The Hidden Enemy." Rex and Cut's points of view were both well-argued and the compromise of defense and honor being in their blood brought them to a mutual respect and understanding. A great character arch for a story that only took up half an episode. Add to this the Signs-esque farmhouse raid by the always-cool Commando droids, and there's some classic stuff here. Top notch, but I wish there'd been more of it. The standard Grievous battle scenes didn't do much for me on the heels of the much better Grievous material in the last episode. I love that the writers are willing to continue storylines across mutli-episode archs, but it isn't ALWAYS necessary. The farmhouse/clone plot could have handily carried the whole episode - and should have. 4 stars.

2.11 - Lightsaber Lost: Ahsoka teams up with ancient Jedi Master Tera Sinube to hunt down her stolen lightsaber. Wow - another well drawn character story with a clear through line! That's two in a row, and this one was even given the full episode to develop! This was a great stand-alone story, introduced a fun new character (Jedi Columbo), featured mystery, intrigue, our best journey yet into the sleezy Coruscant underworld, and some on foot chase sequences in the style of Casino Royale's inspired free-running footfest. The crime story here wasn't the deepest of endeavors, nor were the two femme fatales particularly inspiring or intriguing, but this was mostly alleviated by the character strength of the Ahsoka/Sinube pairing, great setting, and great chase sequences. 4 stars.

2.12 - The Mandalore Plot: Obi-wan journeys to the once warrior-driven world of Mandalore to address allegations that their pacifist leader, Duchess Satine, is secretly making deals with the separatists. While the narrative through-line of this episode wasn't the strongest, a strong blend of character, intrigue, and action beats carried the day. The banter between Satine and Obi-wan was satisfying and fun, hinting at a past relationship between the two, and over-powering anything we've seen between Anakin and Padme in this franchise. THIS is how romantic tension is done, people! The Mandolorians themselves were cool, but other than their leader, Pre Vizsla, they don't seem much more formidable than your average Clone Trooper. Hopefully they'll prove me wrong in coming episodes. Vizsla himself was cool as well, offering a hint at a different kind of ruthless, honor/glory-bound, warrior race - but the fact that he ultimately hid behind his men when the going got tough in his duel with Obi-wan was eminently disappointing. I really, REALLY want these guys to distinguish themselves from the host of cowardly Separatist villains we're used to seeing. Likewise, I hope we can get a better grasp on how Mandalore as a culture is influenced by its warrior roots (as opposed to just these Deathwatch guys). At least the darksaber was awesome. 4 stars.

No comments: