Sunday, April 18, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – 2.18/19 – The Zillo Beast & The Zillo Beast Strikes Back

The Republic army accidently wakes a ginormous worm thing from beneath the Malastare ground. It is then brought to Coruscant for research.

I waited to review 2.18 (The Zillo Beast) until its follow-up episode had aired because I wasn’t particularly fond of the first episode but was still very much looking forward to its sequel. The Zillo Beast episodes continue this season’s and odd enchantment with re-enacting other famous/classic properties in the Star Wars universe. Large monsters are no strangers to the Galaxy Far Far Away, so a Godzilla homage must have seemed like a natural fit. While I still reiterate my wish for the Clone Wars writers to find their own mythology rather than to continue playing with the ideas of others, the Godzilla element that came off as rather ho-hum in the first half of this duology was pitch perfect in the second half – with a great twist added to the premise.

In the first episode (2.18), the battle that starts the episode is impressive in scope but also very familiar territory. The idea of the Republic testing a new bomb that harms only droids and technology does have potential, however, and I hope this plot thread is developed more in further episodes. It’s a cool parallel/counterpoint to the Separatist weapon displayed in 1.14 (Defenders of Peace) which harmed only biological lifeforms, and I appreciated the attention to detail when Anakin’s robotic arm showed signs of malfunction when the bomb was detonated. This was neat foreshadowing, and it would be great if his arm got him into trouble one day when/if this weapon’s use becomes standard.

Once the Zillo Beast itself appears on the scene, the imagery of it emerging from the ground and the fight that ensues was technically impressive, but felt oddly contemplative in pacing – a rare thing on this show. The arguments with the resident Dugs were all rather routine and uninspired, and the Dugs themselves proved to be uninteresting one-note characters. The episode felt like clear set-up for the much more interesting idea of bringing the stunned Zillo Beast to Coruscant. So at the end of 2.18 I felt unsatisfied, but still looked forward to the story’s continuation.

2.19 (The Zillo Beast Strikes Back) improved on everything the first episode did wrong. This time around the character arguments and debates that surrounded the Beasts assault on Coruscant were charged and hit hard. While we know Palpatine’s motivations toward the Beast were ultimately less than wholesome, both his and Padme’s arguments for and against destroying the Beast were persuasive. It would clearly be inhumane to knowingly wipe out the last of a species, yet it’s equally hard deny that sacrificing it for the betterment of troop armor and the potential saving of thousands of humanoid lives is a reasonable position.

What undermines the value of Palpatine’s argument, of course, is his clear (to the audience) malicious attitude toward the Zillo Beast, and I must say it was a breath of fresh air to see Palpatine FINALLY portrayed as an outright villain on this show, even if it was just to the audience (as it ought to be since his villainy needs to remain a secret to the other characters until the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith). Having Palpatine legitimately outed as a villain opens up a lot of storytelling potential on this show and I hope the writers run with this potential. One of the troubles with the Prequel Trilogy’s thinly-veiled hiding of Palpatine’s plotting was that the audience was left without a clear perception of his plans and machinations throughout the three films. The Original Star Wars trilogy had quite an opposite presentation of evil, wherein the villains and their intentions were as front and center as the heroes, and the original trilogy benefited from this entertaining duality immensely. I hope the Clone Wars can benefit from such villainous clarity as well, and watching Palpatine’s secret intentions toward the Zillo Beast unfold was a major step in the right direction.

And while it was cool to see the Beast running amock on Coruscant, and equally cool to see its tragic death unfold (typical ground for cinema’s classic behemoths), what really stood out in the episode was the Beast’s single-minded (and intelligent) pursuit of Palpatine. While there’s no reason to believe the Beast understood the English (Basic) language, it clearly understood Palpatine’s malicious intentions, and perhaps perceived Palpatine’s malicious soul more clearly than the Jedi warriors risking their lives to protect him. It was riveting to see the Star Wars universe’s uber-villain being hunted down so doggedly by the Beast, making the creature very much a hero in its own way. And watching our heroes bring it down to save the man who we know is even now plotting to betray them added an extra – and very welcome – level of poetic irony to the proceedings.

Yes, the Zillo Beast’s death was tragic because it was the last of its species, and it died because of the mistakes of the humanoids, but the tragedy is magnified tenfold because the Beast was one of the first characters in the galaxy to perceive Palpatine as the monster he is and to do its utmost to wipe the Sith lord out. Now THAT’s how you take a classic premise and MAKE it Star Wars. I wish the writers had been able to make the first of the Zillo Beast episodes a bit more valuable beyond its function as an obvious (albeit necessary) bridge to the sequel episode, but the grandeur, fun, and strengths of 2.19 (The Zillo Beast Strikes Back) go a long way in making the first outing forgivable. Here’s hoping they continue to use Palpatine as well as he was used in this story arch. 3 stars and 4.5 stars, respectively.


LMK said...

Your Clone Wars posts don't seem to get a lot of love from commenters but I'm glad there's someone out there who appreciates this awesome series enough to write detailed reviews every episode. (I watch and love both Lost and the Clone Wars series btw).

This show seems to get better with every episode, and it's possibly the best animated action series out there right now.

And btw, I agree that the samurai-like bounter hunter (Embo?) from the previous episode is totally BAD-ASS.

Sagacious Penguin said...

LMK -- thanks for the feedback. It is definitely good to know someone actually reads these!

I love the series, too, and think it's definitely the best animated action series right now, and probably the most consistantly good LOOKING animated action series of all time.

I think what I dig most about the show is that the creative team never seem to just sit on their laurels -- they're constantly bettering and bettering and bettering what started out already as a pretty darn good show. They constantly take risks in telling different kinds of stories, they frequently mix up which characters are in the limelight, the visuals get more dazzling each week, the soundscape is remarkable, and any niggling doubts I had at the start of the series have been systematically squashed one-by-one.

I think there's still some untapped potential in the show, particularly where character and over-arching mythology depth are concerned, but after the sheer variety and fun of Season 2, I have no doubt that Filoni & Co. will knock this one out of the park before it's over.

Thanks again for being the first Clone Wars fan to post here :)

Anonymous said... celine handbags 2012 fun sniffle louis vuitton outlet online fake inflammation hermes bag authentication actually hermes腰带 louis vuitton stores in new york state louis vuitton outlet near nj authentic hermes kelly bag for sale celine handbag