Friday, October 21, 2011

Clone Wars: Nomad Droids

Another quick one, but here we go: after a koan lifted from the original trilogy, "Nomad Droids" starts out with some nice dialogue from Padme. She says to 3P0, "It's a big universe out there, beyond the...million planets that you know." That's great because it really opens Star Wars up, and reminds us of how large it is. The small room the characters are standing in reinforces how, although there are a million and one worlds, there are also homey places on them. The pause in the voice acting made sense too, and was funny: Padme knows who she's talking to. The koan may have folded the universe over on itself in a travesty of repetition, but this line opened it up again. 

The first act then becomes an oddly paced, but charming homage to the original trilogy, nearly shot-for-shot replicating the opening moments of A New Hope. Typical for the prequels though, the ante is upped: instead of Darth Vader striding through a doorway, we get General Grievous and Adi Gallia battling their way through. It's an exciting scene and a fun way to show how far Star Wars has come. Props for including a properly dressed female character who isn't there just for demographics too. 

The space battle is pretty if threatless: we know the droids are going to survive, and we know they're going to be funny doing it. "Avoid them the other way!"got a chuckle out of me, but the fight itself was like the Transformers movies--big for bigness sake and rather boring.  

Threepio's method of picking a leader ("Who is the most intelligent? The smartest? The most compassionate?") was surprisingly, pleasantly moral. His earnest "Congratulations, you are now a democracy!" after the munchkin aliens vote was very funny, and their immediate devolution into infighting was...both amusing and scathing. And then the droids just leave them to it! Well, I guess history has taught us how much interventionism works, although the Republic seemed awfully fond of it on Mon Cala.

The droids go looking for power sources on a planet full of pre-sentients. I know they're desperate, but finding it seems unlikely. Haven't they ever tried to find wi-fi in northeastern Jersey? But the fact that they do find it does lend credence to Padme and Threepio's earlier conversation about the limitless adventure of the galaxy. 

Both the destruction of the pit droids and Artoo and Threepio's slow sink into sleep were pretty sad. The image of the two OT droids sitting under that mushroomy formation for years edges on haunting.

At times the episode is dark in ways that remind me of the droid torture scene in Return of the Jedi. The organic body count is pretty high too, when you consider the pirates and the munchkins that might still be feuding. 

It's another odd episode, which I suppose the droids ones are supposed to be. I can see how a kid would enjoy the colorful aliens and bizarre landscapes. I appreciate them-- the plant life is very good, even if it does remind me of hair clips. But the Russian-accented antagonist who can understand R2-D2 just as well as it seems everyone except the audience can just seems too...Clone Wars. It's a fun episode, with some good moments as well as some blatant disregard for how storytelling should work. If you sit back and enjoy it, it's pretty and entertaining.

If you think (or blog) too hard, it's resoundingly mediocre with a shiny veneer.  Wizard of Oz references abound to a ridiculous extent (what does Star Wars have to do with Oz, really?), and Artoo continues the murderous tendencies he started in Revenge of the Sith. Events are threatless and disconnected. Commander Wolffe's reaction at the end of "Nomad Droids" made me chuckle just like he did in "Mercy Mission"-- he doesn't want to hear any more about the droid adventures either. I, like Wolffe, look forward to the return of the more serious episodes.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Clone Wars: Mercy Mission

Tonight's post is going to be a short one: I'm gearing up for another long day at comic-con, and realize that I'm  about a week late on the Clone Wars reviews. "Mercy Mission" has already been reviewed at a host of other places, and the comparisons to "Alice In Wonderland" aren't without basis. It's a trippy, neon-and-shadow episode that reminded me a bit of the Mortis trilogy aesthetically, but was paced slower so that the viewer had more time to appreciate the weirdness.

Two things about the concept I liked immediately: one, the droids and the gregarious, mysterious, childlike Aleena contrasted immediately with uber-serious Commander Wolffe and his "Plo's Bros" squad of clones. Wolffe was very funny in his deadpan reactions to things. Although the trailer for the season did an odd splice to make his "another one of those planets" line seem placed in a different scene than it actually was, it still remains one of my favourites. The writing in this one was better than usual, from the clones' snarky dialogue to 3P0's description of a Coruscanti evening.

Two, the drive of the plot was ecological. Some of my favourite SF (Dune, Sheri Tepper's Grass, Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead) feature alien worlds that are gradually explained as the source for the phenomena that drove the plot in the first place. The fight between the underground and aboveground cultures on the Aleena planet provided that. Even if I didn't care too much about the droids, I was intrigued by the mention of a natural problem causing all of the Aleena's...natural problems.

Then we got to Orphne, the plantlike fairy waif who explains a lot of the plot, and...does every Clone Wars female have to have the same kind of voice? Does she really have to sashay? It's hard to say that a show is over-sexualizing a character when that character is an alien who looks either preteen or wizened (it's hard to tell) and who only interacts with droids, but...her body language was unique in the first few moments when she was zipping around and disappearing at will, but then she starts just leaning all over the place.

My main impression was that this episode was more tightly written than others, with a reasonably coherent plot and notable characterization. The adventures the droids go through underground after Orphne talked to them left me with a similar impression that she did, though, of Wonderlandlike excess in fantasy without the underlying logic or unique imagery.